Google, the tech media giant whose name has become a socially acceptable verb to describe the act of searching for information, has done many things right during its long reign of internet power. But with the good comes the bad and Google has had its fair share of failures. One of those missteps has been the social networking branch of the organization, Google+.
Although still in existence, Google+ has arguably been an unsuccessful venture, specifically in North America. Google+ currently shows significantly higher numbers of users in India, Thailand, Mexico and other fast growing digital markets, however overall the numbers for Google+ are low and it remains an unpopular social media platform.
Launched in 2011, Google+ was the fourth attempt by Google to incorporate a social aspect into their media empire. The brain child of Vic Gundotra, the former VP of engineering at Google, Google+ was created as a way to go head to head with Facebook, the then leading social media innovator. At the time Gundotra felt that the only way to stay relevant in the ever-changing world of online communication was to have a Google-centric social media site.
Within Google Gundotra pitched the idea with the very simple:
At its start Google+ was meant to connect its users with not only their friends, but also their other social and professional networking sites. Designed similarly to other social platforms, Google+ allows users to upload a profile picture and provide work, education and personal information and post status updates, pictures and videos for their followers to access.
With some features that were arguably ahead of their time, Google+ broke from the standard social media mold by providing areas called ‘Hangouts’ that allowed users to text and video chat with one another. Google+ introduced group messaging to the platform allowing multiple users to connect at the same time. Never intending to be a be a male heavy site, since its inception the majority of Google+ users have been men between the ages of 18-45, a trend that continues today.
At the time of its release Google was seen as having a major advantage over its competitors with its already substantial user base. Google essentially forced their users to sign up with Google+ if they wished to continue using some of Googles other features like YouTube, Google photos or Google Drive. Up until 2015 if someone wanted to comment on a YouTube video they had to have a Google+ account.
This ‘forced’ membership meant that at the end of its first year Google+ was on its way to having over 90 million accounts. But the number of users with accounts has clearly not translated to number of users who actively use the site.
So what went wrong? With all the tools and talents seemingly needed to create a strong, viable social media platform, why did Google+ not become the juggernaut that it had the potential to be?
There are many thoughts as to why Google+ did not meet expectations. From the beginning there were complaints about the design of the site. The ‘Hangouts’ and ‘Circles’ and ‘Sparks’ were confusing and not engaging to consumers.
One theory about Google+’s failure is the attempt to make the site too much like Facebook. Instead of creating an original social networking concept they essentially copied the already working formula that Facebook used, but did little to add to the concept or improve upon the design.
Google was also slow moving Google+ to the mobile arena, a move made early on by Facebook that had a significant impact on accessibility for its users.
Perhaps most detrimental to its growth was the unexpected departure of Google+’s cheerleader and creator Vic Gundotra only one year after its debut. Gundotra left no solid direction to follow or game plan as to how to propel the site forward, seemingly dooming Google to cautious and unsure approach to the project.
Overall the impact Google+ has had on the social networking world is minimal. However, there is one Google+ innovation that has found its way into other social media services:
Google+ was the first site to have streaming video and in-stream GIF’s, paving the way for competitor Facebook to eventually adopt these processes, ultimately changing the way online video content is shared and consumed.
Google has not fully given up on the site and it has gone through a number of iterations and redesigns over the years. It began to distance itself from being a ‘social’ site, to becoming more of a place for ‘curation of content’, a one-stop-shop to connect users different online communities with multiple digital social and professional sites. In the world markets where it remains relevant Google+ is counting on the increasing reliance on technology by the growing young, affluent urban demographic to keep user numbers steady.
It appears as though Google wants to make the Google+ work and it is attempting to actively incorporate public feedback into the redesign of the site. In January 2017 Google announced it would be re-shifting the site and working on improvements and upgrade its features. However there has been no follow up on what those changes were to be and progress has not been made.
For now Google+ will remain an active site with few active users, but it remains to be seen if it will adapt and survive or quietly fade away.