The funny thing about predictions is how unpredictable they are.
And this is why I feel I’m taking a bit of a risk in making one about the fate of the “new” Google+.
Let me get my prediction out of the way, right here at the beginning. That way, anyone who feels the need to tune out can. And those who are worked up about my prediction can start forming their charged rebuttals without having to wait for me to get to the point.
I think that Google+ may end up being a flop. If not a flop, then definitely not the major evolution in social media that the fat cats at Google are predicting. It may go the way of Google’s previous social media experiments: Google Wave and Google Buzz.
A few reasons.
First of all, they should be wowing the pants off the world by now.
Sure, it may have taken Facebook and Twitter a few years to get their massive followings, but remember, there was no such thing as social media when Facebook first began. That was back in the day when people were talking about Web 2.0 in hushed tones of awe and confusion. And, with Twitter? Let’s just say that, for the longest time, people just didn’t “get” Twitter. As social media has become a socially prevalent means of interpersonal communication, people have started to understand Twitter and adopt it. It has become a major success story. But Twitter is no threat to Facebook. Regular users know that they have very different uses.
Looking back, these social networking sites existed before there was a social networking infrastructure. They existed before online communications became a part of the social fabric. In fact, Facebook was a major player in building this infrastructure. It was a leader in making social networking a major part of our day-to-day lives.
It should also be noted that sites like Facebook and Twitter were born of small-potato nerd dreams. They didn’t start with any online clout. They worked their way to prevalence.
Now, let’s look at Google+.
Google is used by practically every computer user on the planet. At last count, which was in 2008, there were a billion personal computers in use worldwide. Estimates peg there to be another billion by 2014. There are, if Wikipedia is correct, over 2 billion internet users. Almost all of these machines and people use Google.
This means that Google has direct marketing to 30% of the planet. This means that, unlike Facebook, they can “poke” every computer user that there is. It is pretty much impossible for Google+ to not have the 20 million users it currently has.
And yet people I know couldn’t give away invitations to the test version.
What’s more, Twitter and Facebook saw their clients increase their use of the software as time passed. Anecdotal reports show that Google+ users have decreased their use over time.
With all of these masses of people now accessing the web, the ground seems fertile for new avenues of social networking. The folks at Google could offer up “Google Fart” and by the power of their sheer size alone should pick up millions of users. Add to this the fact that growing numbers of people are now comfortable experimenting with social media, and even more people should line up for a sniff.
But the problem is that users would soon find that Google Fart, well, stinks.
Google+ is by no means such a stinker, but is it enough of an improvement to change the social media market?
I wonder. I really do. And I doubt it.
Despite the fact that Facebook repeatedly shoots itself in the foot by making drastic changes, users refuse to go away. There is a stubborn brand loyalty to Facebook, no matter how much they try to ruin it. And Google has the daunting task of wooing these 750 million somewhat satisfied users.
Again, this is anecdotal, but it seems to me that the average Joe/Joanne has no reason to switch. To have to rebuild what they are already comfortably doing in Facebook would be a chore. The familiar may have its issues, but it is the familiar. And the casual computer user craves the familiar. It is easy to deal with.
I have absolutely no doubt that Facebook will soon integrate most of the novel features that Google+ has to offer. In fact, they have already started. Today saw the launch of Facebook “Lists” — which is awfully similar to the Google “Circles.”
Why change if you’re not missing out on anything?
Sure, nerds may want more, but we are the minority. And even we aren’t finding Google+ the answer. At least not in my circles (pun perhaps intended).
Finally, there is the Big Brother factor. As privacy issues become more prevalent, Google seems scarier and scarier. I think people do worry about integrated links between their mobile phone network/operating system (Android), email (Gmail), documents (Google Docs), YouTube, photo sharing sites (Picassa), social networking site (Google+) and more. All of your personal information (and browsing history and personal correspondence) housed by one program platform? What if it is hacked? What if someone gets your password? What if you hit the wrong button?
Questions I’ve heard: Can Google+ users see my browsing history? How much of my Gmail goes into Google+? Does my personal correspondence affect the results of my Google searches? How much of my online banking history is saved by Google? And how much does Google know about me anyway?
If you think that privacy concerns at Facebook scare people, how about accessing your entire online existence at one single click of a button? How about having one corporation have access to it all?
I’m extremely literate when it comes to online security. And this scares the shit out of me.
Think about how this might seem to someone who has only a rudimentary knowledge of how the web works. I think it may act as a major turn-off.
Who knows? There may be a social media backlash in the not so distant future.
And the response to Google+ may prove to be a harbinger of this backlash.
I think, to a certain extent, people are a bit freaked out by Google. They’ve gotten too big. Too scary. The again, so has Facebook. So, again, who knows? Instead of spending time with “Big Brother” people may find an urge to spend time with their actual brothers and sisters, friends and families. I think that social media may soon reach the end of its growth phase — at least in Western Culture.
Don’t get me wrong. Social media is here to stay. There is no denying this. But, like mass produced foods, it is starting to lose its novelty. People are starting to see the empty calories that it contains. People are starting to see the problems with over-consuming. People may, in time, start looking for more natural and organic relationships once more.
So I do wonder how successful a new player will be at this stage of the social networking evolution/revolution.
My guess is that it won’t be. If Google+ doesn’t have people salivating already, it may be that there just isn’t a hunger present.
And this is bad news for the ever-hungry investors at the Googleplex.
I want to know what you think. Please, leave a comment. Let me know your prediction for Google+. I really am curious.