Not too long ago a professional acquaintance sent an e-mail asking my thoughts on Google+. After we kicked the can back and forth the general consensus was that it’s more of the same; and try as we might neither one of us could come up with a selling point to get any of our other friends or colleagues interested in making the switch from the social network leader, Facebook, over to Google+. Sure, many of our friends tried it out for a few weeks – but as time went on very few us kept returning or using it on a daily basis.
Now let me be straightforward here and say that this isn’t meant to be a Google bashing post. Even though I argue that Google has lost its innovative spark over the past few years there are still products of theirs that I use on a daily basis – like Google Voice. What I really wanted to find out, to ask of others, was not so much “Why didn’t Google+ succeed?” but rather “Why aren’t you using it?” – of course you can’t have one without the other, but for each question there are different answers.
So I e-mailed a few friends and talked to a few colleagues who had used, or are still using, Google+ and asked them their thoughts. The answers I received back pretty much followed a single thread, mainly they saw nothing “exciting”, “different” or “new” about Google+ compared to their usual hangout (Facebook for almost all of them). One colleague of mine put it this way, “It’s like driving a 2010 Toyota Camry with 20,000 miles on it and the car dealer calling you up and asking if you want to trade it in on an identical 2010 Toyota Camry with 20,000 miles – what’s the point?”
Google+ never had anything that differentiated it from Facebook. The one thing it did have going for it was the Google name – and true enough when it was first released we saw this massive frenzy of people who wanted to get in on the ground floor. Nothing says prestige like exclusivity, and Google did a great job of making it a “you can only get in if you know someone who is already in” type affair. This kept the initial momentum for the service high for a period of time, but people soon found out that once you were “in” there really wasn’t anything “cool” to keep you around. Worse yet, the majority of your friends were still hanging out over on Facebook and a party of one gets very lonely after a while.
Meanwhile … In grocery stores marketers use a variety of techniques to watch what you buy and how you decide what brand of peanut butter to purchase. They use everything from hidden cameras to researchers just blending in with other shoppers to observe your behavior. I decided to borrow a page from the professional market research playbook then and sort of wandered the aisles of the Internet to see just how much people were using Google+. It soon became apparent that this was one brand of peanut butter that people weren’t buying.
First I went seeking out popular news articles from some of the major news sites that have Google+ tie-ins. My first stop was MSNBC where I checked out a number of popular news stories and decided to use one about the death of Andy Rooney as my example (full MSNBC article located at http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/45173371/ns/today-entertainment/).
Just take a quick look at the social media share statistics listed for this article. Over 27,000 Facebook recommendations; 4,700 other shares (e-mail, LinkedIn, Newsvine, etc) – and only 58 Google+ shares. Compared to Facebook that represents just two-tenths of one percent. Not exactly a rip-roaring testament to the popularity of Google+.
It was recently announced that Google+ is throwing the doors wide open for everyone – including businesses to set up their own pages. The exclusivity factory is now moot. However, again I have to ask – where’s the innovation? Sure, I can put my business page on Google+ but why? What are you going to offer me that the other guy isn’t? And why should I do it at all if all my customers are hanging out on another site?
It’s sad to see Google lose its way with innovation and become a “me too” player. If you look at the history of both AOL and Yahoo you can see the same fate pretty much played out the same way with both of them. Yahoo created a lot of firsts for the online world, but then they started slipping. Instead of innovating they started to copy, acquire, play the “me too” game. Now, they are pretty much known for only two products – Yahoo Mail and Flickr. Some argue that these two pieces of Yahoo are the only real saleable assets they have left. Sad.
What’s the future hold for Google+? Without innovative new features I don’t see the need for Facebook to get worried about the competition anytime soon. The problem is that people have already tried it out, kicked the tires, and left. It’s going to be hard for Google to get them come take a test drive again. It’s going to be even harder for them to convince people to try their brand of peanut butter.