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“I don’t think Google+ can compete”

Issue Date - 22/12/2011
B&E: Google+ claims a user base of more than 50 million today, which makes it the fastest-growing social network of all times. But to achieve this, it used its marketing muscle to direct web searchers to Google+. Facebook did nothing of this sort. What are your growth forecasts for Google+ and do you think it is a potential threat to Facebook’s existence?
Paul Tassi (PT): Despite Google+’s  initial surge and tens of millions of active members, I still view it as a niche social network. That may sound strange with those kind of numbers, but when you look at how many of those millions are actually actively posting and using the platform, I bet you’ll see what I mean. Google+ tried to be exclusive when it launched with invites, but it only confused people who weren’t sure if they could even get an account. Then once they did, the site wasn’t set up to have their streams filled with content. The vast majority of new users just saw a blank white space as none of their friends were posting things either, and they walked away, not understanding what they’d just witnessed. So no, without tremendous word of mouth support, I do not believe that Google+ will continue to grow at nearly the same pace, nor in its current form, will it pose a substantial threat to Facebook.

B&E: Apart from the Circles feature – which Facebook quickly co-opted – Google+ has not managed to distinguish itself from its rivals. How can Google+ differentiate itself? Or will Google be forced to put an end to its misery?
PT: People got upset with me when I said that Google+ was dead or failure. But the truth is, the main people who are highly active and engaged on the site are mostly either (a) People in the tech industry, journalists or otherwise; (b) Social media fiends trying to capitalise on a new platform or (c)People who love talking and connecting with strangers. That’s why I think this it’s still a niche platform. Yes, more “average” people who are sick of Facebook are trickling in to connect to more interesting people, but I don’t think most people will find talking to strangers more interesting than talking to friends. This said, I do not think that Google will overtly kill G+ the way they did with things like Buzz and Wave. Those were exceptionally obvious failures that were apparent almost immediately. I think Plus has more potential than either of those, but they do need to figure out better ways to get people engaged and give them a reason to stick around the site as opposed to their other social networks.

B&E: One of your August 2011 article in the Forbes magazine titled, ‘A Eulogy for Google Plus’ says: “Google+ is a vast and empty wasteland... One simple click takes me back to Facebook... This just isn’t a contest, and it never will be.” Do you think Google+ cannot become successful?
PT: Perhaps my original thought was too hyperbolic, but no, in its current form I don’t think Google+ can compete. Even after I learned how to fill up my newsfeed with content, it still wasn’t a place I wanted to visit as it was full of people I didn’t know or particularly care about.

B&E: Google+ has made a bad first impression, and in the social-networking business, a bad first impression spells death. What do you feel? PT: There’s always a learning curve with sites. Facebook and Twitter were simpler concepts, while Google+ feels like a more complicated version of each of them which forces you to start your network from the ground floor. It took me a few months to get fully into Facebook. It took me over a year to really start to “get” Twitter. Perhaps something similar will happen with G+ down the road, but it hasn’t yet.

B&E: Unless some one is terribly tired of Facebook, would he/she shift to Google+. You can use both, but what’s the point? Why manage two different social networks where the only difference is cosmetics and a few bug fixes?
PT: I guess you did find the “core” problem you were looking for. Why manage two social networks when the new one doesn’t offer a significant advantage over the other? Chances are you’re going to stick with the one you know. Yes, a few people might switch, but as the overwhelming majority of people don’t want to either start their friends list over or learn how to work a social media site, there just won’t be mass migration.

B&E: Finally, how serious a contendor is Google+ for you in the world of online social networking?
PT: I don’t think Google+ is half hearted, I just don’t think it’s very well thought out. Most people do not want a social network that mirrors the one they already use, even if a handful of features are better. Most people do not want to have to re-add hundreds of friends onto a new network. Most people don’t want to connect or interact with strangers if no friends are around. Most people do not want to be forced to share their posts publicly in order to have any sort of interaction or feedback on a site. These four things are why Google+ isn’t a serious contender for me. Google+’s problem is that it takes a lot of effort to truly make it a worthwhile social network. If the devoted user base of a site addresses people’s negative first impressions and criticism with a big “you’re doing it wrong,” I would then have say to Google, “no, YOU’RE doing it wrong.”.

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