“Google+ could be viewed as Google 2.0,” Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of social initiatives, declared while touting the service’s recent membership victories.
The company’s optimism about Google+, though, ignores the devil in the details.
Ninety million people belonged to Google+ in January of this year, according to the company. But that claim means less than it might appear.
The Wall Street Journal recently quoted research firm comScore’s figures on the average length of social networking sessions for computer users. Google+ users spent a mere three minutes a month on the site while Facebook users averaged seven hours a month. Three minutes a month is essentially low enough to count as an accident.
From the user’s perspective, Google+ membership can indeed seem accidental. Creating an account from the Google homepage because you want, say, Gmail will also entail creating a Google profile, which automatically includes Google+ membership. A Google+ profile can be deleted but it requires some work and knowing where to look. It stands to reason that some consumers would find it easier to leave a blank profile in place than to deal with settings and adjustments.
Trying to find its way
The Google+ project has progressed unevenly from the beginning. It began as an invite-only beta in July 2011 and its secretive nature, and limited invitations, did attract a wave of early adopters. A closed social network ends up looking like a ghost town, though, if only technophiles with a golden ticket are allowed in. When Google+ finally opened to the general public, in September, many of the initial participants had already grown bored of talking to no one.
Google+ most recently made headlines with Search Plus Your World (SPYW), a modified search initiative that boosted Google+ content in its rankings. Competing companies, including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Facebook, created a bookmarklet that showed SPYW sacrificed more-objective rankings to promote personalized elements of its social network.
The SPYW integration didn’t cause users to abandon Google, though. A newer comScore survey found that Google maintained a 66.4% search engine market share in February, a 0.2% increase from January’s 66.2%. The closest competitor was Microsoft’s Bing, whose 15.3% market share in February was up 0.1% from January.
That Google continues to attract robust traffic may mean it won’t analyze Google+ more critically anytime soon, although the company hardly seems shy about shuttering services, including the ill-fated Wave and Buzz, that don’t perform to its liking.
Still, even concerns about Google’s system-wide privacy policies, which have drawn considerable consumer scrutiny, haven’t really distracted the company from its initiatives. The reality is that few people are going to truly abandon Google, even if it misbehaves occasionally, and the company is well aware of this fact. It is good to be the king.