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Google+ Is A Ghost Town

Google continues to say that others’ analysis of public use of Google+ is a distortion of actual use — since much of the use of G+ is supposedly private — but Google will not share the data:

Exclusive: New Google Study Reveals Minimal Social Activity, Weak User Engagement - Austin Carr via Fast Company

This week, the data analytics firm [RJ Metrics] provided Fast Company with exclusive new insights on Google+. The findings paint a very poor picture of the search giant’s social network—a picture of waning interest, weak user engagement, and minimal social activity. Google calls the study flawed—we’ll explain why in a second—and has boasted that more than 170 million people have “upgraded” to the network. RJ Metrics’ report, on the other hand, is yet another indicator that Google+ might indeed just be a “virtual ghost town,” as some have argued.

Let’s start with the findings. For its study, RJ Metrics (RJM) selected a sample of 40,000 random Google+ users. RJM then downloaded and analyzed every sample users’ public timeline, which contains all publicly available activity. One important caveat: RJM was only able to look at public data, which as it points out, “is not necessarily reflective of the entire population of users,” since some users are private or at least have private activity. That said, the stats are eye-opening:

  • According to RJM’s report, the average post on Google+ has less than one +1, less than one reply, and less than one re-share
  • Roughly 30% of users who make a public post never make a second one
  • Even after making five public posts, there is a 15% chance that a user will not post publicly again
  • Among users who make publicly viewable posts, there is an average of 12 days between each post
  • After a member makes a public post, the average number of public posts they make in each subsequent month declines steadily, a trend that is not improving
[…]

Part of the reason there have been so many reports on the so-called Google+ “ghost town" is because Google has refused to provide clear figures and metrics for its social network’s active user base. The company has said there are 170 million people who have "upgraded" to Google+, which is just a confusing way to say that 170 million people have signed up for the service (which takes about a click or two if you are already a Gmail user).

The company has been asked repeatedly for monthly active users, and it’s repeatedly denied such requests, essentially calling them irrelevant. The closest we’ve seen of active usership was when the company explained how many Google+ users were engaging with Google Plus-enhanced or -related products. The problem is that Google Plus-enhanced products include YouTube and Google.com, meaning if you are engaging with basically any Google property (there are 120 Google+ integrations thus far) while signed up with Google+, Google is basically counting this as engagement with Google+, which is incredibly misleading, as some have argued

Google has continuously fudged its numbers and dodged specifics around Google+, as search guru Danny Sullivan has recorded in his brilliant rundown of Google’s lack of transparency on the subject. To confuse things all the more, Larry Page recently said in an earnings call that “there are 2 parts to the Google+ experience: the part that is the social spine, and the other part that’s the social destination part of Google+ exclusively. Both of these are growing fast, but the social destination part of Google+ is growing as a new product with very healthy growth.”

There’s a simple way to solve this problem: Just provide the number of active monthly users on Google+ (proper). Facebook does it. Google even does it with YouTube, which, as Larry Page boasted recently, has 800 million monthly users. But when I made a request for such figures, Google did not provide them.

They won’t provide them. It’s a Ponzi scheme: Google is hoping that somehow, someway Google+ will catch on and that they can use that success to render the horrible reality of today irrelevant. However, it is likely to fall to pieces.

Is Page concerned that this latest gamble in the social marketplace might be his last? After Wave, is Google+ his last chance?

Google’s Eric Schmidt Says He ‘Screwed Up’ on Social Networking - Sam Gustin

http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/06/googles-schmidt-social/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed: wiredbusinessblog (Blog - Epicenter (Business))

via Wired, Sam Gustin

Google chairman Eric Schmidt took responsibility for the search titan’s failure to counter Facebook’s explosive growth, saying he saw the threat coming but failed to counter it.

Speaking at the D9 tech conference outside of Los Angeles Tuesday evening, Schmidt said that for five years, he’s been aware of the competitive threat posed by upstart social networking websites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Schmidt even wrote internal memos about the threat, he said, but was so focused on running Google’s day-to-day operations that he didn’t give the issue the necessary attention.

In an interview with AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher, Schmidt described Google’s social stumble as his biggest regret.

“I clearly knew I had to do something and I failed to do it,” Schmidt said. “CEOs need to take responsibility. I screwed up.”

Pressed by Swisher and her co-host, Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg, about why he didn’t focus more on social networking, Schmidt had a simple answer:

“I was busy,” he said.

The most expensive error of all time?

Schmidt is looking more like a Steve Ballmer or John Sculley type: a suit occupying the front office while the business loses its way in a world of unprecendented innovations.

Let’s see if Larry Page can make up for the five years of social misteps that Schmidt oversaw.

There is still time to make Android a social operating system, and not miss the next generation of innovation, Larry.

And this is not some sideline: Google’s core business is search, and as we move into a world based on social connection the nature of search is shifting very quickly:

We’ve moved out of scarcity-based search, where there were few results for searches. In a time of super-abundant information, the problem becomes ‘who do you want filtering for you?’ Google’s foundational method is counting incoming links, weighted by a reputation, derived again on incoming links. From this it derives a position in search results.

But in an era where we can connect directly to others in social networks, we can rely directly on our connections to filter the immense web, so meaning is the new search:

Increasingly, we will switch to a social connection mode to filter and find for us. Our networks will become engines of meaning, as Bruce Sterling said.

Everything we want to find has been found, and will find us through our social connections. Like head colds and happiness.

We will find everything through social relationships: what washing machine to buy, or the best Thai restaurant in Beacon NY, or the company that makes those horizontal corduroys. People that care about these issues, and to who we matter, will share meaning with us: they have beliefs that they can justify, also called knowledge.

Google is only the echo of our linking behavior, a second-order derivative of our combined gestures. But generally, we would be happier with fewer results from trusted sources, and the rise of social tools makes that almost as fast as Google search.

Google must plan to adapt to the social revolution or fall into the spam darkness.

Why Google Does Not Own Skype « StevenLevy.com

http://www.stevenlevy.com/index.php/05/10/why-google-does-not-own-skype

Steven Levy relates the story of Wesley Chan, a Google product manager, derailing the Skype acquisition:

if Google bought Skype, Chan concluded, it would have to rewrite the entire Skype platform.

Basically, he was convinced that peer-to-peer wouldn’t work within Google’s infrastructure, and that Google could build a better mousetrap on it’s own.

Especially interesting is the description of the meeting when the deal went south:

“Salar [Kamangar, now CEO of YouTube] and I laid the grenades,” Chan told me. According to Chan, the pair went to Sergey Brin and convinced him it was a terrible deal. Then, Chan says, they brainstormed a plan to sabotage the deal in a key meeting of top executives, a gather that presumably would wind up blessing the purchase.

The idea was bait and switch—the executives in favor of the deal would assume that everything was on track, and Chan and his allies would use shock and awe to turn things around. Chan says that he began the meeting by praising the deal. “I even had a deck that was super supportive of it,” he says.

But, according to Chan, halfway through the deck, Sergey Brin seized the floor “and started getting really negative.” He asked a series of questions that he knew would get unsatisfactory answers. Is this purchase data-driven? Who is going to spend all those months commuting to Europe? (No one stepped up.) How long is the government review expected to take? As Chan had figured, the advocates of the deal were unprepared to respond to these last-minute objections.

Chan then described the climatic moment. “[Sergey] looks at me and says, ‘Why would I want this risk? We have a team capable of building the carrier, we have the users, we have hundreds of millions of Gmail users, why do we need to have Skype?’ And at that point, Sergey gets up and says, ‘This is the dumbest shit I’ve ever seen.’ And Eric gets up and walks out of the room, and I’m like, okay, the deal’s off.” And it was.

Why I Like Google’s Reorg and Why It’s Only a Start - Om Malik

http://gigaom.com/2011/04/08/why-i-like-google’s-reorg-and-why-it’s-only-a-start/

Om Malik takes a look at Larry Page’s reorg at Google and says, ok, that’s fine, but it’s not enough:

He [Page] needs to hire people who challenge Google’s conventional, metrics-driven approach to the world. In other words, Page needs a senior vice president of happiness.

Now this SVP is not a real person, because what I’m arguing for is an ideology and an approach to building the next generation of Google products that focus on “finding” us stuff we want. As I wrote earlier, “they need to think so differently that they need to hire people who are very unlike them,” and what they need are “creatives — the ones who don’t necessarily have computer science degrees.”

As a very creative person with a CS degree, I agree in part with Om. Page needs to do much, much more to shake up the culture of Google, which has been so amazingly social-blind over the past five years.

I know that Om is suggesting the ‘SVP of happiness’ as a thought experiment, a sort of straw man argument, but I think the subtext is right. Page needs to change the culture at Google, and fast.

My bet would be on a social skunkworks, but i have no reason to believe Page is working on that.

Page’s Social Incentive: Right Message, Wrong Medium

We’ve heard that Larry Page has circulated a memo, saying that he’s tying all Google workers’ incentives to being successful in the social tools arena.

I applaud him for his attention to the single most important dimension in the ongoing web revolution, but I think he’s sending the message through the wrong medium. Instead of tying the company’s bonuses to social, he should have started a skunkworks outside of Google, populated it with a small number of crazy, creative, and highly social-obsessed inventor and visionary types, and given them the freedom to experiment with innovative social reworkings of Google’s products.

But that — to the best of my knowledge — hasn’t happened.

Still, other commentators are saying that Page has blundered in this move, but for different reasons.

Mike Elgan suggests that social is a fad, and will soon fade:

Mike Elgan, Larry Page’s first blunder

It’s not forward-thinking. Big Ideas like blogging, Web 2.0, social bookmarking and social networking rise, crest, then fall, becoming just part of the background noise while the crowds go chasing the Next Big Thing. Social has already crested as an exciting cultural phenomenon. Yes, it will always be with us, but social will soon lose its status as Flavor of the Month. Google should be focused more on inventing what comes after social.

I disagree.

My bet is that we have at least the remainder of this decade before the social revolution is passé and simply viewed as the basis of everything. Partly that’s because old ways of doing things — and the old tools to do them — take a long time to go away. But the biggest reason that social tool innovation will be boiling for another ten years is the convergence of social with mobile, touch and tablets, and next generation operating platforms. In this surge of creativity and innovation social will form one of four mutually-supporting pillars. None of these is a fad, and social least of all.

So Page is completely justified in making social the most important theme in Google’s strategic vision, but a social skunkworks dedicated to it might be a better way to demonstrate his commitment to that vision.

We Know Whose Throat To Choke: Gundotra’s

Larry Page reorganizes Google to make management leaner and more accountable. Nice goals. However, I am uncertain as to how ‘social’ can be broken out of everything else.

Jessica Guynn, Google CEO Larry Page completes major reorganization of Internet search giant

Those promotions include Andy Rubin who is now senior vice president of mobile; Vic Gundotra who is now senior vice president of social; Sundar Pichai who is now senior vice president of Chrome; Salar Kamangar who is now senior vice president of YouTube and video; Alan Eustace, who is now senior vice president of search; and Susan Wojcicki, who is now senior vice president of ads.

The executives will be able to act more autonomously and won’t have to turn to Google’s powerful operating committee on every decision.

Gundotra might be better at leading social than Sergey Brin — the champion of Buzz and the ill-fated acquisition of Slide — but is he just the guy left standing after Google couldn’t find someone to run social?

Oh, and ‘running’ social does not mean buying Twitter.

We shouldn’t be surprised when a company that has placed algorithms at the center of its pantheon of deities is a bit flummoxed by messy, messy humans connecting.

Maybe this is time to pitch my Liquid Email project to Gundotra?

Update 9 April 8:00am

Mathew Ingram comments on a leaked memo from Larry Page, threatening Google bonuses if social efforts there aren’t successful:

If nothing else, Page’s move makes Google seem increasingly desperate when it comes to the social sphere. The company has tried to get things moving by launching features such as Buzz and the ill-fated Google Wave but has had little or no traction with regular users. And the +1 network seems to be designed primarily to influence Google search, rather than to actually encourage users to socialize with each other. In that sense, it’s another sign of former CEO Eric Schmidt’s strategy of adding social as a “layer” to existing products.

As we’ve written before, the contrast between Google’s approach and Facebook’s approach couldn’t be more stark: Facebook was designed to be social from the ground up. Social features are the core functionality of the system, not something that gets bolted on after the fact. Google has spent the vast majority of its life not really caring about social features, and it shows. As Om has argued, social just doesn’t seem to be in Google’s DNA, and so far, there are no signs that it has been able to splice that kind of knowledge in from elsewhere.

[…]

Will Larry Page’s attempt to rally the troops and incentivize them to get social actually have some tangible impact on Google’s ability to succeed in this area? That remains to be seen, but I’m skeptical. I think Google staffers are more likely to resent these moves rather than feel inspired, and resentment isn’t a great foundation for a new social effort.

The threat of punishment is not an incentive, but leave that aside. The deeper question is this: can Page socialize Google, but whatever means?

Wouldn’t it be better to create a skunkworks somewhere, one that is fooling with socializing existing Google tools, or devising more social replacements? Again, going back to the Liquid Email model, couldn’t a Google skunkworks figure out a more social email client, or more social calendaring?

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