Back when Google+ opened itself to the public on September 20, I compared the fledgling social network to a neglected child, whose parents keep him locked up in a dark basement for three months before suddenly bringing him outside and telling him to go conquer the world. On receiving a gentle nudge, he falls over.
Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, judging by traffic data from Web analytics firm Chitika: it turns out the kid was able to run about 50 yards before he collapsed. Indeed, Google+ enjoyed a 1,269% increase in traffic in the week following the invitation to the general public, as millions of people who weren’t lucky enough to get an invite before flooded in to check out the platform.
And then, apparently, they flooded out. Chitika’s traffic index shows that Google+ peaked on September 22-23, before returning to its pre-public opening level by the evening of September 27. If I had to hazard a guess as to why Google+ failed to gain traction, I would point to two failures: the failure to distinguish itself from Facebook in a meaningful way, and the failure to build a critical mass of users, who after all are the main motivation for other users to join and engage with the platform.
More generally, in the past I have written about my doubts that Google (or anyone, for that matter) can successfully “reverse engineer” the organic process of accumulation and growth that has made Facebook into the juggernaut it is today. Sure they can combine all the same elements -- photo sharing, messaging, video and text chats, casual games, and so on -- but as in chemistry or cooking, the sequence of events is everything. Activation energy is provided, in part, by independent API developers. Try to go backwards, or leave out the APIs, and you just end up with a pile of stuff.
And it would seem I’m not the only one who thinks this: a hapless Google engineer, whose days with the company may well be numbered, vented his frustrations about Google’s social sally in a post on the network, citing Google+ as “a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms… The Google+ platform is a pathetic afterthought. We had no API at all at launch, and last I checked, we had one measly API call.”
Indeed, the engineer’s complaints on this score are worth quoting at length: “Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product. But that's not why they are successful. Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work.”
The engineer added that all successful companies “eat their own dog food.” It should be noted, therefore, that none of Google’s top brass appears to be using Google+. Perhaps they’ve already given up?