In Pictures: 10 ways Google has failed with Google+
Google+ was a late but welcomed arrival to social media scene about three years ago. However, Google's answer to Facebook has failed to provide real competition. Here's a look at 10 ways the search engine king as fallen down with Google+.
Although it arrived late to the social media race following failed attempts with Wave and Buzz, Google+ had a lot in its favor when it was released in June 2011. Negative public perceptions of Facebook were rising as the company regularly changed and reset user privacy controls. There was a need for an alternative to Facebook in the summer of 2011. And so entered Google+, first as an invite-only service but soon it became the umbrella that most, if not all, of Google's products and platforms would fall under. That decision turned out to be one of many that continue to cause problems for the future of Google's massive bet on social. These are the 10 missteps that Google has made with Google+.
Overly Integrated and Bundled
This may be the error that doomed Google+ from day 1. The ascent of Google+ within Google meant that many of Google's core platforms and services would be paired and in some cases required to fully integrate with Google+'s platform. Users of Google's most popular products like Gmail and YouTube were eventually rolled up into the framework of Google+ one way or another. There was backlash, particularly among YouTube's commenter community, but the decision to aggressively integrate Google+ was made early on and methodically. For that reason Google+ has never been a standalone platform, but rather a series of existing features weaved and wrapped together. At a time when many of its competitors are unbundling services, Google finds itself more tightly bundled than ever.
Last month's departure of Vic Gundotra, the executive who aggressively led the social charge for Google, has left many wondering where Google+ went wrong and where it can possibly go from here. The exit came as a bit of a surprise, but Gundotra had been at Google for nearly eight years, working on Google I/O, then leading mobile applications before running Google+. In what seemed to be a personal decision to move on to the next chapter, his exit does open the door to a potential leadership vacuum. David Desbris, the current vice president of engineering for Google, has some big shoes to fill as he takes over Gundotra's role as Google's most public cheerleader and champion for social media.
Internal Strife Under the Shadows of Google+
The decision to force Google+ integration with other products like YouTube and Gmail reportedly caused clashes between Gundotra and others inside the company. The force of a new product still finding its way overwhelmed teams working on products that have been used for almost a decade. Although these clashes have been widely reported, the apparent overstretch and further integration of Google+ could not have continued without the support of CEO Larry Page and others.
Bad Press Follows an Inconsistent Storyline
Google+ just can't shake the image -- perceived or real -- of being a ghost town. A high-profile article in The New York Times, kicked off with this zinger on Valentine's Day: "Google Plus, the company's social network, is like a ghost town. Want to see your old roommate's baby or post your vacation status? Chances are, you'll use Facebook instead." While the true value of Google+ should be measured in the eye of every user, the ghost town conclusion rings true for many people whose instant reactions to the mere mention of Google+ is either a quick laugh or an eye roll. The ghost town comparisons began back in 2012 and continue to this day.
Email-Centric View of Online Identity
Here's where Google fails many of its most powerful and loyal users. Google+ effectively supplants your Google account, associating your login and social identity to a singular email address instead of an actual person. A large number of people actively maintain two or more Gmail accounts, for example, but in Google+'s myopic view of social identities those separate accounts are two different people. As long as Google sticks to its email-linked identity model, many of its heaviest users will be tasked with multiple account maintenance and a fragmented experience as they switch between separate email accounts. Asking users to change their behaviors rarely goes well and it certainly doesn't reflect CEO Larry Page's notion of a unified "One Google."
Google's vision for social circles became a standout feature of Google+. In a way, it foreshadowed more recent concerns over privacy and providing greater control over what activity is shared and with whom. The premise is simple enough; you can create circles to establish different groups such as friends, family or colleagues. This allows you to carefully cull the people in your network according to more realistic implications. It makes perfect sense, after all, that you would want to share something personal with your family or close friends without broadcasting it to your network. The act of culling, however, is where the process breaks down. Most users don't want to spend time carefully crafting and maintaining circles of people for the purpose of privacy.
Lacking Unique Features
For all the ways Google+ could be and is the alternative to Facebook, making the case for adoption is still a tough slog. What's different about Google+ and what does it provide you that Facebook doesn't already? By most accounts, Hangouts and circles are two of the most important and popular features of Google+. Circles may be forever intertwined with Google+, but Hangouts is a product that stands alone and does so very well across multiple platforms. In many ways Hangouts has already been elevated to equal footing with Google's most prominent services. Without those more unique reasons for you to engage, Google+ has never reached the maturity required to have the immediacy of Twitter or all-encompassing strength of Facebook.
SEO Implications Are Unclear
The near unanimous opinion and perception among industry watchers is that Google gives prominence to content on Google+ in its search results. Whether that's true or not matters less than what most people believe to be true already. Google has done a poor job of allying these fears and, as a result, Google's social network is viewed as more of an SEO necessity than a valuable tool. Marketers will tell you that Google+ delivers on both counts, of course, but the network would undoubtedly benefit from a more positive explanation of its role and value for SEO rankings. Meanwhile, Google has made a major shift on this issue and now unequivocally denies that Google+ is being used to boost search results.
Mobile Is an Afterthought
Google has amassed a crew of as many as 1,200 employees for Google+, but much of the engineering feats and innovations have been directed to the Web version first and mobile later. The mobile applications for Google+ have improved dramatically over the years, but the best user experience is still being delivered online. While the industry and much of Google itself has shifted to a mobile-first mindset, Google's social project appears to be running on a different track. The grandiosity of Google's vision for social could be clouding its collective judgment in determining what features matter most to the majority of users who are increasingly mobile.
Widely Criticized Usage Numbers
Google's latest reported numbers for Google+ was 540 million monthly active users, but that number is inflated by almost double. Many of those being counted as monthly active users (MAUs) never actually visit the social network. Near the end of 2013, there were 300 million MAUs and more than 20 million unique monthly users on mobile. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, but the more damning statistic is the average of only 7 minutes spent on Google+ each month, according to Nielsen. Google+'s percentatge of the total social sharing globally and in North America stands at just 3 percent, according to Gigya.