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“Google+ cannot race ahead of Facebook”

Issue Date - 22/12/2011
B&E: Like other social networking sites, the real test of Google+ is what people do after they join. Reportedly, they aren’t doing a lot. Traffic-analysis firms have reported that Google+’s traffic has fallen from its peak. Do you think Google+ should work on keeping users engaged?
Shawn Rogers (SR): Google+ must improve the features of the platform to engage people at a level to rival Facebook. The other hurdle is getting the attention of the Facebook user community and providing a compelling reason to uproot your online social investment and replant it at Google+. The biggest challenge for Google+ is critical mass. If I am already connected on Facebook to friends, relatives and coworkers, will I be willing to change to a platform that offers less connectivity and access than the one I use now? Without the same level of critical mass on Google’s platform, I’m unlikely to make a complete commitment to that platform.

B&E: Experts believe that perhaps Google+ is too late to the party. Is Google’s arrival rightly timed?
SR: Google has made more than one misstep on its journey to capture the social needs of users. It may very well be too late to the party to guarantee success. At present the features and engagement points of the Google+ platform don’t measure up to Facebook’s. In the end, Google+ may need Facebook to make critical mistakes for the door to open wide enough for them to supplant Facebook.

B&E: You mentioned Facebook. Can Google+ actually become a favourite over Facebook both for users and advertisers?
SR: For Facebook, the areas of vulnerability are centered in privacy standards and the ever changing and complex interface of its site. But for now, Facebook has not made “MySpace–esque” mistakes. Therefore Google+ cannot race ahead of Facebook in any respect, unless it is able to deliver a more valuable set of features along with enough critical mass to engage users. The limited engagement/audience at Google+ is a root cause for why it won’t overthrow Facebook in the years to come.

B&E: Experts claim that the “launch-first, fix-it-later” strategy has worked marvelously for Google in the past. Gmail, Chrome are examples of this. This launch first, fix-it-later strategy is being cited as the “central failure” for Google+. What is your opinion?
SR: I think in many ways the ship has already sailed on Goggle+. The launch first, fix-it-later scenario works well with early adopter geeks, but not the mass adopter consumer users of social networking platforms. So in case of Google+, this strategy will not work. In short, it took a certain amount of peer pressure to get my mother to open a Facebook account. She has found her friends, joined her groups and loves seeing the pictures of her grandchildren online. She is not at all interested in wading through release iterations on a new platforms that doesn’t already have the features and connections that she expects. Geeks understand it, but normal users don’t.

B&E: A social network isn’t a product; it’s a place and needs a critical mass of people. The more people it attracts, the more it will attract regular visitors. Is Google+ offering enough reasons to ensure this critical mass is achieved and soon?
SR: The challenge for Google beyond critical audience mass, killer features et al, is time. Many users have already split their social bandwidth between Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Each provides a unique experience and outcome. To build on your place analogy, if it is a place much like a restaurant where will you eat? At the empty or less populated one or at the place your friends and family frequent? That is the question. There is only so much time to dedicate to being social – and therefore adding a fourth platform like Google+ to our lives is difficult without a compelling reason to replace one of the others.

B&E: So you think that there is nothing compelling about Google+ to attract new traffic or retain those one time visitors?  
SR: While initial uptake on Google+ looked promising, the leaders and social mavens didn’t recommend or adopt in big enough numbers to ride the wave forward beyond the early adopter phase. Twitter and LinkedIn, both provide unique value propositions to our social mix enticing us to spend time on each for unique reasons. Twitter’s immediacy and limited word count are unique and fun, LinkedIn has become a career networking environment that provides a platform separated from our personal lives on Facebook that is valuable to most professionals. And Facebook is easy to use and very interesting. So I think, Google needs to fill a unique gap in the social landscape and at present they don’t really possess something compelling to attract traffic. Google+ does not presently supply features or reach that I can’t get else where. I have accounts on every major social community on the web and manage my time commitment based on value. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook fill my social needs both professionally and personally. And I think this is true for many hundreds of other social network users. Google+ has yet to deliver fresh features or a highly integrated enough platform to cause users to redistribute their social time budgets and efforts to their platform.

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