Has the perception of Google+ altered now that it has reached its first anniversary? Things may finally be turning in Google's favour.
Google+ launched as a "field trial" on 28th June last year and, in light of previous experiences with Wave and Buzz I wrote:
"The two things Google must give Plus are adequate promotion and time. Previous offerings from the search giant have gone largely unnoticed by the general public and Google cannot afford to make the same mistake here. Plus is also not going to achieve Facebook-esque figures overnight, in 6 months or even a year. Google and, perhaps more importantly, the tech press must allow the service to develop, improve and grow organically before announcing it a failure.
We need a service such as Google+ to keep the likes of Facebook and Twitter honest and drive the need for continued innovation on the social web. We must, therefore, afford it the opportunity to fulfill its potential."
Well, we have had a year so how are things going?
At Google I/O we were advised that over 250 million users have "upgraded to Plus" and over 150 million of those log in monthly spending around 60 minutes per day in Google properties but we also know that a "user" isn't what we would perhaps expect.
It was interesting that, for the first time, a distinction was made and Google announced that "active" users spent an average of 12 minutes per day "in stream".
Back in October I stated that the problem with Google+ is a problem of perception - a position that Jeremiah Owyang echoed as recently as February with his post "Google+ Has a Perception Problem". His core premise reiterated something I have been saying for a while:
"To win, Google needs to focus on public perception beyond just building a platform" and that the company must "do proactive media, press and influencer outreach."
Essentially, education is everything.
The fact remains that many end-users see no compelling reason for consumers to use it as Plus is still referred to primarily as a social network.
In January I asked if Google+ was meeting or managing expectations and warned that "People Will Overlook Google Plus In Favor Of Other Networks" as Plus didn't appear to be living up to its potential.
Google has flirted with the integration of Plus and YouTube but received considerable push-back when up/down votes were replaced by a simple +1 button in testing. Other integration has been slow in coming, Blogger showed promise by linking your account to your Plus profile but it stopped there.
The largest integration came with "Search Plus Your World" which brought content from your social connections to your search results. It was initially slammed as being too "pro-plus" but has now iterated and become more balanced and useful with a lot of the over emphasis being replaced by data from Google’s Knowledge Graph.
As interesting and impressive as this may be it is only expected for the world's leading search exponent (it was surprising that it actually took so long to arrive) so we were left feeling that this was inadequate.
Just another social network?
There is still a way to go and more emphasis needs to be placed on Plus being an ecosystem wide platform being still seen by most as "just another social network". The Plus project may have always been intended as a social layer but, in the absence of either an adequate demonstration or integration across a range of Google services we were still left with the comparison to Facebook, for most this was the only comparison that made any sense as there was no other frame of reference they could use.
Development was always going to be an ongoing process but the pace at which occurred seemed intolerable. It appeared as though new features were being thrown at Plus in a "see what sticks" fashion when they were probably not needed rather than resolving issues in other areas and frustration began to spread.
These frustrations were exacerbated by the redesigns to both the desktop version of the website and the mobile application which placed greater emphasis on visual content and spawned the #waronwords movement. Things were not looking too good.
Until Google I/O.
With the announcement of Google+ Events we are starting to see potential real world application. With the events linking to your calendar and having the ability to also schedule hangouts on air, for the first time, Google is able to demonstrate the real power behind an integrated service.
I remarked during the I/O keynote that the Event "Party Mode" (which allows all attendees to upload their photos in one place and have them all arranged chronologically) was reminiscent of the social photography startup Color when it first launched but Google+ events have far more utility thanks to the increasingly integrated nature of the service, integration which was not readily apparent until a feature was designed to truly expose it.
Even the most devoted stay-always should now start to see the potential offered by Plus.
The Google I/O keynote, on the eve of Plus’ first birthday will be remembered as a real watershed moment.
There is no doubt that Google needed social in order to stay relevant in a world being dominated by the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
The release of Android Jelly Bean, including the Google Now voice search, is a perfect illustration of how a unified ecosystem across desktop, web and mobile, can help us even while on the move. Siri now has some worthwhile competition with the added flexibility of pulling data from the whole knowledge graph rather than set partners.
The Plus concept is far-reaching, all-encompassing and incredibly powerful. The social network is just a part of the whole - admittedly the most visible part - but the rest of ecosystem should not be underestimated.
Google+ is here to stay.