Many of us in the tech world know that the driving force behind Google+, Vic Gundotra, has left the company and ever since that departure, G+ has seen less of a prominent place in Google's limelight, some claiming that Google is actively moving to hide it from the average user. The thing is, as there are more and more users that lean towards social media platforms as a means of communication and keeping up to date with the happenings of the world, there will always be a need for competition.
As it stands right now, G+ is not something the world really wants as much as the world needs in social media.
Why G+ is Important in the 21st Century
A lot of people have put Google+ down as the walking dead or a failed attempt at social networking. While G+ isn't a competitor to Facebook and Twitter in the traditional sense (it doesn't sell its users to advertisers, for example), it still presents a place for users to share their ideas and the things that they like across a social platform that integrates with their email and other facets of their life that they already use Google's services for. The key reason that G+ is important, according to former Google employee Chris Messina (in this rant that is decidedly expletive-laden), is that G+ provides an alternative to the juggernauts that make up social media in the twenty first century today. America has realized how monopolies are bad (any cursory glance at American economic history will reveal this) and the rest of the world should also be wary of putting their eggs in one basket. However, as the wizard behind the curtain in Gundotra departed, G+ has come up short in its drive to be something new, innovative and fresh. It's because of this failed initiative that many social media gurus are announcing the death of G+, even if not acknowledged as yet by Google.
A Bleak Future for Google+?
Google+ is decidedly one of the important gears in the machine that is Google's digital identity in the twenty first century. Google has managed to link it with some of their more popular utilities (such as Google Hangouts) in an effort to drive more users to utilize it as a social media device. Although many users resented it (and many still do) it showed that Google wasn't about to give up on Google+ just yet. In fact, with so many Google users simply having a G+ account (whether or not they use it) it means that G+ has one of the largest potential outreaches of any social media in existence. It's like a sleeping giant, and although it's unlikely that it will be a Facebook-killer, it is still well poised to do so much more. Google's developmental teams have been shuffled around as of late and many tech and social media gurus see is as a sign that G+ is dying. I'm personally not so sure. As it sits right now, the coming year could make or break G+ in terms of being a major part of Google's integrated system.
Is G+ Another One of Google's Failed Ideas?
Investment in G+ from Google to such an extent means that Google has (or at least had) great plans for the system. The thing is, this isn't the only project they've had over the years that started off with a bang and ended up with a whimper. I am reminded of Authorship: a push by Google to introduce author tags into web content so as to give Authors more visibility on search engine rankings. Well, Google tried that for a while and realized it wasn't working so they ditched it. However, they never put as much time and effort integrating Authorship with other Google utilities as they have G+. The interwoven tapestry of a Google account means that a G+ account grants you access to your Gmail, your Hangouts, even your cloud storage. Your Google account is not your G+ account, and like a lost puppy it follows you around wherever you go. Integrating G+ into Gmail has had its share of troubles by opening up the door to unwanted spam emails from people you don't even know. After potential fiascos like that one you can start to understand why Google might be better off leaving G+ to die.
Four Predictions for the Future of G+ in 2015
2015 presents a unique turning point in G+'s development, one that could see it as another innovative result of Google's tinkering with social media or as another spent, broken shell on Google's idea scrap-heap. Google has a lot of decisions to make in the coming year regarding G+ and as much as it seems as though G+ is dead, Google has managed to do miracles before. Resurrecting a nearly-dead social media idea might be right up their alley. Based on what we've seen from Google in the last couple months towards the end of 2015, we can extrapolate pretty handily what the state of G+ will be in the coming year and if Google's actually taking steps to make it into a better place to visit than it is currently. As I stare into my crystal ball I can make a few guesses as to what the future of G+ will look like in the coming twelve months:
- Google Will Further Shrink the Dedicated Workforce on Google+
This seems counterproductive if you think that Google's trying to salvage G+ but it's actually not a bad idea. Google firmly subscribes to the idea that "too many cooks spoil the broth" and in this case they might be well warranted. Google+ already has a deeply designed interface that shares information seamlessly with other Google services and is a major part of the functioning of other services. All the heavy lifting in terms of code is already complete. If that's the case then there really is no reason to have a couple thousand more programmers and web analysts looking through the code to spot bugs that aren't there. In my mind, having a small but dedicated bug-fix team is where Google sees it at with this new iteration of Google+. This means that more people will be shunted out of the G+ workforce and into other parts of the Googleplex to work on new ideas. To many it might look like Google's downsizing their G+ department even further and it will probably spawn another round of "G+ is dead" articles from many who take such movement at face value. I think that Google is smarter than most tech gurus give them credit for and they've still got a ton of surprises up their voluminous sleeves.
- Google+ Will Change Its Focus. Yes, we know that Google+ is a social media platform: it works through sharing things you like with your friends in order to stimulate discussion and drive traffic. But you ever wonder why there wasn't a massive influx of advertising and marketing on G+ as there was on Facebook and Twitter? Social media networks are like the sugar to the flies of advertising and an active social media network means that there is more chance for a user to see things that they are more likely to click on based on their already-saved user preferences. It boils down internet marketing to a very concentrated bombardment of a target audience with a number of ads that focus on the things that said demographic would like to see. Facebook and Twitter do it by promoting ads by companies that pay them either per-click or per-conversion. With Google's sheer amount of users, it can provide a formidable opponent to other social media giants if it opened its doors to internet marketers and allowed them to run amok, targeting their users and farming the Google servers for information that would result in them increasing the amount of conversions they get through their advertising. To date, there are not many add-ons for social media advertisers on G+ and many companies overlook G+ as a location for users simply because Google has made it difficult to target them. It is possible that in the coming year, Google will merge their AdSense data with G+ to provide a viable marketing platform to companies so that they can start spreading their brand awareness across G+. The advantage Google has over its competitors here is that Google's information on a user is not just limited to their G+ information but on any information that they exchange through Google services. Although it could save G+ it could mean a serious challenge to Google's "Don't Be Evil" motto.
- Google+ Will See Some Major Version Changes. G+ as it is right now is clunky. It's got an old-school vibe that just isn't doing it in this day and age. If it wants to survive it will have to change. In the coming year I can see G+ having a complete overhaul in the looks department and make a push towards a sleeker interface with better options for sharing than what currently exists. Based on what we know about Google's current development of G+, there are rumors circulating that a brand new version of G+ is in the works. In keeping with the previous prediction, this new version of G+ will incorporate new methods of advertising that caters to pages and companies to expose them to users that would be best inclined to purchase their products or services. It's likely that Google will have researched the things that Facebook and Twitter did before in order to curb abuse of their resources and implement these in the new version as well. Google has always been big on personalization and by giving users the option of a fully customizable interface they allow their users to express themselves. With the uproar Facebook has with its interface changes (that happen frequently enough), G+ can give users the option of keeping a layout scheme even though the actual interface may change technically. It's very likely that this single adaptation would see more users moving away from Facebook and towards G+ in the coming year.
- There is Likely to be a Major Adoption of G+ in the Coming Year. This prediction certainly goes out on a limb. However, if Google does decide to change the direction that G+ is currently going in, it's not completely out of the realm of possibility. Google+ in its current form is a social media failure: this much is true. However, just because it's a failure now, doesn't mean that it has to remain a failure for as long as it exists. Google's integration of G+ into its core system means that Google sees some potential in the platform. The platform has access to untold resources, vast volumes of users and information that would be any internet marketer's dream to have. The power of G+ lies in the things it can do and the people it can influence, but in order to have any power at all, people need to start using it more. And that's where this prediction comes in. If Google has hopes of making G+ into a viable platform for social interaction (which is where turning a profit on G+ lies) then they need to figure out how to market G+ properly. Clearly, giving it the title of "Facebook-Killer" won't work. They need to go back to basics and redesign the interface, then subject it to rigorous user testing in order to perfect their user interface problems. They need to find some way to make G+ more attractive. But, when you come right down to it, isn't that the most important thing that they have to do?
Moving Forward: The Future of Google+
Google's obsession with G+ can end badly if they just decide to let it fester. It's not so deeply integrated into Google's system that it can't be ripped out. Doing so would mean admitting defeat and Google doesn't admit defeat lightly. There are far too many things Google can to salvage the situation but the most important thing that it needs to do is to make it viable for the average user. They need to pull a regular user and give him something that he doesn't only enjoy using but looks forward to logging on to. Facebook managed to do this, and so did Twitter, but they rely heavily upon the presence of popular people. In anything that runs on social interaction as a foundation, popular people are the highest valued currency. It's about time G+ started investing in some of those. Of course, these predictions only apply if Google's aiming to save the slowly shambling corpse of G+ by giving it a makeover.
The question remains: If G+ was more popular, could you see yourself using it?