Obituaries for Google+?

Google+ isn’t dead, but it is likely to struggle.

It seems that many obituaries are being penned at this moment. The identity of the recently deceased? Google+. It is very premature to do so, and I do not think it has failed or is going to die, but it does face an uphill struggle to break the near-monopoly of Facebook in the social networking market. The problem for Google+ is that it has not yet made itself sufficiently unique from or far better compared to Facebook. People are not going to abandon Facebook easily, especially after tending their profiles for years, and cultivated networks of friends and contacts on the site over the years. It’s like emigrating to another country, abandoning friends and family, and cutting the ties to the community.

People need to be pulled or pushed into using Google+, if Google(+) were to take on Facebook. The major pull factor involves offering Google+ users something that Facebook does not, cannot, and will not offer. Google has a wide range of products and services, therefore it should be able to offer a seamless integration with Google+ over time, though forcing integration of established products and services with Google+ can alienate the user bases of such products and services, thus it must be handled with care. Initially, Google has to tempt people to create a Google+ profile in addition to their Facebook profile. Hoping that people would easily replace Facebook with Google+ is too optimistic, since emotional investment that people have made in Facebook is often substantial. And being marginally better will not do for Google+: it has to be substantially and demonstrably better than Facebook, as it needs to overcome the inertia of many people. If a sufficient number of friends and contacts sign up to Google+, and persuade people to move, that’s another pull factor. If a sufficient number of friends and contacts start to use Google+ exclusively, or to the point that Facebook becomes a minor part of their online activities, then the push factor enters the picture: people have to use Google+ to keep in touch. It may not reach that stage, if Google+ were to operate in a distinct market from Facebook, and if most users were to have profiles with both services, but whatever the grand strategy, Google+ must have its unique selling points to compete against the well-established competitor.

Perhaps somewhat worryingly for Google+, some of my friends and acquaintances who are regular and savvy users of the internet, but not hugely engaged with Google products or services, had created a profile but have stopped using Google+. In other words, Google+ has struggled to retain users who would have been the persuaders to the doubters and the reluctant: indeed, some of them came away with a negative view of Google+. The two complaints that I have repeatedly heard were: 1) there aren’t enough people; and 2) there aren’t enough things to do. They would not recommend Google+ to others for those reasons, which isn’t necessarily a bad sign, since they often preferred the Google+ interface to Facebook. However, if the would-be persuaders are not persuaded, then there will be no virtuous cycle of users begetting more users. Naturally, I have no means of knowing how representative my friends and contacts are, but I don’t think it would be very wide off the mark.

Personally, and this is a something that I have repeatedly stated, I don’t really understand the point of social networking sites. I have an active personal Google+ account and a more or less a dormant personal Facebook account, so I am not the best person to judge about the current state of the market, let alone predicting the future. Future events may prove that the eager obituarists were correct, but not yet, and not for some time to come. The social networking landscape is going to be extremely interesting for the next year or so.