Is Google+ suffering because its field trial has become too successful? Is it time for the service to go public to allow it to grow?
Amid reports that Google+ use has plateaued and that user attrition is very high there is a growing concern amongst some users that the service is in danger of imploding before it even gets started.
The recent figures showing that 48% of users have never made a public post initially suggested that people were making good use of Circles and just sharing items to targeted groups. High user attrition could otherwise indicate that the reason many of these accounts have not shared publicly is that they are dormant.
Too much, too soon
While many of the misgivings about Plus can be argued away with "it's still a field trial" I would argue that the trial has been too large and too successful. By that I mean that people are viewing it as a launch (when it isn't) and it is taking too long for everything to fall in to place and functionality to materialise.
Google may have felt pressured into "launching" in an effort to stay relevant in the social sphere and the sheer numbers involved have caused it to backfire.
Is it, therefore, time that Google takes Plus public (rather than invite only) before the initial excitement and inertia wears off?
Eric Schmidt is quoted as saying that the social network aspect of Google+ is just the bait to get people in to its identity service but bait needs to be sufficiently enticing to encourage a bite.
The problem Google faces now is numbers. There is currently nothing overly compelling about Plus that could entice those who are firmly entrenched at Facebook so the push will most likely have to come from the integration with other Google services but as yet, this integration does not extend far enough.
Google needs to ramp up on the integration of Plus with more of its services and really push that so people end up coming to Plus by default via Reader, YouTube, Blogger, Picasa etc. which was always the idea with the "social layer". Unfortunately, full integration can only occur once the site is live otherwise non-members may just be confused by functionality that they cannot use.
Denis Labelle shared a comment from a Plus user which illustrates the frustration some are feeling with the service:
This whole focus on the notion of having an audience is very much a blogger mentality kind of thing. Wasn't the Google+ Project built to "make sharing on the web feel like sharing in real life"? Most of us engage our friends in conversations; we don't treat them like an audience.
Is Google+ a contradiction or does this demonstrate the flexibility of the Circles system of contact management?
We all share in different ways and the extent of our sharing will depend on how we are using the service. We have those on Facebook who are just connected to family and friends and we range all the way up to the blogger, social maven and journalist; our behaviour ranges from limited interaction to broadcasting to the world.
With many user accounts seemingly abandoned we could surmise that the majority of active Google+ users are probably more edge cases - bloggers, tech journalists, social media types - all looking for an audience, often narcissistic and page views are their bread and butter.
The danger, however, is that the recent emphasis on social is making the average user more attention seeking because of the ease of sharing and connecting to others. While Plus states its aim as replicating real-world sharing on the internet the new suggested user list being considered seeks to encourage users to follow those outside of their normal "circles".
Unlike Twitter, Google+ was designed to be used with specific groups in mind - hence the real world sharing moniker - so perpetuating the arbitrary following of "popular" users would seem at odds with the Circles concept. Whether this puts some users off remains to be seen.
Plus is still very much in its infancy but, due to the size of the beta, the development process is very much being played out in the public eye; we must wait to see if this is for the best.
Image by fuzzcaminski