In the early stages of Google+, there were rumours that while it was capturing hundreds of millions of accounts, nobody was using the social network as a platform to speak to friends.
Those were denounced by fans of Google+ or people who disliked Twitter and Facebook, but after a few years it became clear Google+ was never going to be a major social network, because it lacked a core identity to make users want to commit.
Looking at the stats for Google+, Kevin Anderson shows that 4-6 million users are currently active on the social network. That is a lot less than Facebook’s apparent 1.3 billion, WhatsApp’s 800 million or even Twitter’s 300 million active monthly users.
In many ways, Google+ felt too much like Facebook, trying to do everything, but also had touches of Twitter with trends and hashtags. There wasn’t anything ‘unique’ about Google+; Hangouts was a great voice chat and conference tool, but didn’t warrant using the social network over Facebook.
In a report from Business Insider, it looks like most of the Googlers working on the project found it controversial, and said the main goal was to solve the issue of connectivity, instead of creating a great social network.
Before Google+ users would sign into Gmail, YouTube and Drive with different usernames and passwords, without any real connection to wire it all together. Google+ became that connection, on which Google was able to build its virtual assistant Google Now to track user’s movements over dozens of apps.
This does mean while the social network failed, the Google+ experiment worked. 2.2 billion people have Google+ accounts, and most use them to sign into Blogger, YouTube, Drive and other Google apps, instead of using an unconnected account.
Google will change Google+ into a mix of photos and streams, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see a complete change from the current formula. Perhaps having a “Google profile” that is private would be a way to keep the user connected on a network, without having to abide by the same features Facebook and Twitter offer, but that doesn’t seem to be the route Google are taking.
One of the adverse effects of Google+’s failure is the fact social advertising is so popular now, as Facebook has demonstrated over the last 24 months. Since Google has no social network, it has to rely on contextual information and search advertising, which features less personal information.