Does anybody use Google+ any more? That seems to be the question floating around these days.
The Google+ project made its debut two months ago and by the end of its first month had a user base of 25 million worldwide, becoming the fastest-growing social media network in the admittedly short history of social media networks, according to comScore. Almost immediately afterward, Experian Hitwise, an online consumer behavior and marketing consultancy, began reporting that Google+’s rate of growth was slowing, and that the average amount of time Google+ users spent on the site was declining. Then the otherwise respected website GigaOm trumpeted the dubious results of a “voluntary sample of more than 10 million Google+ users” that purported to find “that a whopping 83 percent of Google+ users are currently classed as inactive.”
This fits with the standard model of modern mass media: Gross overhyping followed by savage criticism. Google+ is the best thing ever! Hey, wait, it sucks! Hurricane Irene will destroy the East Coast! Hey, wait, they canceled my flight for this?
Even so, people are asking if Google’s flagship social media service is destined to follow the trajectory of Google Buzz and Google Wave. People are wondering if social media fatigue is a factor.
After all, did you stop using Facebook or Twitter when you signed up for Google+? If you have 10 minutes to catch up on your social media streams, and you already have established networks on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, how much time are you going to devote to Google+?
For me, it’s privacy fatigue as much as anything.
But back to the question: Does anybody still use Google+? As if often the case, I find myself in total agreement with Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there any more; it’s too crowded.” Millions of people use Google+. Millions more are waiting to get in. But I don’t go there anymore.
My enthusiasm for Google+ was never great to begin with, and it diminished after Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, explained that Google+ is really an Internet identity service with social media elements.
Schmidt, according to a transcript of a Q&A session last week at the Edinburgh International TV Festival, said that Google+ is “an identity service with a link structure around your friends.” In other words, it’s a product that helps Google sell ads more effectively by gathering information about its users. To that end, Google+ does not allow anonymity. It has a “real names” policy and requires users to provide traceable personal information. “It’s central for Google to have such a service,” Schmidt said.
Asked how Google can justify requiring real names if doing so puts some users at risk, especially in unstable political climates, Schmidt said, “Well, the first comment is that Google+ is completely optional. In fact, many, many people want to get in. If you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to.”
By its own admission, Google developed Google+ as a more effective way to gather personal information from users and their friends that Google can then use to target advertisements more profitably.
If you signed up for Google+, here’s what you signed:
“By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”
“You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.”
I’m taking Eric Schmidt’s advice: I don’t have to use it.