The Google+ Social Network: Net Plus or Net Minus?

Google Plus, Google+What’s the latest with Google+? The big splash predicted when the new social platform hit the web has been more of a ripple instead.

Underscoring this, recent news reports have suggested that Google basically missed the boat on social media … and that rival Facebook is far too well-established to face anything more than just token competition going forward.

It’s true that many people find the prospects of building and engaging in yet another social media channel a wearying thought, to say the least. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day.

But Google doesn’t want to cede the social media marketplace to Facebook without a fight. That’s understandable, considering the billions of dollars in potential advertising revenues that come from being able to serve ad messages to people who are connected to others who “like” a product or service.

The results charted to date on Facebook confirm that displaying friend “likes” adds an extra measure of credibility to advertising. That’s manifested in a clickthrough rate that’s three times what’s typical for other advertisements on the social platform.

The launch of Google+ this past summer hasn’t resulted in huge user adoption, that much is clear. The Google+ social platform has managed to nab ~40 million users, which isn’t a shabby number in and of itself. But it pales in comparison to the more than 800 million active users on Facebook.

But despite this less-than-stellar performance, we see clues as to where Google is going with its social platform. That’s because Google’s equivalent of the “like” button – the “+1” notation that shows up on Google’s search engine results pages – goes further than simply communicating the news to those in someone’s own Google+ network. Google is also mapping that information through to its Gmail account base.

Google’s Gmail service has hundreds of millions of users, and those who use the site regularly have accumulated dozens or hundreds of contacts. So when a user clicks +1, Google can show that result not just to the user’s social friends on Google+, but also to his or her contacts in Gmail.

[For those who cry “foul” on privacy grounds, Google maintains that clicking the “+1” button is a public action and therefore not subject to privacy considerations.]

The jury’s still out on what the social map will look like in a couple years. There’s little doubt Facebook will still be the biggest guy on the block. The question is, to what extent will Google have taken the 600 pound gorilla down a notch? Stay tuned …

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