If So Many People Are Using Google+, How Come No One's Using It Yet?

Last Updated Jul 12, 2011 4:20 PM EDT

The early numbers appear very good for Google+ (GOOG). Analysts estimate at least 10 million people have signed on already. Now what will it take to turn those people into actual users?

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has said the social network service already has millions of users and he may actually be right -- despite saying the same thing about the late, unlamented Google Buzz. Paul ("Not The Microsoft Guy") Allen, founder of Ancestry.com, did a reasonable analysis and projected G+ would have more than 10 million people on board today and twice that many by the end of the weekend. This synchs with my totally anecdotal experience: I've been amazed at the number of real people (non-tech types) who want to sign up. This is just the opposite of my experience with Buzz, which never got past the people-paid-to-make-noise group.

Another and even more useful measure of G+'s popularity is that Google's market cap is $15.8 billion more than it was before the launch. Not bad for a product that is still in "a limited beta," whatever that means. (Not much, really. After all Gmail was in "beta" mode longer than the Spider-Man musical was in previews.) So the big question is, will people use it -- and if so, for how long?

Unfashionably early
Check in to G+ currently and it feels like you've arrived at a party a few hours too early. You feel a little awkward being there but you're already there so might as well stay. Oh and look, there's that guy over there. Y'know, the one we met at that thing? Let's go talk to him until everyone else gets here. (And if you don't have an invite, let me know. I'm only giving them to my 60,000 closest friends.)

It is very sparse in both population and design when you're used to the overcrowded, hyper-busy-mall feel of Facebook. While that can be irritating, the constant flow of updates and eye candy also makes it seem like something is going on.

It's the users, not the product, who are really in beta test mode. They are trying G+ out to see if it's scratches some itch they hadn't been aware of, and if it's something they want to commit to. Are Joe and Jane Webizen really so disgruntled with Facebook to want to change now?

Probably not -- but that may be irrelevant anyway. While the join-up rate is already impressive, that wasn't going to be the key to the success of G+. The key was for it to be good -- i.e., not Buzz. Google's pockets are more than deep enough to wait for G+ to acquire users. As long as those users are happy and inviting friends then Google knows it has a viable product that is going to eventually generate revenue.

It may or may not ever equal Facebook. As my colleague Erik Sherman has pointed out, the people who need to be most worried right now are the ones with a stake in LinkedIn (LNKD). While it has many accounts, few of those get a lot of use. If people really want a place where they can separate the personal and professional uses of social media, then G+ has already proven itself right for the task.

And as for Facebook... well, Facebook's problem is its total reliance on social media for revenues. Google doesn't have that worry and can outwait anyone because of that.


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    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.