In his recent TechRepublic article “The Beginning of the End for Google+“, Adam Metz predicts that the acquisition of Kevin Rose’s startup, “Milk” will mark the rapid decline and eventual shuttering of Google+.
Adam illustrates some pretty stark numbers that indicate that Google+ hasn’t found enough traction to compete with Facebook or Twitter.
A different point of view
There are a number of reasons for this. During the invite-only Google+ beta, Google cultivated a user-base of content creators - people that would want to write about things related to technology and news.
Google+ premiered during a time of concern about Facebook’s constantly shifting privacy settings. Many saw the Google model of “circles” empowering users to filter content. If you set up your circles right, you could say those bad things about your employer, and it would be less likely to ever get back to them.
Facebook is a social site that works best for close connections. Facebook users mutually follow each other. The design of Facebook’s connections is more like LinkedIn. Friend requests are approved before content is accessible. Content is focused on communication and feedback. Facebook encourages posts based on positive feedback from friends. Without positive feedback, there is little incentive to participate on Facebook.
Comparing Google+ to Facebook isn’t accurate. It compares better to Twitter. Twitter and Google+ are far more public. The default settings allow anyone to follow anyone else, and there is no expectation for them to reciprocate. Following is immediate; the person followed does not need to approve the connection.
Active Twitter users are aggregators of links, stories, and quotes or are promoting their own content to a group of followers who primarily consume. The most accurate indication that your followers on Twitter are listening is that they don’t unfollow you. Although positive feedback on Twitter exists it happens less than on Facebook.
Jason’s outlook matches my experience on Google+. I’ve been spending much more time at Google+ lately. If Google+ has stolen my time from anywhere, it is from Twitter. This is because Google+ is like a richer Twitter experience. Google+ recently revealed a new layout and early reaction is that the new layout looks a lot like Twitter. I’m not surprised at all.
More like Twitter
On Twitter I have more followers than I follow, and I post links to content I’ve created or I want to recommend. Occasionally a small conversation will start around a post - but at 140 characters, they die quickly. I do not interact with the majority of the users who follow me. There is a regular group of people who retweet my posts, but the majority of my followers are silent. Likewise, I consume the content of a number of people I follow, but we rarely interact. However, there is a small group of people who I engage with more frequently.
My Google+ experience is the same, but enhanced. I follow strangers because I see their posts on the streams of people I follow and I find them interesting. The culture of Google+ encourages me to add someone interesting into my circles. On Facebook, an unknown “friend of a friend” sending a friend request can be creepy. On Google+, it is by design. Those interactions frequently evolve into more elaborate two-way conversations. The conversations on Google+ are more like the discussions in forums like TechRepublic’s - back and forth conversations that span many messages, developing deeper interactions.
My earliest experiences with online communities were local dial-up BBS sites. In the early days of the Internet, Usenet and The Well replaced those bulletin boards. All of these communities threw strangers together and allowed them to form bonds around topic based discussions. However, because of the intimate and immediate nature of Facebook, your friend with strong opinions becomes a pain when he irritates your other friends. When I “talk shop” my non-technical friends constantly tell me to “stop speaking geek”.
But on Google+, the people who follow you are generally strangers who want to discuss these topics, either because they agree, disagree, or simply want to know more about your view.
This kind of community building and interaction drives the Internet. Facebook has their own niche as the “Internet Friends and Family” portal - but we behave in a more personal way there. This means we’re more guarded - we wear the face for those closest to us: husband, father, son, or friend. We’re less comfortable letting strangers see these sides.
But Google+ encourages us to wear our public face, to meet strangers and interact with them. It actually seems more likely that a new Google+ follower would cross over to become a Facebook friend than the other way. Facebook offers us the comfortable and well known, Google+ the new and exciting. For that reason, I don’t think we should count Google+ out just yet. I think it is just getting started.