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One of my students asked me why Google+ was, in his perception, flagging compared to the Facebook juggernaut. I though this was a powerful question and one worth investigating. First, is Google+ flagging in its efforts to become a dominant social network? That’s not an unreasonable question to ask. Certainly, Google is doing its level best to integrate G+ into everything possible, at the expense of its other products (Google Reader suffered mightily, for example).

The best available public estimate comes from sites like Compete.com, who don’t necessarily have good quality data when it comes to traffic estimation (especially for less popular sites). However, given G+’s high prominence, I would expect that Compete’s estimates would be reasonably useful for a big picture view of Google+.

plus.google.com 18,915,810.0 UVs for February 2012 | Compete

And for good measure, Twitter:

twitter.com 37,201,228.0 UVs for February 2012 | Compete

And Facebook:

facebook.com 166,890,779.0 UVs for February 2012 | Compete

Looking at all three charts, Google+ definitely has a rockier growth curve and what appears to be an inflection after January. However, the other networks also show similar traffic patterns, so that’s inconclusive.

If we look at a biased sample (my audience), I post fairly heavily to both Facebook and Google+. #the5 makes it onto both networks, so the content is similar. I cross promote both Facebook and Google+ about equally (feel free to connect on Facebook and Google+). In terms of network size, I have an effective first degree reach of about 2,500 on Facebook and over 11,000 on Google+. Yet when I look in my advanced traffic segments in Google Analytics, the story there is still Facebook, even with a first degree network reach that is 25% of Google+:

Visitors Overview - Google Analytics

So is Google+ flagging? For me, yes. Take a look at the 6 month view:

Visitors Overview - Google Analytics

Facebook is regaining the upper hand again for me.

If we accept the premise that Google+ is flagging, then we need to ask why. There’s some sound common sense to the idea that, well, all our friends are already on Facebook, making it inherently stickier. There’s a deeper reason, however, one that most casual social media folks don’t consider: the API.

Google+ has an API that can best be described as woefully underpowered. It does very little, and it’s not particularly useful. You can’t even update your status via API. Facebook’s API, by comparison, is the definition of openness and extensibility. You can get a firehose of functionality and data out of the Facebook API, almost terrifying amounts of data.

Translated into real world terms, this means that Facebook has the clear upper hand when developers want to develop on a robust platform. Facebook has the upper hand at putting Facebook everywhere and anywhere with its social plugins and Open Graph. Facebook’s Mobile Developers Platform is practically a gold standard for how you should provide developers mobile access to your platform with robust SDKs for both iOS and Android. It’s sheer irony that Facebook does Android better than Google does.

What’s deeply confusing is that Google has traditionally been known to have better technical capabilities than nearly any other company around, yet the development around Google+ has been stunted at best. If we accept that Google+ is flagging against Facebook, the blame has to around its development ecosystem. Facebook’s app ecosystem runs rings around Google and is second only to Apple’s iOS ecosystem.

What’s your take? Is Google+ flagging for you, and if so, are you changing your strategies?

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12 responses to “Is Google+ flagging vs. Facebook?”

  1. G+ is quickly turning into an also ran for me for exactly this reason.  This bothers me… because I really want to like it, and have it work.  
    The big issue for me is that part of my social strategy is to do a daily curated list.  I put this out over LinkedIn, facebook, and twitter, but for G+ I just can’t make it work… why?  Because I have to sit down and craft each link and post it individually when I am ready to send it out.  

    As a hootsuite user I can schedule these posts on the other sites, but unless I am willing to pay for Hootsuite’s enterprise package (I am a one man shop, I really shouldn’t be paying for the pro package) I can’t schedule that stuff out.  Why do you think they are so resistant to opening up the API to be more useful?

    1. I wish I knew – I can’t fathom why they wouldn’t put all their development resources to work.

      1. if they opened the API now, G+ would become a syndication hell hole. I mean I spend inordinate time “hiding” updates of others in linkedin because it’s a big repeativedom.

        Or is the argument that an open API would disproportionately grow the network? And how would an open API affect advertising value if API expanded now. It may be technically welcome and philosophically pleasing but is that commercially wise? 

        1. An open API would attract new users as well as more content. Is it wise? Generally, more traffic and more users are more people to put Adwords in front of!

  2. This comes from a focus group of one, but ….

    I have zero reason to check Google+ because I see the same stuff there that I see in other social networks. There’s no value add. In order to not become the next google wave, G+ has to figure out how it’s different versus other more mature social media networks. Look at Pinterest for example. They have grown by leaps and bounds because they have something different. C’mon big G, put those brains and dollars to better use.

  3. I’ve never believed in Google+ and actively wait for and desire its failure.

  4. As one friend of mine said recently regarding the network, “Let me know when my mother is on Google+.”

  5. Edward Boyhan Avatar
    Edward Boyhan

    The G+ API is currently read-only — you can’t push info into the G+ space.  Vic Gundorata of Google at a conference recently explained that they aren’t rushing to embrace write-enabled interfaces until they can properly address risks to G+ and deal with risks from spammers using a write-enabled API.

    I suspect that too many are attempting to compare G+ to FB when it’s not clear to me that Google wants G+ to be anything like FB.  Hence aggregate statistics comparisons like those reported here may not be: completely accurate (I think they only see public activity), and don’t take cognizance of the fact that Google is (as they have tried to repeatedly explain) aiming for something different than FB, Twitter, or Linkedin.  Aunt Tilly’s latest doings, or who you were out with last night isn’t the target.  G+ members are mostly male, mostly technical professionals — with a sizable cohort of professional photographers.

    It’s not the aggregate numbers or the time spent directly on G+ — rather it’s what occupations they represent, and who they interact with.

    IMV G+ will evolve into a kind of long-form business to business facebook that fosters the exchange of technical and professional info.

  6. What everyone fails to take into account is that Google+ isn’t a success if it is just another Facebook where you talk to the same people. Google+ will be a success because it is tied into and influence Google search. And those of us who know and understand that are laughing all the way to the web traffic bank as we ride this wave while experts like you are saying “Google+ is dead because I don’t get a lot of clicks when I post five links on it at 7 a.m” (which you did today.)

  7. this comment is unrelated to API or development. Facebook for me is all about the people I know or used to know. G+ for me is all the people I want to meet and hopefully know. Facebook is my ‘past’ (and that’s cool), but G+ is my ‘future’. I never really learned anything via Facebook, except that maybe Michael Jackson died, or something like that. But I’ve had strangers answer my questions in a sincere helpful way on G+.

    So for me it is successful and continues to be.

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