Google Doesn’t Understand Its Own Social Network

Larry Page’s Google+ is not like ours. posted on

In an annual letter to investors, Google CEO Larry Page said exactly what he was supposed to say. Google is great, but needs to stay focused. Search is awesome, but needs to work better. Tablets are cool. Social is the future, and Google gets social. As a document, the letter is boring and fluffy and not even bold enough to be wrong.

Except for that last part: The Google+ Larry Page talks about in this letter is a Google+ that doesn’t exist for anyone but him. Google understands social only in that it knows it needs social. Google+ is not working. Here’s how Page characterized the network:

Well over 100 million users are active on Google+, and we’re seeing a positive impact across the Web, with Google users being able to recommend search results and videos they like—a goal we’ve had ever since we started the company.

Activity on the Google+ Stream itself is increasing too. We’re excited about the tremendous speed with which some people have amassed over one million followers, as well as the depth of the discussions taking place among happy, passionate users—all evidence that we’re generating genuine engagement. When I post publicly I get a ton of high quality comments, which makes me happy and encourages me to keep posting. I strongly encourage all of you to follow me on Google+—I love having this new way to communicate and share with all of you!

Larry Page’s Google+ experience sounds fine! It sounds like using Facebook, actually. But Larry Page’s Google+ experience is the best Google+ experience in the world. Millions of people care what he has to say by default, and thousands more are eager to dance for him to keep him entertained or, I guess, “engaged.” Larry Page’s Google+ is not our Google+, and our Google+ is the only one that matters. Our Google+ is a failure.

Page paints a picture of a vibrant and responsive network, where knowledge blooms and ideas spread. It’s a place where friends and family and, to borrow his perfectly out-of-touch example, “Rocket Scientists” can live together but separately, singing in chorus when needed but never drowning the others out. Page’s Google+ is a social utopia; a world-class digital confab without the noise of Facebook or the alienating structure of Twitter. It’s cool to be Larry Page, on Google+ and otherwise.

For someone who’s not Larry Page, though, logging into Google+ feels like logging into a seminar, or stumbling into the wrong conference room at an airport Marriott. It looks like a cubicle farm and smells like a hospital. Posting anything on Google+ is like talking into a pillow. Google+ mutes words and flattens images. There’s nobody there except people you don’t care about. Google+ is those people standing in circles around you. Google+ is LinkedIn: After Hours.

Don’t take my word for it — evidence of Google+’s premature decrepitude is littered across the entire Internet. Thousands of sites, this one included, happily put Google+ buttons on their posts in hopes of generating more social traffic. Here’s the social panel for most popular post on BuzzFeed right now:

Almost a thousand times more people shared this story on Facebook than on Google+. Here’s one from the Huffington Post:

And from Ars Technica, where the audience should, more than just about any other, be into Google+.

Not once since starting at BuzzFeed FWD have I seen more than a few hundred clicks come from Google+. I’ve gotten more traffic from Digg — Digg! — than from Google’s “100 million active user” social network.

Talking about Google+ as if it’s an unqualified success doesn’t make you sound optimistic, or even like a cheerleader. It makes you sound insane. And maybe now’s not the best time for Page to be sounding insane. Not when the company’s other cofounder is running around looking like this.

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