After years dishing out mockery, it is finally time to eat a little crow, or humble pie, or perhaps my hat.
Indeed it came as something of a revelation this week when I perused the latest rankings of online media companies from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. Topping the social-media category was none other than Google+.
Yes, Google+, long dismissed as the also-ran and afterthought of the social-media world, is actually well liked by the relatively small group of people who use it.
According to the ACSI, which conducts an annual survey of roughly 180,000 consumers about their perceptions and sentiments regarding major brands, Google+ scored a satisfaction rating of 81 out of 100. That compares to an overall average of 73 for the social-media category at large.
Not far behind was Pinterest, with an approval rating of 78, providing more proof that bigger isn’t always better.
Wikipedia, which eschews advertising altogether, was in third place with 77. It's down slightly from last year, reflecting the difficulty of maintaining article quality amid a continuing decline in the number of editors, according to ACSI.
Instagram and YouTube are just hovering above the industry average, at 75 and 74, respectively. Instagram’s rating is up 1%, apparently due to its introduction of enhancements, including “stories.” YouTube (another Google property) is down 4%.
Twitter and Facebook are both below the category average. Twitter received an approval rating of 70, despite being the favored communication channel of the commander-in-chief, while Facebook got a dismal 68.
As for Google+, it was always easy to mock, especially as it came on the heels of other failed attempts by Google to conquer social networks — remember Wave? Also, because it seemed like the tech giant, then the undisputed master of the Internet, wanted to conquer what little free territory remained.
In fact, around a decade ago, Facebook actually looked like the underdog.
How things have changed. OK, Google is still an 800-pound gorilla with arguably monopolistic practices. But now, so is Facebook, and its flaws highlight the virtues of Google’s diminutive, unpretentious social network.
Sure, Google+ is small, but in an era when the world’s biggest social network has little to recommend it besides scale — and seems intent on using that scale to crush or absorb smaller rivals — there may be some virtue in smallness.
It’s easier to countenance a niche social network, with a small but highly satisfied and engaged user base, than it is a huge one. Especially one that succeeds by manipulating users’ emotions, deliberately stoking envy and fear of missing out or by stringing along brands and content providers with constantly shifting rules and targets.