Until a few months ago, there was widespread skepticism in the tech and investor community about Google's ability to "get social." Just last year, after the failure of Google Buzz and Google Wave, one of my favorite tech writers Pete Cashmore (Mashable) wrote:
"All of which must have Mark Zuckerberg rubbing his hands together in glee. While Google is one of the few companies large enough to build a significant social network, Google Wave's demise is further proof that these efforts (rumored to be called "Google Me") are destined to fail. Like Wave, Google Me will likely be a work of technical wizardry too advanced for us mere mortals to understand. . . . [S]hort of a miracle -- an acquisition of Facebook nemesis Twitter, perhaps -- Google won't become a socialite anytime soon."
But yesterday (give or take a few days) Google+ likely crossed the 50 million user mark. And since being opened to the general public (over age 18) last week, Google+ has been growing by at least 4% per day, meaning that around 2 million new users have been signing up each day.
I think that Pete's unexpected miracle occurred and Google is now a socialite. In my mind there is no doubt of that. Given this momentum, it is hard for me to imagine a scenario where Google+ doesn't end up with hundreds of millions of users. It's just a matter of time.
By integrating +1 and Circles (targeted sharing) and other Google+ functionality into its Chrome browser, Android phones (and tablets), Gmail, Google Reader, Blogger, Google Photos, and other properties, Google+ will give its more than one billion users repeated chances to sign up for and use the functionality of Google+. Like the Chrome commercials say, "the web is what you make of it." And with Google+, you can make so much more of it that ever before.
What Does This Mean For Facebook?
None of this is necessarily bad news for Facebook. Competition can make companies much better. Facebook has improved its functionality in the past few weeks by implementing changes inspired by Google+ (lists, longer posts and comments, the subscribe feature, etc.) At the same time, they have leaped forward in other ways with new features like Timeline and by partnering with music and media companies.
Competition is great. Even though they have been fiercely competing for decades, Apple is worth $367 billion and Microsoft is worth $209 billion. Both have huge impact worldwide. Facebook vs. Google will be no different. Customers will benefit as these two innovative tech companies try to empower users with the best social tools. Some people will choose one social network over the other and will evangelize their choice. Others will use both to communicate with different groups of people.
I think we are witnessing the most exciting battle in tech history as two well-funded, fast-growing, highly-profitable, genius-led Silicon Valley companies are competing from very different starting points to affect how we find information, how we connect with people, how we view the world, and how we spend our time. And unlike tech battles of the past which unfolded slowly as new hardware or software was "shipped" every few months, since these companies operate in the cloud, product changes happen almost daily, and the reactions from customers flow in real-time on Twitter, blogs, and on these two sites themselves.
Articles About How Google Was Failing With Social
■ CNET, Feb 2010, "Google Struggles With Social Skills" - http://cnet.co/nem8Xp
■ CNN Tech, Aug 2010, "Why Google Wave's Demise is Good for Facebook"
By counting how many Google+ users there are with hundreds of rare surnames, I can track the user growth over time, and also estimate the total number of Google+ users that have signed up so far. I have written several posts describing my methodology which you can find here: https://plus.google.com/117388252776312694644/posts/K9Qf1UVNyGy
Also, to give you a glimpse of how this works, attached is a graphic showing a small sample of my overall user count.
It is possible that my U.S. - non-U.S. ratio is off slightly, and it is possible that my 15% fudge factor for private profiles and for non-Roman characters could be way off. But I re-checked the data again this morning, and given Google's announcement of "over 10 million users" just 2 days after my model showed they had crossed that line, I find it hard to believe that my model could be off by more than 20%, in which case Google will hit the 50 million user mark in the next week or so. If I had more time and money to devote to this, there are several ways I could validate or improve my current estimates, but I can only spend so much time on this right now, unless someone out there wants to subsidize this research. :)
My model is going to break in the next couple of months as more and more of my rare surnames end up with more than 1,000 Google+ users, which is the maximum number of hits I am able to count for any given surname query. At that point, I have some ideas about how to work with a group of even more rare surnames, but my accuracy will probably be affected.
(Why would I continue to work on this? Well, for one reason, this project has led to a number of conversations with some very large investment funds who pay a lot of money for proprietary research and data, which may open up entirely new consulting opportunities for me in big data. Those conversations have been fascinating. When I started this project around the 4th of July, it was for the fun of it - to see if the model that I had devised would work. Sometimes fun leads to mon, which is pretty cool.)
Thanks to for the growth comparison chart.
People like centralization. It is easier to understand. There is no choice to be made and, as such, you cannot make any mistake. People like following as blind sheeps because it remove all the responsability from their shoulders. The service was down or was hacked? No question if it was a good choice to use this service. And, anyway, everybody is in the same bucket!
And, to be honnest, there is no real decentralized success since the good old email.
XMPP chat : that one is probably the most successful decentralized social tool after email. But it looks like most users are simply gmail users with gmail only contacts. Also, besides chat, XMPP still fail to succeed for audio and video conference. The reason? It is simple: it simply doesn't work most of the time. We are in 2011 and there is still no XMPP client capable of delivering easy and good quality audio/video chat.
Identi.ca : the most popular micro-blogging platform. But, it is decentralized only in theory. Most of status.net users are using identi.ca, just as a centralized service. And if you open your own status.net server, you will miss a lot of features. If anybody on identica mention "@ploum", only the user ploum on identi.ca will see it. All other ploums on other servers will not. As such, identi.ca is simply a Twitter rip-off, using decentralization as a commercial argument but there is no future. It would have been smarter to associate an account with a mail address, so mentioning someone is unambiguous.
Diaspora : here, at least, you have an "ploum@diaspora" id. Diaspora also introduced the concept of Aspects, which are very similar to G+ circles.
Problem: diaspora reinvent the wheel everywhere: no use of an existing protocol (where XMPP would have been a smart choice), implementation of messages (please!), not very much feature, hard to install and extend.
So, is decentralization doomed for Social Network?
Not really. The only thing that matter in a social network is the concept of address book/contact list. For each service, we have to build our contact list. And, no matter what, there will always be people who are not on the same centralized service as you.
No matter how hard you try, how good your service is, there will always be people using something else (for whatever reason).
Geeks are now closing their Facebook account while "normal people" are still discovering it. Politicians are very proud to open a Twitter account while I read articles saying that it is now "has-been".
Google plus looks shiny but it is not different than anything else. A lot of people will not join Google+ for privacy reason. And I expect a lot of people to leave Google+ in the next 5 years because there will be a new "shiny, definitive service".
No matter how hard we try, decentralized protocol is the only way to make Social Network part of our daily lives.
Wait, we said that the key aspect is the contact list. But we already have one in our XMPP roster!
There is a huge opportunity here for Google: build a XMPP-based protocol that would make Google+ compatible with some other implementation. Make it the first step of a real decentralized social network.
Seems unlikely? They did it with Google chat.
Why would they do it? Because, like I explained, freeing your customers is the best way to keep them. Centralized services can disappear in the blink of an eye. If a few influent people leave it, an haemorrhage immediately follows. Even if your service is the best one.
In an decentralized world, you keep your customers by making your service the most attractive one. And Google is good at it.
Let's cross our fingers…
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