Why Google plus will fail

Before I began my first degree in Psychology, I read a book about how friendships work. It goes like this:

“The development of friendship occurs through the skills of partners in revealing or disclosing their attitudes first and later their personalities, inner characters and true selves. This must be done in a reciprocal manner, turn-by-turn, in a way that keeps pace with revelations and disclosures made by the partner” (Duck S. 1983 pg67)

When the first big social network (Facebook) began it was based on the idea of a college yearbook (Name, Photo, Personal information). That’s fine for a yearbook, because everybody who reads it will likely be part of the same social network. In the real world even this “basic” information can vary radically according to who we interact with.

For example, I have no single photo suitable for everyone I know. Work colleagues expect a professional photo (at a desk with Second Life running); personal friends want something more about me (Capsule hotel, Tokyo, 2001); Second Life friends expect, well, an avatar…

Then there’s my name. Surely that’s consistent? Well, again, the same three groups probably expect, respectively, Dr Rudman, Paul, PD Alchemi. Think about it. What does your boss call you? Your mother? Your partner at 1am?

Revealing one’s full name and work identity could be way too much of a leap for a new social acquaintance. A photo that somehow reveals religious or political views could be a shock for work colleagues who may have assumed something completely different. It’s not that these things are “secret”, just that they need to be shared appropriately.

We are all at some stage in the friendship forming process with each of our “friends”. For some it will be a temporary stage as we move forward. For others it will be a stage from which we prefer not to move further forward. But whatever the stage, we need to be careful not to jump too far ahead, not to reveal something which that particular friendship is not yet ready for.

Google plus – Google’s foray into the world of social networking – allows people to be allocated to “circles”, i.e. groups for filtering information. It’s a significant step forward, but alas, I suspect it will not be enough. Not all friends are equal. Some can be told about the club last night, some can’t; some can know about holiday exploits, others cannot. There needs to be some form of categorisation system that matches up individuals and information, so people can slowly move from strangers to “inner circle” – or not, as desired.

Google plus’s twitter-esque ability of one-sided friendships, also known as “following” people, or putting strangers in one’s circle, is another good move, but without a new system for controlling who sees what it’s just Twitter@Google.

One complaint about Google plus is that it won’t let people create an account for their avatar. An avatar is a mechanism for social relationships, whether Google like it or not. We recently saw the beginnings of a social network for avatars in Second Life. It’s pretty rudimentary at present, but it will probably survive, maybe even thrive, because it partly fills this gap.

The fundamental problem is one of revealing personal information appropriate to the depth of each social relationship. *Everything* needs to be tailored to the people who will receive it. Everything you post, your name, your photo, the other people in your network – who they are, what they represent and what they post – all say a lot more than most people realise. All can damage the delicate sequence and balance of a social relationship.

Circles were a great idea, but they just don’t go far enough. There needs a finer grained definition of who should know what. Like a leaking bucket, it’s not the bucket that needs fixing, it’s the leak.

And that’s why Google plus fails to improve on Facebook and Twitter, and ultimately will fail to become the new dominant social network.

Comments please…

Paul Rudman, BDRA

Duck, Steve. 1983. Friends, for life: the psychology of close relationships. Harvester Press, Brighton, Sussex

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  1. Easy comment – you’re wrong 😉

    Google has finally had the sense to leverage + across all it’s properties – that’s a huge thing to simply discount. But more important than that, this is a very young service. Can we have this discussion again in a year’s time please?

    • bdra

       /  August 1, 2011

      Google+ is a little better than Facebook and Twitter, and yes, it is integrated, and yes, it’s on the same tab as gmail, but it’s competing with very established services and I can’t see “750 million active users” changing over without a bigger incentive.

      My argument is that Google haven’t addressed the main problem behind web-based social networking, so will only become another social network, not the “Facebook killer” they undoubtably would like.

      Yes, indeed, time will tell.

  2. Brenda

     /  August 2, 2011

    Google+ got 10 million users in two weeks. You have to admit that is a good start.

    Maybe Google+ won’t kill Facebook… But that doesn’t mean that it will fail.

    • bdra

       /  August 2, 2011

      It’s a good start. To beat Facebook it needs around 400 million users (i.e take away more than half their users). That’s a tall order.

      Unless, of course, Facebook do something *really stupid* …


    • +1 Brenda (Please can we have +1 buttons on this blog? Just install the WordPress plugin). G+ now over 25 million users in a few weeks.
      Facebook does not have to fail for G+ to succeed (But remember when MySpace was the hot social network?).

  3. Ahhh a great impression of what lies close ahead. However let’s go a little further into the stage just after social networking. What comes next? What do u wish your avatar could do that it can’t do now? Comments?

  4. Perhaps we’ll see people keeping their profiles on all of the networks. Facebook and /or Google + for family and friends and those closer relationships, Linked In (which I am surprised you didn’t mention) for professional networking since it also advertises jobs and has work related reputation features, great discussion forums and networking opportunities.

    There seems to be that kind of negativity growing around Facebook that has the same feel as Microsoft has developed over the years. People don’t really trust FB but they use it because everyone else does. The sneaky way Facebook has changed privacy, features,etc has lots of people suspecting FB of being up to something and focussed on self-interest. Google seems to have the same kind of trust that Apple has from its fanboys. Google is that big, friendly, fun loving giant with the funky offices. They are the people that make cool stuff and that gives you lots of cool free tools with what seems to be an air of generosity and transparency.

    Maybe they will both thrive. Certainly as more and more education systems pass laws (Australian and US states have them already) that ban teachers from befriending and interacting with students on Facebook whilst at the same time universities and schools take on Google domains and their apps such as mail and docs, Google+ may be sanctioned as an appropriate alternative.

    Polish those crystal balls.

    • bdra

       /  August 5, 2011

      Thanks for reminding me of LinkedIn Lindy, which has quietly carved a successful niche for itself. I didn’t mention it because I never post “updates” to LinkedIn – it’s more of a repository of information for one specific group of people (work colleagues), so the problems of who sees what don’t really apply in the same way. (Some people may use it differently, of course).

      I think the fluffy image of Google-as-cuddly-toy is reaching its sell-by date though. It’s a big business, and it will upset lots of people sooner or later however nice it tries to be. Think dinosaur-in-china-shop.


  5. agreed
    Google + just looks like big hall no one there . now i do not bother even to login to my goog+ account.

    • That’s a failure on your part, not on the part of Google+ Curate a network there which serves your purpose. My Google+ is growing daily (at a very quiet time of year) – far from an empty hall.

  6. Skillz

     /  August 26, 2011

    I dont see how anyone with sense can honestly say Google+ is doing well (irrespective of how long the platform manages to last).
    I have been a Google fan well over 10 years but will not let my appreciation for Google blind the fact that they are weak in the social network space.

    Lets see a few things here :

    Search Giants – Its Google , and the rest are just playing catch up

    Email Host – Gmail is doing very well and managed to compete with Yahoo , MSN and AOL

    Web browsers – Google Chrome is by far one of the best browsers out there and its user percentage share is well over 20%

    Social Networks – Its all about Facebook and Twitter , Google have failed before in this space with Orkut and they will most likely fail again with G+

    These are just simple facts that anyone and everyone should know irrespective of whether you are a Google fan-boy or not

  7. K

     /  August 31, 2011

    Google+ will fail for their arrogant policy of naming. The nature of internet is anonymity but they dare to place their dedicated users on the front line of person data theft risk (first) and other risks such as personal relationship destruction. Google made a really wrong move.

  8. I think it is the ‘time’ that matters. Google should have started plus long before, when they failed with orkut. Now facebook became a social networking giant. So if they want people to migrate to Google plus, then there should be a reason, a solid strong reason for that. Just a customized replica of facebook (that is what google plus is now) will not work there. They have to add additional features which facebook doesn’t have for eg: give gmail as a tab in plus, or their strong tool, the search engine within plus. If they give gmail as a plus tab then gmail users will start using plus. Slowly they will use the features of plus.

  9. Yosh

     /  June 28, 2012

    The problem is that they are trying to use G+ as a way to re-invent search. So now all this 10-second attention-span bullshit (twiter posts, Facebook posts, and soon G+ posts) will be a determining factor in where you rank in the search engine’s results. It seems like a move away from stability and consistency toward something mercurial and frivolous.

    Also it will never succeed until they allow pseudonyms either. But what they want is something that allows them to completely and utterly track your every move so that they can sell the data to marketers. I think their mentality is that they are big enough, and can wait long enough, that they can force people to be public.

    Furthermore, they had a big chance in the beginning, but then they totally blew it. And the fact that they can delete your Gmail account if you post something against their TOS (really just at their political discretion) makes me think, “I don’t want to lose my email, so I won’t go near G+ with a ten foot pole.”

    And I find it interesting that on many blogs you will find canned positive messages about G+ like the one at the beginning of the comments here. Marketing team in action?

  10. So, it’s 18 months since I wrote this post. Certainly, Google+ did fail to take over from Facebook. Apart from the huge number of users who don’t actually use it, Google+ has found a number of niche uses, such as for groups who don’t want to open up their Facebook profiles, and has picked up some users who got bored with, or offended by, Facebook.

    But other things have changed, and really the question of Google+ vs Facebook is becoming irrelevant. Mobile is the new laptop, and apps are adding social networks to their own content. The importance of “one place” for socialising is breaking down. Time is instead spent on sites like Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, country-specific networks such as Qzone, Friendster, hi5, and even YouTube, SoundCloud, Flickr, to name a few. If Google Glass succeeds, new apps for that interface will provide social connections. Couple these things with increasing concerns over privacy and annoyance over adverts and the days of the one big network may be coming to an end.

    Just possibly, Google+ could eventually succeed in taking over from Facebook, but by the time it does, it probably won’t be important.

    Paul Rudman, April 2013


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