Stephen Logan

Is Google+ A Genuine Threat? If So, To What?

13th Jul 2011 Social Media, Facebook, News, Industry News, Social Media 5 minutes to read

google plusSo Google+ is here. The Internet fraternity is buzzing with speculation, consternation and adoration for the new social network. With a reported 9 million users already signed up and 1.7 million joining daily, it would be fair to say that this latest toy is doing reasonably well.

However, what is it, really? What are the unique qualities that will drag users from existing platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn? Who is actually most under threat from Google+?

There’s no hiding the secret that Google have wanted to get involved in the social networking racket for some time. They’ve tried and failed with the likes of Wave, but with ‘Plus’ they might just have cracked that most obstinate of nuts.

Playing Catchup

Unfortunately though, they’re about 5 years behind their rivals, both in terms of developing the brand and audience of this particular platform. As such Google is wading into a busy marketplace and one in which there is a clear market leader – in this case it’s Facebook and the hundreds of millions of users they. Of course they’ve got clout, but is that enough to sink the good ship Zuckerberg? Is Facebook even the realistic target?

The idea behind Google as an Internet brand is to offer everything you could ever possibly want itself. For everything else, they are happy to let their algorithm do the work. However, they want you using their browser, receiving your emails through them, checking the weather forecast, comparing flight times/prices, buying smartphones and now chatting to friends. Why? Because it makes them piles of cash mostly.

The real advantage that Google has lies in existing products. There’s already talk of integrating the Wallet payment system, Gmail, Offers and plenty more besides. Facebook has comparable products, but Google has a ready-built network of standalone programs with their own users already in place. As such, all they really need to do is join them all together like a huge, digital patchwork quilt.

Bundling Google Products in the ‘Plus Project’

This would certainly point to the potential for Plus to become the second or third largest social network in the not too distant future. How about Facebook then? Well, that could well be a step too far. Despite (supposed) recent slippages in user numbers, in certain markets at least, it’s going to take something pretty special to convince account holders to dump their profile, friends and pictures and go elsewhere. What’s in it for them?

If all I want to do is keep up to date with the latest gossip in my circle of friends and pass judgement on an array of ill-advised photo uploads, then why would it matter if I’m doing that on Facebook or Google+? Even if the newcomer is ‘better’, I’ve already become accustomed to Facebook and everybody I know is using it still so there’s no need to jump ship. As such, all Google might be hoping to achieve is to get people to sign up for both.

Internet types might get excited about the potential for sharing news, segregating friends off from colleagues and having conferences with 9 people on hangouts, but why should everybody else. A Facebook user can ‘Like’ something, they can choose who has access to their profile and will soon be able to access Skype for one to one chats. Plus might be an evolutionary stride, but the same fundamentals still exist across most platforms.

LinkedIn might be sweating a little, particularly with Circles and conferencing functionality, but there is no binding principle that you can only be attached to one network. I’m not going to abandon my LinkedIn profile just because there’s something new out there. I may use it a little less if Plus turns out to be a marked improvement, but that doesn’t mean total abandonment.

Fastest Growing, Not Biggest

What Google+ may do though is stem the flow of new users to sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and even Twitter. This could eventually see the pendulum swing towards them, allowing Plus to be the quickest growing social network – if nothing else. But I’ve got a Twitter account, personal Facebook profile and professional LinkedIn page, I use them all and each in a different way.

Like many others, I will probably sign up, but whether it becomes my go-to social profile will be dependent on how useful it is and who else is using it. The major strength and flaw in any social network is the number of users it can attract. Just as your membership can skyrocket, Facebook and Twitter being decent examples of this, once people start leaving, it can soon plummet even quicker – just look at Friends Reunited, MySpace and Bebo.

As with the many smaller search engines that compete with Google, perhaps Plus is simply designed to carve out a percentage of the overall market – not necessarily usurp the top position instantly. This could still prove to be hugely valuable for the search giant and could shave the profits of all others. If they can make a meaningful Gmail integration they will have a ready-made market to work with, although there will inevitably be privacy eggshells to trample on.

Plenty of Room?

Who will suffer most with Google coming on board the social train? Probably no one, certainly not the current big three. The Internet isn’t bound by the rules of physics. Natural displacement simply doesn’t occur. If you add a large object to a full glass of water, it will spill over; online the glass simply grows to accommodate it. However, that doesn’t mean that it Google+ is an irrelevance. It’s something that we and many other Internet-based businesses will be tracking closely.

The wider ‘project’ is also interesting, with social search and bookmarking coming into further evidence. Plus could theoretically bring about a whole new era in search and the way in which we use, interact with and access Internet sites. With Google pushing mobile products and their own Android platform, having a cohesive and far-reaching social platform to tie-in all the different products available, could really work to their advantage. Whether it will or not will be largely dependent on their developers and, more importantly, users.

But let’s wait until it reaches 100 million unique or the first reports of plateauing numbers users before prophesying the doom of all and sundry.  There’s a lot of mileage left in this particular story and I’m sure I’ll be harking back to this post in the months and years to come – seeing just how wrong I was.

So what are your predictions for Google+? What do you think its limitations are and who should be most worried? Is this all a fuss over nothing? Please leave your comments below.

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