Why Google+ has no long term traction and why Circles is not THAT useful

Wed, Jul 20, 2011

Analysis, News

I’ve had a lot of back and forth with friends concerning the prospects of Google+. Put simply, I don’t think it poses much of a threat to Facebook. What Google has on its side is the ability to leverage its search engine and email prowess to really increase the number of Google+ users while at the same time provide some interesting cross-application integration.

But as a service with a mission to compete against Facebook, I don’t see how Google+ can succeed. Previous social networks didn’t have much of a lock-in affect aside from a user’s particular subset of friends. Facebook, on the other hand, has user lock in not only based on a user’s friends, but also with content vis a vis uploaded photos and videos. In other words, folks are inextricably attached to Facebook in a way that social network users have never been attached before.

Further, there are only so many hours in a day, and as LinkedIn’s CEO recently opined, most users don’t have time for yet another social network that brings nothing new to the table. But what about Circles, you ask?

Well, for as much fanfare as Google+’s Circles feature seems to be getting, GoodExperience astutely points out that Circles, while arguably a compelling feature, doesn’t really take into account how average users interact with their social network.

Circles enables users to put various groups of people into distinct categories. As a result, users can ensure that weekend party photos are only visible to old college buddies and not new firm colleagues. While this is an innovative idea on the surface, is the feature really something users have been clamoring for?

The problem with this… well, let me be blunt: how many Facebook users wish that fewer people would read their posts?

If you found an average Facebook user – here I’m not talking a top 1% A-list blogger, but rather someone in the middle of the pack of 750 million – and observed them, say, reading their friends’ posts, possibly commenting on one or two, maybe even uploading photos of the recent vacation or playing Farmville – what might you conclude? Would you conclude that the urgent pain point in the Facebook experience is not being able to publish to a subset of your contacts?

I doubt it. At least we’ve never found that, when Creative Good has done user research in social media. I’ve heard, and read, lots of complaints about the Facebook experience over the years, and “publishing granularity” has never been one of them.

Now I understand the thinking behind the circles: people often have very different contexts in their lives that they want to keep separate. True enough. And as I said, the interface design is brilliantly executed. I just don’t think it’s the right strategy, for a simple reason: most users are more concerned with the inbound than the outbound.

And therein lies the problem.

GoodExperience rightly points out that most Facebook users would rather have more people read their posts and view their photos than they care to take pro-active steps to streamline who exactly can see certain types of posts.

“More followers, more buzz, more influence, more more more publishing reach,” the article reads,  “Google’s response: here’s an interface to let you post to fewer people.”

Google+, at it’s core, isn’t about connecting people, it’s about the search giant gaining access to the avalanche of information exchanged daily amongst social network users. Google’s motivation here is information aggregation hidden inside a veneer of a social network.

Despite a number of privacy scandals and complete UI and functionality overhauls, most users have demonstrated an absolute reluctance to abandon Facebook. They’re tied in.

People aren’t fed up with Facebook. They by and large love Facebook. User complaints pale in comparison to the benefit derived from using Zuckerberg’s service. Facebook, by and large, is your friendly neighborhood digital crack dealer. Google+, meanwhile, showed up across the block and is slangin’ the same product, albeit slightly watered down.

Again, Circles is cool, but users don’t want more complexity on their social network. Divying up friend networks that can sometimes reach up into the high hundreds if not thousands is not a chore for the mainstream user – which explains why Google+ thus far appeals almost exclusively to the technically savvy among us. That said, nerdy bloggers and tech heads seem to love Google+. Show me an average non-techie who sees a value proposition not available on Facebook and I’ll be convinced that Google+ will be something more than Google Buzz and Google Wave ever were.


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