The Abysmal Google+ Numbers: Users Spending 3 Minutes per Month on the Site

For many months now, the specter of Google+'s eventual failure has grown as a real possibility. It certainly *seemed* that the site was not catching on, but any real data to confirm that intuition was hard to come by. Certainly, when Google's own numbers turned out to be a flimsy charade, that seemed to be an ominous indication. An Instagram photo of "social media explained through donuts" went viral earlier this month, providing a few chuckles by confirming what everyone seemed to suspect: Google+ is an abandoned shell, a place once flooded by the curious and the speculators, only to have been abandoned by everybody but a few Google employees still trying to drum up interest.


Perception leads, data confirmation follows: A Wall Street Journal report out this morning contains numbers from the research firm comScore that show what has long been suspected:

Visitors using personal computers spent an average of about three minutes a month on Google+ between last September and January, versus six to seven hours on Facebook each month over the same period.

Why has Google+ failed to catch on? There was so much excitement upon its release, but it has not stuck. Here are a two mistakes Google has made, and a theory on what to do now:

Google released a half-finished product.

Perhaps the first sign that Google hadn't thought things all the way through was a seemingly minor dust-up immediately after Google+'s launch: Google asked businesses and organizations not to create Google+ pages after many tried to do so, asking them to wait until official business pages were ready. Why not have these pages ready at launch? Why be so controlling over how people use your new network? By asking companies to shut down their pages, Google killed off an early source of content that could have brought people to the site. Why? This sort of fumbling is no big deal on its own, but it's surprising that on a product of this degree of importance, Google had failed to foresee such an obvious and inevitable chain of events. Google+ pages finally launched at the end of last year, but even then they were flawed, not allowing for basic functionality such as multiple administrators.

Google+ pages was not the only indication that the site was half-baked upon release. It took months before Google+ added a function that would allow users to "adjust the volume" on their different circles -- meaning that for months when I logged in, my stream was flooded with posts from acquaintances and professional contacts, and the friends and family I wanted to see were buried. This made the whole site experience unpleasant. Google+ was great for sharing -- I could share with very specific people -- but it was a terrible place for consuming information. It was as though Google only thought through half of the social networking experience.

Google shot itself in the foot by doing more "evil" -- aka questionable privacy practices -- squandering its biggest comparative advantage that it had over Facebook, its main competitor.

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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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