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.
Unquestionably, the best thing Google+ had going for it was that it could be a place for people who had become distrustful of Facebook after years of that network's repeated privacy missteps. But as Nick Bilton chronicled in The New York Times, Google has recently found itself at the center of its own string of privacy controversies. He writes:
In 2000, when Google could count its employees by the dozen, it adopted its now famous mantra: Don't be evil.
Google considered it such a cornerstone of its operating philosophy that it was included in the S-1 filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2004 when it went public.
Now, 12 years later, Google has more than 30,000 employees with annual revenue of $38 billion and growing, and although it still sees itself as a company doing good, its latest actions raise the question: Is Google too big not to be evil?
This month alone Google has been caught up in more privacy debates than I've eaten hot meals. There was the mobile apps problem -- which also snagged Apple -- in which data from mobile phones was being sucked into the hands of just about any developer. Then it was discovered that Google was circumventing privacy settings on Web browsers to track the behavior of consumers.
Bilton goes on to detail several of the other flare-ups, including Google's new Search Plus Your World which will integrate search and Google+. Bilton attributes Google's new privacy tune to its size, but its also the result of trying to make social more at the core of what it does, all, presumably, to feed its lucrative ad sales. Doing so seems to require gaining and keeping more of your information, meaning that Google+'s core advantage over Facebook -- user control -- is in the crosshairs of Google's business model. If that's the case, Google+ is doomed.