The alleged insight I'm about to impart here started, nefariously enough, when I heard polite, British cries of, "Oh!" and "Outrageous!" emanating from my MacBook yesterday. At the time, I'd been sending out emails to do with the upcoming Social Media Insider Summit (plug!), with The New York Times video stream of the Parliament hearings with the Family Murdoch playing in the background. By the time I clicked over to nytimes.com to see what had caused the commotion, the stream had been temporarily shut down. I immediately went on the hunt for what had happened.
Of course, we all know what the commotion was about. Rupert Murdoch had been the victim of a shaving-cream pie attack that was a lot less severe because of the heretofore undiscovered boxing abilities of his wife, Wendi. But, despite my efforts at going on a strict Google+ diet over the last few days, that certainly wasn't the place to go to figure out what had happened in those first few moments after Rupert had the unfortunate encounter with Lectric Shave.
No, that place was Twitter, which delivered not only the news, but better pictures and video than nytimes.com originally had -- and even had a tweet from the pie-thrower himself. A British comedian named Jonny Marbles, he had commemorated his attack with a hashtag, tweeting: "It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat."
So, as the social media collective obsesses over Google+, that anecdote effectively illustrates what its biggest hurdle is: to get the kind of scale to be the go-to social net at times of high and low news -- even as its central, differentiating concept, of making it easier to group friends into smaller Circles, makes what I just said seem antithetical. Right now, while I am seeing conversations that are only taking place on Google+, I'm also seeing plenty of bet-hedging. In other words, it's not uncommon to find someone posting the same status update to Facebook and Google+, in order to avoid missing out on action that might be had with the older network. (I've done it, too.)
For those who are hoping for Google+ to succeed, there are at least two things that will help it build the scale it needs. One, the fact that it builds lists of potential contacts off of data it already has on you -- from the behemoth Gmail and Android databases, among others -- will help jump-start the process. I'm not about to start friending Gmail contacts I have who aren't really into social networking -- and let's remember, Google+ is still invite-only -- but it's certainly easier than it was to find friends in the early days of Facebook.
The other, as was so hilariously put by Gawker, is this: "Google Plus is quickly becoming a hit among early adopters who want to pretend they're too good for Facebook." It's human nature to want to be part of the cool club. If it wasn't, there would never have been a Studio 54, and Yogi Berra never would have said, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
That's obviously part of the rationale behind Google's rumored "celebrity acquisition plan." If Google+ can get Gaga, or Shaq, or aplusk to fully embrace it -- preferably all three -- that will jump-start usage, which currently stands at an impressive 18 million users. (Though, according to one industry observer, growth is slowing.)
Whatever the case, even at the scale of 18 million, Google+ is still a sideshow. When @jonnymarbles decides to announce an upcoming prank to his Public Circle on Google+ first, you'll know scale has been achieved.