Well, since Vic Gundotra left Google, there’s been lots of speculation about the fate of Google+ from people who have much better sources than I do. But, I can’t help but offer a few thoughts from the peanut gallery.
First, Vic is the one largely credited with declaring war on iOS and the iPhone at an i/o conference. I didn’t find it a useful strategy for Google to make enemies with Apple. In fact, I was a happy and deep user of both companies products and services. But that moment started the long slide that has led to, for the most part, less usage of Google and more of Apple. Not because I explicitly chose it, but because Google chose to sever the friendship. And because Google stopped supporting ActiveSync for iOS users. And because Google and Apple couldn’t play nice over maps, so I now use iOS maps. And you know what? I consider that severed “friendship” between these two great companies one of the greatest destructions of consumer value I’ve ever seen. Hubris, if you ask me. And worse, it took the “don’t be evil” shine off of Google, just as surely as a product mishap takes the “better design” shine off of Apple. Because they didn’t just declare war on Apple, as an underdog, they effectively declared war on Apple’s customers, impugning them as supporting the “one man chooses” regime of Apple.
Google+ also took the “Google knows services” shine off the company too. Maybe they didn’t understand services. Maybe a bunch of computer science guys aren’t the ones to figure out how to help us be social. Ouch.
Second, I never liked Google+, despite it being a fantastic visual and functional product/service offering. We use it. We post to it. It has some cool features (like the integration between your Google+ page and Youtube). But no traffic reaches our site from Google+ (or very little). A raft-load of traffic comes from twitter, linkedin, and Google searches. Even a trickle from Facebook. Almost none from Google+. And, I just don’t like it.
In Alen Lepo’s article linked above, he hypothesizes two issues with why people don’t like (or use) Google+:
- that the network effects just weren’t there on Google+ and it couldn’t draw enough users away from Facebook
- Google+ annoys people because it is pushed upon them.
There’s a third. Google+ tried to be everything, right from the start. The way Instagram and Whatsapp tackled Facebook features was not by doing things that Facebook didn’t do (Facebook posts photos and shares them just fine, and has its own messaging service), the trick is that these services had a thin wedge – a narrow focus – that allowed them to create value for that specific use case in a way that a bloated generic app or company never would. Google should know this lesson, after all, its own narrow focused wedge back in the day was SEARCH… and Yahoo was the big incumbent where search was only part of what they did.
Also, I rather think the second point is underplayed. My Google services got hijacked by my trusted service provider (Google) and infected with what felt like a virus of social slime. There was no “opt in” or “opt out”. There was “take it or leave”. It didn’t feel like I was getting cool new features, it felt like I was defending the core functionality of my Google services (maps, email, etc.) from the incursion of this Google+ dogma. It felt like something Facebook would do to me in the late 2000’s. Yuck.
I don’t know how Google can undo what’s been done. But if they change their compass and start caring more about great services in their own right, and taking care of their customers (users! not advertisers! ) then they’ll do just fine in the long run. If they keep making decisions like Microsoft (put more in the box! force everyone to use the new service!) then I think they’ll continue to alienate their core user base.