On Monday (27th July 2015), Google appeared to officially end their slightly awkward 4 year relationship with the flailing social network Google +. In an official Google blog post, Bradley Horowitz (Google’s Vice President of streams, photos and sharing) admitted that Google + had not lived up to the original aim of helping people “discover, share and connect across Google like they do in real life” and that they are “going to make some important changes” over the coming months.
This has been hailed by many in the press as a move by Google to cut away the metaphorical dead weight. To an extent, this is true. In the past Google has boasted of their hundreds of millions of profiles and the growth that Google + has experienced as a social network. The issue is that these statistics are warped. The reality is that Google + never took off as a social network. Google attempted to leverage their grip on the public’s use of their existing products by forcing them to create profiles and use these profiles to use said products, most notably commenting or liking Youtube videos. It was with the view of creating a profile that provided a central connection for all of their products. The masses were not too pleased about this choiceless environment, but they obliged, thus distorting the figures of Google + usership. It would appear that the guys in white coats at Google HQ have finally come to the realisation (although the writing has been on the wall since day one) that Google + cannot compete with other networks, most notably Facebook, in its current format. So what are these changes that good ‘ol Bradley has announced?
Users will no longer require a G+ profile in order to use other Google products (except Google plus). i.e your profile will no longer be the central identity through which you will use other Google products.
This is an interesting move amid rumours that Google understands more about their user’s social activity than Facebook due to the data from different aspects of their digital life: search, video, email, maps and Chrome. Will it reduce the data available to Google? Not necessarily because whilst you do not need a Google + profile to use other products, you do still need a Google account. Fear not, Google will continue to spy on and document your personal life in preparation for world domination.
Non essential features for Google + will be migrated away from the platform
This segregation of Google products, for example moving photos away from Google + to the Google photos app, is one of the key moves away from making profiles the central underlying ‘layer’ for use of all Google products.
The platform will become more focussed around engaging in communities with shared interests.
Social media has become a major rival to Google’s search engine in recent years. Whilst we do not envisage search engines becoming redundant any time soon, one cannot deny that people now use social media voraciously to find, digest and share content. Business Insider comments on how times have changed from desktop search to a more social and mobile led content appetite. Social advertising is growing at a stratospheric rate and is a revenue stream that Google are yet to truly crack in their aforementioned quest for world domination.
So is Google + dead?
4+ years of heavy investment is not a simple throwaway, even for this behemoth. Whilst many have seen this as the first step in decommissioning Google +, Bradley Horowitz’ blog post can be seen as the unveiling of a more focussed, tighter G+ community. Yes the network is jettisoning the heavy baggage of other Google products (or is it the other way around?) but this will only serve to give clarity to the new purpose of Google +: an “interest-based social experience”. Furthermore, the network is not a complete wasteland. There are pockets of avid users, many of which are in the SEO community, that share and engage with content. Google have identified this as the best selling point for the network and as such are taking significant steps towards organising content around topics and interests, shown by the recent addition of Google + collections. This new focus for Google + will potentially increase its importance from a search engine optimisation perspective due to its ability to identify popular and exceptional content. So yes, as its first iteration Google + is dead, but with more tailoring, significant investment and a little luck it could revamp itself as a network with a clear USP.
Google has an ability to rapidly roll out products only to recall them just as quickly. Whilst certainly for the SEO community this can be a frustrating trait (remember the brief scramble for Google author profiles) for the majority of Google users these updates and withdrawals either go unnoticed or are an accepted reality. Google+ has certainly been more than just a small roll out and may be too well known to turn around but don’t put it past Google to create a Pinterest/Instagram esque content platform. Personally, I think the platform will continue to grow slowly as a content focussed on more business related content but will ultimately fail as a platform that is used by everyone.
A potential purchase of Twitter
This move has reignited discussions around the concept that Google should utilise its $70 billion worth of funds on their balance sheet to acquire an already established social network, the most obvious being Twitter considering its recent struggles. In fact, Chris Sacca (one of Twitter’s early investors and still a major shareholder) has openly stated that Twitter would be a great acquisition for Google, tied in with his nearly 9,000 word diatribe on Twitter’s current problems. Both Twitter and Google + appear to be in critical periods of their relatively young lives. They also share a similar overriding problem: people are unsure of the value the network adds to their digital experience and personal lives. There are theories being bandied around in regards to how a tactical acquisition of Twitter could benefit Google. Twitter’s USP of almost real time news updates could tie in succinctly with Google’s search algorithm to create an even more effective search engine with a social tint. However, the question of validity would be a considerable hurdle in providing tweets in search results. Google already scrape content from other websites for Google answers, with varied results in regards to accuracy, but deciphering and vetting answers or news to be displayed on prime SERP real estate to search users seems to be an impossible task, unless they use pre assigned accounts such as BBC or CNN and are purely focussed on news.
Either way, any purchase of Twitter or another social network would require yet another re-jigging of Google Plus’ mission statement so we cannot see it occurring any time soon. Remember that this is not Google’s first attempt at social networking (think Buzz or Friend Connect) so they are a persistent lot!