In defence of Google+

If you don’t understand why Google is the 2nd most active social network, you don’t understand what Google+ is. And it’s all your fault.

Since day 1 in June 2011, Google was very clear about the motivation behind its Emerald Sea project: build a better Google.

People like Danny Sullivan have spent their time fundamentally misunderstanding even the clearest explanations:

When I asked Gundotra how many people are using Google+, he deftly told me I was looking at it wrong. “You have to understand what Google+ is,” he said. “It’s really the unification of all of Google’s services, with a common social layer.”

No, we’re not looking at it wrong. Google is just refusing to answer the question for its own reasons — which is probably because Google+ has far less activity as a standalone social network than either Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps even less than Pinterest, for that matter.

Right. That’s one possibility. Or you are just not listening to the poor man. But you wouldn’t be the only one. Comparing numbers of G+ posts to Facebook posts or any other network does not make sense if you consider their goals.

The stream you see when you visit plus.google.com is not Google+. It’s simply where the actions you take across Google services manifest when shared. They may be shared to one person, they may be shared to a circle, they may be shared publicly. It’s the journey, not the destination.

But it’s not without its virtues. For example, anyone who has tried to tackle big topics in 140 char without either linking many tweets together or ending up being glib and superficial will appreciate the extra scope that comments on Google+ posts allow. Or even the basic simplicity of being able to +1 someone’s response (which everyone can see, vs relatively hidden Twitter favourites) and say more than a hollow thumbs up tweet.

Google+ is not a Facebook killer (as some journalists have started to twig). Google+ is Search, Youtube, Gmail, Maps, Drive, Android, Hangouts and more. Google+ starts as the layer that runs through all its products but the real goal is its extension through the web. This is where the Google Authorship markup strategy has been so ingenious. Never has anyone had such a compelling reason to integrate a new way to share into your site.

It’s this kind of thinking that is gradually helping Google+ become the widely distributed fabric that it intends. Google doesn’t need to beat social networks in quantity of shares or visits to the stream — or indeed almost all the other areas that businesses like Facebook and co. care about — to get value from this initiative.

Why is this important? For most people, it’s not and although it’s a shame I can’t share all my photos with my university friends anymore like I could on Facebook, I can live with that.

But if you work in marketing, PR, digital, social, search — whatever you want to call our converging industry today — and you’re patting yourself on the back as you joke about this ‘ghost town’, it might be time to wake up and smell the +1s. It’s part of our job to look past the surface to understand things and offer that knowledge to our clients. Keep up.

- Max Tatton-Brown

September 6th, 2013