Will Changes to Google+ Help the Fledgling Network?

Integration with Reader, Google's RSS aggregator, could bring better content to the site, and slowly draw users in

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Lately, things have not been going well for Google+, the social-networking site unveiled to much fanfare in July. Traffic is down since a peak in late September when the site went public, the company's own executives are not posting very much, and a Google engineer posted an extensive critique of the service publicly, by accident.

But two changes Google is making may put a bit of life back into the site. First, Google Reader, the company's RSS aggregator, will soon be better integrated with the site. You'll be able to share through Google+, not just through your Reader connections. For people who use Reader, the wall of separation between these two services has always been a frustration.

That integration is not merely a convenience. What Google+ needs to make it a destination site, one that people will actively check in their daily web wanderings, is better content. Google Reader users can provide this content. Google has not said, specifically, how many people use Reader (it's provided this unhelpful chart of Reader's growth), but the number does not need to be huge in order for this move to help Google+. A small percent of users can provide a huge amount content -- this is true on both Facebook and Twitter, where most people are there to check out the work of a few busy bees. If Google+ can capture the content of Google Reader users' shared items, many more people will come to the site, even if they themselves do not use Reader.

Second, Google has finally responded to users' complaints about its real-name policy, saying it will allow pseudonyms in the coming months. Google+'s biggest advantage over Facebook is that many people do not trust Facebook and do not think that Facebook has their interests at heart. If Google+ wants to capture some of Mark Zuckerberg's user base, it needs to exploit its competitive advantage, not assimilate Facebook's attitudes. Google+ took too long to change its position on the real-name policy problem, but perhaps this news signals a better approach to come.


Image: Google+

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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