An expansion of a conversation begun with Dave and Patrick one night over scotch and cigars…
In my first draft of this post, I started off with, “Well, not ‘fail’, exactly, it’s not like they’re fundamentally flawed, throwing Blink tags all over the place or something awful like that, but they’re certainly not going to hit the targets they’ve gotta be aiming for…”
And after reading that bit through again, I realized that, ultimately, yes, they were going to fail. The stakes are too high, the goals too large…what would be considered phenomenal success for anyone else is failure for them. They’re not playing for a respectable second place…though I’m sure they’ll find some way to make that work for them, when it becomes evident that’s where they’re going to end up.
But enough of the navel-gazing, down to business:
Google+ is going to fail, and fail big-time. There’s only one measure of success for them: Facebook, and every one of their 750 million active users. Anything less than that–or even just chopping that number way down, by more than half, and passing them by a clear and evident margin–isn’t good enough.
And the sad part is that it won’t have much–if anything–to do with what they’re doing or how they’re doing it…truthfully, although it’s still very early, from what I can see, they’ve learned almost every lesson you could have hoped they would have learned from Facebook, and have already demonstrated a willingness to fix those things they still don’t have quite right yet.
If it was simply a matter of putting a better product on the market and trusting that everyone–or at least the vast majority of people–would take a look at the new offering, compare it to what they’ve currently got, and then choose what’s clearly better, then there’d be no problem. But anyone who’s ever looked even briefly into real-world marketing economics and sociology knows that it’s never that simple. Or else why do we still have both Coke and Pepsi on the shelves?
For my one grand, sweeping generalization per post (which I really can’t be bothered to explicate fully; please just assume that I know that things are much more subtle than this when examined in detail, and my usage of the more general ideas doesn’t ignore nor invalidate the complexities of overlapping, evolving micro-systems), there are three kinds of people using the Internet with any degree of regularity (i.e. the 750 million active users of Facebook):
- Hard-core geekerati
- Technically savvy people
- Grandma Betty
The hard-core geekerati write for Boing Boing, invest 10x more into their Reddit time than they do the local neighborhood watch, cite donations to Wikileaks as a charitable deduction on their tax returns, and not only knew all about Google+ before the information was public, they already had an invite before the announcement came, either through inside contacts or because they’d figured out how to hack the invite interface.
These folk know in intimate detail the differences between FB and G+; in fact, Google designed G+ with all of their many tumblr posts and tweets complaining about FB in mind. Given a choice between the two…well, there really isn’t a choice for them. G+ wins in a landslide, and either they’ve already fully migrated over to it from FB, their megalomania assuring them that anyone who doesn’t follow them over probably doesn’t get it anyway, or they’re primarily on G+, but still hanging around FB until its momentum dies out and everyone they care about has similarly ported over, so they can leave it behind for good.
I’m not even going to pretend that I know the demographics here, nor can I be bothered to work up any reasonably-researched estimates, so I’m going to pull wild guesses out of my ass: assume there aren’t too many of these folks, it requires a certain mobility to their lifestyle, a willingness to adapt to the new and strange, and the financial means to pursue it…worldwide, we’re talking, what, 5 million people, tops?
That leaves 745 million people still actively on FB.
The second group, the people with various degrees of technical savvy…these people know enough to have already tried turning their computer off and back on again before calling technical support, but not enough to never have to call support at all. They’re probably already on G+, but still consider FB their primary Internet “home”…G+ is a cool place to check out, like that new show on AMC…it’s interesting, but gets immediately put on hold if there’s a new episode of [fill in R-rated HBO hour-long drama here] on the DVR.
But they see the promise. They have some of the same concerns about FB that the geekerati have, even if they’re not nearly as passionate about it. Ultimately, they’ll end up preferring to move wholesale over to G+, but it’s not something that’ll be a driving factor in their online lives.
Again, not going to pretend I can estimate numbers here, but since these folks need to have enough leisure time to explore new ideas, and the financial means to acquire the tools often enough to gain enough mastery to be willing to explore in the first place…what, between 50 and 100 million people, worldwide? That’s probably really, really high. Still, for the point of this exercise, we can be conservative in the “trying to invalidate the point I’m trying to make” direction, and go with 100 million, and still…
That leaves 105 million people on G+, and 645 still actively on FB.
Brief aside: as of this writing, there are only 10-15 million active G+ accounts total. That’s primarily because it’s still in Beta, still invite-only. I’m somewhat speculating down the road, once the invites become unnecessary and anyone who wants to can sign up. This is an “after the system stabilizes” kind of thought experiment.
And now we come to the third group, Grandma Betty. Which is where G+ will fail.
A bit more generalized pontificating…there are two major paths that the Internet has followed down through the ages.
The first is for those who pay attention to what’s going on, the savvy…basically the first two groups already mentioned. For them, the Internet, and computers in general, have been in a constant state of evolution, from the first IBM PCs, to your first Intel x86’s, and Usenet, and downloading porn in a dorm room that looks like just a bunch of random ASCII characters until you manage to find and download an image decoding program, and Archie to search for stuff, and then Mosaic, Compuserve, Excite, Ask Jeeves (non-boolean, real-term searches!), and Geocities and Friendster and MySpace and Facebook and, now Google+.
The second–the one that Grandma Betty is aware of–is made of much broader strokes. The Apple II. AOL. And now Facebook. It’s not an evolution, it’s a series of fascinating new peaks that captures their interest, becoming a part of their lives in the same way indoor toilets, color television and automatic transmissions have…with no concern at all with what happens in all the valleys in between.
And this is the problem that G+ is facing. Grandma Betty doesn’t care that G+ is a little better than FB. For her, FB is not one markedly more popular option in a long line of evolving ways to interact with people online; for her, FB is The Facebook. It’s The Internet. It’s being Online. All of that, wrapped up in a single identity.
The idea of switching over to something better…well, why? Isn’t one color TV basically the same as another?
Or, to land on another, probably more relevant analogy, what I’m basically saying is that FB is DVDs, and G+ is laserdiscs. Yeah, there are a number of savvy people who are going to see all the benefits the latter offers over the former, and will switch over, either in whole or in part…but the vast majority of people won’t be aware of a difference, and won’t care. I mean, we’re how many years into the HD/Blu-ray “revolution”, and DVDs still outsell Blu-ray discs by a magnitude.
And laserdiscs are an interesting footnote.
There are 645 million Grandma Betty’s out there. That’s the difference between winning and losing in this game, and I just don’t see any way that G+ stands a chance at stealing even a small fraction of them. Grandma Betty just likes being Online, on The Facebook, and is still feeling pretty pleased with herself that she’s figured out how to post photos that her family and friends can see. The entire debate and choice between The Facebook and Google+…or anything else that’s similar, better or not…flies over her head the way a debate over PER vs. Adjusted +/- stats in basketball fly over the head of someone who is only peripherally aware that Michael Jordan isn’t playing professionally anymore.
So that’s my bit; I like G+, I’m one of those people in the second group I mentioned, and I’ve got an account and post to it occasionally, have some Circles set up already. But I wouldn’t bet against FB any time soon.
And no, I have no intent on posting as to where I’ve been for the last 6+ months…too busy dusting this place down…damn it falls all to pieces when I step away for a while. I may get to that…later.