Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Google+'s challenge: don't be another Facebook

I have a Google+ account.  I had to ask my team member in India who had connection with someone at Google India to get me an invite.  I even heard of people bidding for Google+ invites on eBay back when Google was slowly rolling out its new social network back in June 2011.  Today, there was an article on Wall Street Journal about Google+ falling well behind Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace to take seventh social network site in terms of average minutes spent per visitor in January.  Is Google+ just having a slow start or is the slow user adoption symptomatic of fundamental problem?
In comparison with other fast-growing social sites,
Google+ has shown very modest user stickiness.
My advice?  Be different from the rest.
I don't think any one knows.  Only hindsight will tell us whether this slow growth is to be followed by hockey stick growth that every startup is after or Google+ will be yet another failed experiment from Google following the suit of Google Wave and Buzz.  But what is clear to me is that Google+'s current stats is not impressive given how much hype was around its launch back in June.

Challenge that Google+ is facing is strikingly simple one.  Users are comparing Google+ with Facebook.  After taking a look around Google+, users are realizing that it's not really different from Facebook.  Google+ has video conferencing, Facebook announced Skype video chat.  Google+ has Circles, Facebook introduced automatic grouping capability (close friends, family, etc.).  Facebook has Zynga, Google+ has added Zynga.

Feature wise there is little difference between Google+ and Facebook.  For past 8 months, it has been feature race between the two social network sites.  Whether it was intentional or not, it's only natural that users are comparing Google+ with Facebook.  That is the problem Google+ has to solve.

Whether Google wants to admit or not, Facebook is not going away.  Facebook had 8 years to perfect their engineering logistics and cultivating innovative culture where they took many chances with introducing new features to the market.  Google does not have focus or will power to take the battle of building more popular personal social graph platform.  Facebook's entire mission is building the social networking site that is singularly focused in becoming the dominant player, and with 800+ million users Google must realize that they have to use a different tack.

There are still many social networking sites to be built.  As I wrote back in 2010 and recently, experts agree that there will be more fragmentation in social networking sites.  That is why sites like Tumblr and Pinterest are still growing fast in spite of Facebook's dominance.  When starting a new social network, a lesson that Google Wave and Buzz taught us was to focus on niche audience and start expanding to general market.  Instead of starting to conquer the world from the launch, Google+ should adapt more focused approach to drilling in deep into user segment instead of skimming the wide surface area of user set.

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