Update: 28 July 2015
Another step in the evolution of Google+ has just been revealed. As I mentioned in the original article below, everyone signing up for Google accounts has automatically been signed up for a Google+ account whether they wanted it or not. However, Bradley Horowitz announced yesterday that this would start to change. YouTube is going to be extricated from Google+ first, but it appears likely that other products will follow. Rather than being a 'glue' that holds everything together, it appears that Google+ will instead be 'just another' Google product or service. Gaining greater focus will hopefully enable it to establish a clear identity, as I outlined in my original article.
To say that Google+ has never been a social media superstar would be an understatement. It's never been the popular Facebook, the 'I'm everywhere' Twitter, or the photogenic Pinterest. Is 'never' overstating it though? Does it offer anything useful? What's its future?
Google+ had a troubled ancestry, with decidedly hunchbacked genes. Google Buzz took a swan dive off a tall building into traffic with its privacy issues, with one user reportedly having her abusive ex added as a 'friend' and private communications with her current partner revealed to her ex! Buzz lasted less than 2 years. The other parent was Google Wave, whose personality was so complex that people struggled to understand it. Take a look at this:
Google Wave lasted less than 3 years. So with one parent suicidal and another ugly as sin, what chance did their child have?
Superstar or Superflop?
Google+ defied its unpromising genes with a blazing start to life, reaching 20 million users in just 3 weeks. That's right, weeks, where Facebook and Twitter took years. Early growth was high too, with a 30% increase in use. It seemed that Google had, at third time of trying, finally got a social media platform to be proud of. Communities began to grow, especially around technology and science, topics in which Google+ continues to remain popular. It also offers one great advantage in that everything posted on the service is automatically crawled by Google's search engine.
Now, there are an incredible 2.5 billion users. 2.5 billion! That's incredible, suspiciously incredible. There aren't really that many actual users. All Google accounts now come complete with Google+, so if you've signed up for a Gmail or YouTube account, the chances are that you've got a Google+ account. So how many of those users are actually using their account? According to one study, as many as 91.8% of Google+ profiles have never posted anything publicly on the service! At the other end of the spectrum, the number of users who've posted 50 or more times is 0.3%!
It was once said of Intel that they were so big that they could afford to make mistakes that would finish other companies. How many companies other than Google could get away with 3 social media networks not seeing big take-up?
Bradley Horowitz is the cosmetic surgeon tasked with trying to make Google+ pretty. With the photo element now being split off into its own service, work has already begun. This seems to make a certain sense, as it's not immediately obvious why you'd have a photo hosting service integrated with a social media network to begin with. However, if the focus is on giving Google+, well, focus, does the new Collections feature fit that? At first blush it seems like an overly complex method of organising your stream, something that a blog handles really easily with tags. Many people have compared it to Pinterest's 'Boards', but there it feels intuitive. If you picture (ha ha) every Pinterest board as a photo album, then it makes sense.
Personally, I'd like to see simplicity reign. All too often reactionary internet opinion can view simplicity as dumbing down, but complexity for complexity's sake is nothing to be proud of. As internet use becomes increasingly mobile, an easy to use service accessed by an app is actually a great feature. With Twitter, for example, I can just tap the 'What's happening?' bar and start writing. If Google+ can establish a clear identity, a clear 'thing that it does', then maybe that horrible figure of 0.3% above will grow.
What do you think of Google+? Do you use it regularly, and if so, how? What are your success stories with it? Let me know in the comments.