The range of features it offered - Circles to group contacts and restrict who could see what, followers as well as 'friends', Hangouts for group video chats - gave an impression that the service could pull in elements of Facebook, Twitter and - to an extent - LinkedIn, to essentially create one all-powerful, all-dominant social network. Fast-forward to today, and I don't know of any of my friends or colleagues who use it, and it has become something of a joke in the office. When talking about Web Science research into social media, it still seems to be focused around Twitter (mainly) and Facebook, with little thought ever paid to the unknown, almost forgotten service that I had hoped would take off.
But stepping outside my own personal bubble of academia, it seems things may actually be quite different...
Statistically, Google+ is currently the second largest social network as ranked by the GlobalWebIndex with over 300 million active accounts. Larger than Twitter. Yup, I was surprised by that one too. Now, this may simply be down to how Google Plus accounts are now required and tied in to services like Android's Google Play Store, YouTube, and even Google Search with +1 buttons appearing frequently on websites. But still, if signing up for an account to facilitate these other services gets users registered, it removes one big step in getting them to think about creating an account for a social purpose. So maybe it isn't quite as forgotten as some may think, but compared to the Facebook giant, it still has a long way to go.
Furthermore, the Google+ mobile app (on Android anyway - I don't know about iOS etc.) is everything the Facebook app should be like. And Twitter's. For two giant social companies, that depend massively on mobile use, their apps really do leave a lot to be desired. They are improving, but compared to G+, they're in a different league. I've been using the app on a tablet and phone for a while now, primarily following a number of food-related organisations for recipes and cooking inspiration, and for this, the Google+ ecosystem seems ideal - visual content looks absolutely beautiful on it and the introduction of communities makes discovering new things a breeze. Seriously, if there is an interest you're passionate about (especially one that is quite visual), consider checking it out to see what/who you can follow. Like you might do on Twitter, but with a much richer, in-your-face content experience.
So maybe my previous post wasn't too far off the mark? Maybe it is just taking a while to grow, develop and find its niche? But then, looking back at what I predicted, there are definitely things that are panning out differently. Mainly (and looking back, it is shocking to think how naive I was about this) LinkedIn.
"It is Linkedin that I really think should be most threatened by the introduction of Google+" - Me, July 2011.
At the time, I wondered whether the introduction of a social network that separated colleagues, professional contacts, employers etc. from friends and family would spell the end for a dedicated 'professional network'. But now a 10-year old network, LinkedIn continues to grow and, this year, I finally signed up and made an account. And I like it. I don't know why I was so negative about it before. It has over 200 million users, there is a high rate of activity on it, and it really is nice to a have a professional presence in the social world. As I delve further in to the world of social media use for businesses and charities, LinkedIn is quickly becoming one of the sites I see as an essential component of a social media strategy. For an individual, it seems like everything a 21st century CV should be - and is much more enjoyable to create and maintain than a regular one.
To sum things up, I think there was a big case of people thinking Google+ was a Facebook replica, and that eventually only one of them would survive (and, most likely that would have been Facebook). But Google+ is carving out a niche - and I think a social network based around interests and communities has massive potential. There are things it does a lot better, but, from my own experience it suffers from a bad reputation and none of my contacts use it. But should it? Twitter launched in 2006, but how many people used it after two years in 2008? Around a million. Spurred on by early adopters, it remained relatively unknown, growing into something huge without the instant attention of millions of people straight away. Google+ on the other hand was launched into a world where social media sites were more established, by a giant of the Web-world, and so was instantly under the microscope. But in the same time period, it has gained a massive user base, begun to find its feet, integrated with Google's other services, and established a really nice mobile presence.
Add another 5 years, to essentially get to the age Twitter is now, and I wonder what the impression of Google+ will be.