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BLOG: Is Google's big bet on Google+ too risky?

Juan Carlos Perez | Dec. 15, 2011
Google is ending 2011 with a cliffhanger: Will Google+ succeed? And if it does not, how much damage will the company suffer as a result?

Google probably realizes that to give Google+ a fighting chance of becoming a dominant platform, it must integrate it across the company's product stack, Sterling said. Otherwise, as a stand-alone social network, Google+ is unlikely to make a dent in Facebook, most of whose users are unlikely to abandon the service for Google+, he said. Although the Google+ user base is in the tens of millions, that is only a fraction of Facebook's 850 million-plus membership.

However, there is a risk involved in being too pushy with the Google+ links.

"By pushing the Google+ integrations so aggressively, Google could be forcing certain things that don't work out so well, or that people reject because they perceive it thrust upon them. It could backfire," Sterling said.

Page seems convinced that the Google+ Circles mechanism for managing how users share content is simple enough for everyone to grasp, so that they will always share what they post only with their intended audience.

But there are already some signs that Circles might not be as intuitive as Page thinks. None other than a Google engineer accidentally posted a public rant criticizing, ironically, Google+, on his Google+ profile. His intention was to share it with only a limited group of contacts.

How much of an issue this will become is unclear, because, based on anecdotal evidence and market research reports, it seems Google+ is currently being used mostly by tech-savvy people.

"The level of adoption right now is questionable. I see a lot of early adopter technologists and media folks, but I don't see the mainstream there yet," said Jeremiah Owyang, an Altimeter Group analyst.

In other words, Google+ still hasn't experienced the massive, intense usage of a site like Facebook from hundreds of millions of people with more limited knowledge of how Web applications work. It remains to be seen whether privacy complaints will erupt if Google+ reaches that level of usage.

Page is also pushing his troops to mesh products with Google+ at a time when key questions regarding Google+ remain unanswered. Already there have been a number of loud controversies associated with Google+, including some mistakes Google has acknowledged.

Open questions include whether external developers will embrace Google+, which at this point doesn't offer much in the way of APIs (application programming interfaces) for them to create tools and applications for the site, a key element in the success of services like Facebook and Twitter.

On the enterprise side, Google is using internally a workplace version of Google+, but it remains to be seen whether Google Apps customers will like it and find it useful. Another pending promise is letting people use pseudonyms.


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