Google+ seems to be the social network that people love to hate. The industry almost has an internal clock about when to print the next article about Google+ dying.
So what’s the real story here? Is Google+ going to die soon? Should you invest time in it?
I will outline the way I look at it in today’s post, and while I will bring in many discussion points, bear in mind that for Google it’s all about the data.
Whether or not Google+ lives or dies will be determined by its utility as a data source, because data is money for Google.
Read on for all the details of this story.
Media piranhas in action
To recount all the stories about Google+ dying would take many thousands of words, so I will start with a short recap of some of the latest examples.
When Vic Gundotra left the Google+ team on April 24, 2014, Larry Page had this to say about it. However, TechCrunch published an article that very same day with the headline: Google+ Is Walking Dead.
Here is an excerpt from the TechCrunch article:
According to two sources, Google has apparently been reshuffling the teams that used to form the core of Google+, a group numbering between 1,000 and 1,200 employees. We hear that there is a new building on campus, so many of those people are getting moved physically, as well — not necessarily due to Gundotra’s departure.
As part of these staff changes, the Google Hangouts team will be moving to the Android team, and it is likely that the photos team will follow, these people said. Basically, talent will be shifting away from the Google+ kingdom and towards Android as a platform, we’re hearing.
As it later turned out, these stories were not true; the Google+ team was simply moved to another building to get more space.
Here is what Yonatan Zunger, Chief Architect for Google+ said about it in a comment on a Google+ post:
I can also add that it is true that somewhere around 1,200 Google+ employees moved to another building. That would in fact be the entire Google+ team, as we outgrew our old building and were packed in like sardines. The new building is great. 🙂
Perhaps nothing illustrates the situation more than the October 7, 2022 interview that Google+ head Dave Besbris gave to recode.net: We’re Here for the Long Haul.
Besbris made many comments indicating that Google+ is not going anywhere, including:
We’re actually very happy with the progress of Google+.[CEO Larry Page] said this at the time that Vic transitioned that he is going to continue working on building this stuff, that he is very happy with it. The company is behind it. I have no idea where these rumors come from, to be honest with you.
Danny Sullivan then quickly responded in a post on Google+, citing the interview as evidence that there are problems with Google+.
As Sullivan explained, Besbris’s refusal to cite user base numbers was likely an indication that there was no good news to share. Or, to summarize, no news is bad news.
However, note that Dave Besbris did say this: “The Google+ app you see out there today is used by hundreds of millions of users.”
But then, you get more recent posts like this one, Nobody is Using Google+, that claim there are really only four to six million users creating real posts. On and on it goes.
So, what’s up with Google+, then?
I have been active on Google+ since July 2013. Through my experiences on the network, I have seen many markets where there is vibrant activity on Google+ and others where there is not much happening at all.
There are a lot of people on the network, and I have made many great contacts there. Keep in mind, as well, that participation doesn’t only include creating your own posts. Clicking the +1 button on a website is a great data point for Google, too.
However, I don’t think that Google+ has really been a true success for Google so far.
But will they shut it down? Or is there enough data coming from it for them to keep it around and continue to work on it?
To consider those questions, I am going to discuss 10 different arguments people make about Google+, the social network — five of these will be against it, and five for it — and I will explain my reaction to each.
Arguments people make against Google+
1. Google+ is not a Facebook killer
But does that make it a failure?
Sure, Google would love to build a true rival to Facebook, but if that was their goal, it was simply not a realistic one, at least with the type of path they chose.
By this metric, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and all the other social networks are failures, too. This argument, by itself, is a non-issue.
2. Google+ is a ghost town
From my time on the network, I can tell you this is not entirely true. There is a lot happening on Google+, and not just among digital marketers.
The last shared numbers from Google were 300 million active monthly users, theoretically making it larger than Twitter.
Frankly, though, I think we can’t place too much stock in these numbers, from any of the social networks. In many ways, these are apples-and-oranges comparisons.
However, I think we can safely say that Google wishes that Google+ was much bigger than it is now, because that would provide them with a lot more data to leverage. They pushed this network aggressively, and they would like to have gotten a lot more from it.
3. Author photos and Authorship are gone
It would have been nice if the publishing world had adopted Authorship tagging en masse, but the reality is that they didn’t. This is indeed a disappointment for Google, but I doubt that it’s a fundamental issue for Google+.
4. Hangouts are now unbundled
While there is now a separate Google Hangouts app, you can’t start a Hangout on Air without a Google+ account, nor can you use any of the social features without one.
So, is this a defeat for Google+? Not at all.
The separate app makes it easier for people to engage with Google Hangouts. Score this as a win for Google’s overall social media effort. And Google+ helped foster and launch this new development.
5. Will photo capabilities become unbundled, too?
Not so fast, that’s still a rumor, not yet confirmed by anyone at Google. Even if it does happen, as with Hangouts, don’t be surprised if this is done in a way that helps drive more interest to Google+.
In addition, look what Facebook did with Instagram — it kept it as a separate network. Why did they do that? Because users like their social media apps unbundled and don’t want a monolithic platform. Pretty smart, I’d say.
On my next post, I’ll share more about the factors of determining the future of Google+.
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