Look, Google, we've got a plan to help you win on social. There's only one catch: You have to give up on the notion that animates Google Plus.
Out in the Mojave Desert, there's a place called California City that's fascinated me ever since Geoff Manaugh brought its story to the Internet's attention. The city is one of the largest in the state by land area, but its population sits at a mere 14,718. The facts together indicate the grandeur of the planned community's conception and its failure.
As pitched by the town's founder Nat Mendelson, California City would be the home of the American dream, a wonderland for sun and job seekers to go after Los Angeles' population burst across that city's eastern mountains. In 1957, land was purchased; roads were roughly paved; street signs were hammered into place. All Mendelson and his investors needed were the people ...
Who did not arrive as expected.
Those people did stop going to Los Angeles. But they didn't head to the enormous planned community taking shape in the Mojave. Instead, they headed to places like Phoenix. In 1955, the town had 350,000 people. By 1990, it had broken 2 million. California City languished, its grid still cut into the ground and viewable on Google Earth (see below). Instead of a megalopolis, California City became a set of half-built infrastructure. Growth went where people were already gathering naturally. They did not want to move out to the middle of nowhere, no matter how great the golf courses looked in the brochures.
Last year, Google, which had dabbled in official social-networking applications, released Google Plus. The site has all the things you've come to expect in a social network. There is a rich profile builder, a place for your photos, a nice videochat feature, a conversation feed, and, of course, "Circles," which allow users to sort the people they know into different buckets. Word at the time was that Google's full weight was behind this social push. The journalists who knew the company's insiders best declared that Facebook was CEO Larry Page's obsession.