Whither Google+?

Google+ clearly stands on the shoulders of giants. It has learned valuable lessons from the current giants of social media, Facebook and Twitter (see video here). It combines a Facebook-like layout that prominently features a newsfeed and friends, with Twitter’s ease of following. It many ways, it feels like a buttoned-down Facebook, from its simple Google-like design to its somewhat less-entangled circles. It also has what may be it’s “killer app”: Google Hangout. G+ clearly has the edge when it comes to face-to-face video conferencing.

So why does it not seem to be taking off? Google+ quickly gained followers and visits after its summer 2011 launch. These spiked when Google dropped the invitation-only mechanism for joining G+. But visits have since faded:

One obvious issue is a lack of participation. There simply is more critical mass on Facebook and Twitter, where the typical user sees rapid-fire updates and interactions with friends and followers. G+ doesn’t seem to have gotten there yet.

G+ also lacks a certain “playfulness” that Facebook has embraced. Facebook is very good at “shipping product” in the form of new features, including games and other apps. This keeps users engaged. G+ does offer a small selection of games, but regardless, G+ may not be the most “fun” social network out there.

However, it may be the most useful. G+ has a big ace in the hole: the combined weight of a galaxy of Google applications, such as Google Docs, Gmail, the Internet’s premiere search engine, and did we mention Google Hangout? G+ has finally made video chat a think of ease, seamlessly integrating it with a power social network. This satisfies a network’s need to be meaningful and to allow transparent collaboration. It has been invaluable for this class. As Josephine Dorado puts it, G+ is part of Google’s “collaborative system,” which may be more than the sum of its parts. In this sense, G+ is just a really smart fit for the things we want to do online.

Finally, is it even fair to judge G+ against dedicated social platforms such as Facebook? G+ may not have to be a destination. Everyone uses Google, and when they do, they will see that black bar with the red G+ notification alert. As Tom Anderson, MySpace’s founder, points out, you are going to end up on G+ whether you want to or not. It’s just there in a very functional, utilitarian manner. Is it flashy? No. Is it sustainable on some level, even if not spectacularly? The answer is yes.