The death of Google+ – why did it fail?

Posted on July 30, 2015

 

Over the years, failure isn’t something we have come to associate with Google, as it has gobbled up a greater than 90% share of the UK search market. However, Google+, the company’s foray into social networking, has been one long, painful experience for Google, and for the people who have persisted with it. Now, with it being unlinked from YouTube and a general scaling back of the social media platform announced on its blog, the indications are that time has been called, and Google has finally admitted defeat over its wannabe Facebook rival.

While it seems as though failure is new to Google, it is in fact something the search giant knows all too well, and even embraces it as part of its ethos. Google has had a habit over the years of launching products early in their development cycle, while they were still being tested, and fine-tuning them through customer feedback. Those products that didn’t soar as expected were surgically removed with a cold, calculating stroke. Google was almost brutal in its acceptance of failure, and this is one of the reasons it has been so successful.

While many businesses would continue pumping resources into a product that wasn’t working, Google ruthlessly removed the dead wood in order to concentrate on the products that did work. There was no favouritism, no love for projects and no emotion – just cold, hard business decisions. This allowed Google to spend its ample resources on the products that were successful.

For every Gmail, there was a Google Wave. For every AdSense, there was a Google Video. Google had so hoped Google+ would fall into the successes category but, despite its very best efforts, it just wasn’t to be. It never managed to lure the Facebook crowd, it never replaced Twitter and its links with YouTube and Google My Business just further infuriated the users to a point of utter disinterest in the platform.

Google+ isn’t dead as yet – it’s more in intensive care on an IV drip, and the prognosis isn’t good. Google has revealed its plans to delink Google+ from YouTube, as previously everyone who logged in to YouTube had to do it through a Google+ account. In fact, that’s one of the reasons it has failed in the first place, but we’ll come to that in a bit.

Google also announced last week that it will be shutting down any Google+ Pages that haven’t been updated in some time (that’ll be most of them then). In the same week, Google revealed it would be removing the private photo management feature from Google+ from the beginning of August.

Does this sound a bit like the parts are being stripped before something is taken to the scrapyard?

So why did it fail, what went wrong? Let me take you through some of the reasons I believe the platform died.

1. There were/are better alternatives

As a social networking platform, Facebook is far better. It seems a simplistic thing to say and, as much as I have issues with Facebook, it is a much better platform for social networking. It appeals to a far wider, nontechnical audience (something I’ll come on to in a bit) and it offers so much more in terms of features, with a more comprehensive mobile app.

Equally, Twitter is a far superior platform for microblogging – so much so the term ‘microblogging’ doesn’t even get used in modern parlance now, and is instead replaced by ‘tweeting’. In much the same way you don’t ‘search’, you ‘Google’. Twitter has a better hashtag facility, it has a more streamlined app, its conventions caught on much quicker and Google+ was never able to compete with either Twitter or Facebook.

2. The Google Places/Google My Business account linkage fiasco

This is something that annoyed me years ago, and still annoys me today. If, as a company, you created a Google+ Page for your company, you branded it, you promoted it and you used it (like Google wanted you to), you’ll have been infuriated beyond belief when you realised that you couldn’t link your Google My Business Page to your Google+ Page. Furthermore, if you wanted to fully make the most of your Google My Business Page, you had to create a new Google+ profile that was linked to it from within the Google My Business Page.

This left you with two Google+ profiles that couldn’t be merged. Why Google, why? There must be hundreds of thousands of businesses out there with two Google+ Profiles, all because Google didn’t allow an existing Google+ Profile to be linked with a Google My Business Page. This meant all of your good work to date, building followers and promoting your page, was wasted.

3. The YouTube annoyance

I’ll admit this didn’t annoy me as much as it seemed to annoy regular YouTube users, but then they get annoyed by everything. In an effort to make Google+ more widely used, Google forced everyone who used YouTube to have a Google+ account in order to log in and comment, or add videos. What if you didn’t want a Google+ account? Tough. That move alone will have alienated a large portion of people who, quite possibly, could have been interested in the features Google+ had to offer.

This also means that if, like me, you’ve had a YouTube account for years and you registered a Google+ account when it was released, that you now have two YouTube accounts, and your YouTube account linked to from your Google+ account isn’t your active YouTube account.

Come on Google – even Facebook lets you merge two pages, and it doesn’t ‘create’ pages for you automatically when you sign up!

4. The phantom users

Facebook and Twitter would regularly post about how many users they each had, with Facebook becoming the first to surpass one billion active accounts. Google+, of course, had to talk about how many users it had, and would tout its member numbers around as well. The problem was that the majority of Google+ ‘members’ weren’t actually using Google+. Many didn’t even know they had a Google+ account, as they were automatically given one if they had one of Google’s many other services.

5. It’s just too damn hard to use

The beauty of Google is its simplicity. It has become the biggest search engine in the world because, when you search for something in that little box, it gives you what you’re looking for. While other search engines like Yahoo! became portals, offering weather, articles, music and whatever else they have on their homepage, Google gave you what you asked for, and only what you asked for. Google+, however, doesn’t follow that same philosophy.

Whether or not you take out of the equation the issues with duplicate accounts caused by YouTube accounts and Google My Business Pages, meaning even finding the correct Google+ account to use in the first place was a challenge, navigating the system as a whole is extremely complicated. In addition, low user levels mean that any posts shared on Google+ receive little interaction because there are just not that many real people using it.

You can see I’m not a big Google+ fan, and I shan’t be sorry to see it go when Google inevitably puts it out of its misery.

If you’ve disagreed with anything I’ve said, or want to stand up for Google+, do let me know.

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