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In your Facebook: Google+ Popularity, Privacy, and Monetization

The Google+ Project is creating a ton of buzz amongst tech bloggers and mainstream journalists alike.   In his Huffington Post article, Craig Kanalley provides an apt first impression – “ambitious and attractive.”   While the longer term adoption of Google+ and the impact on Facebook remain to be seen, this appears to be a great product with high revenue-generating opportunities for the Mountain View company.

As the web is an ever growing part of our day to day lives, there needs to be consistency amongst the noise.  There are multitudes of social groups, data storage and sharing sites, contact and communication sites, e-mail service providers, et cetera, ad infinitum.  This is a problem Google hopes to resolve with one seamless platform.   The new black bar (the Google One Bar) across the top of the page allows for easy access to all of the Google services you’ve grown accustomed to; with Google+ users getting constant notifications to keep them engaged and coming back for more.

Popularity:

eBay Listings for Google+ Invites

Invitations are no longer being offered to the social site, although you might be able to find them on sale at eBay – which at least offers free shipping!  This high demand speaks to the initial “buzz” around the release (too soon?).  Will Google+ die down and fizzle out like its ill-fated predecessors?   It doesn’t seem likely this time around.

Here’s why: with the widespread design changes Google has started rolling out – affecting everything from the Google homepage to Maps and Image search results – we are starting to see a unified user experience across all Google products.  Now when you log in to Google, you can access Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Documents… and “You+” – the new button for Google+.  Google’s goal is to make the user experience fluid across all products and across all devices.

It’s been some time since we’ve spoken specifically to Mobile traffic share in this space, but Mobile (and now Tablet) traffic has continued to grow exponentially over the last few years.  Streamlining the look & feel from desktop to mobile device will help Google grow those numbers even faster.

An advantage Google has over Facebook is that posts to Google+ could significantly boost the SEO ranking for websites – the same can’t be said for pushing content out to Fan Pages on Facebook.  While the reigning champ of social media controls their domain, Google seems to be on the verge of controlling everything else in sight.

Sure, the “Like” button has allowed Facebook to spread its reach across the internet – but there’s a difference between simple exposure and site ranking.  If Google+ posts and the subsequent ranking process are done well and the system isn’t gamed too badly, it could be useful to users and profitable for online retailers.

Privacy:

If there’s one reason Google may have just rolled out a Facebook killer, this is it: privacy.  Facebook has had a well-documented history of fudging users’ privacy – if not outright violating it.  The default settings on Facebook seem to always show the maximum possible amount of information about a user.  The default settings on Google+ are for privacy.  When you post to your Facebook page, you’re posting it for the world to see.  When you post to Google+, the target audience is baked into the sharing mechanism – not as an afterthought.

There’s a telling post from Google’s Vic Gundotra in which he describes an “insane demand” for the new product.  After he thanks everyone for their interest, he goes on to explicitly call out the process by which users can leave the project if they want.

If users wish to leave the Google+ Project, they can take advantage of Google Takeout and download an archive of their information.  The fact that this is baked into the product from the beginning is an improvement over Facebook.  It took Zuck & co until October 2010 – a few years after widespread adoption – to offer a similar feature.  Before the “Download your information” option, if you closed your Facebook account, it was “gone.”  Facebook stored your information somewhere, but you couldn’t ever access it again – unless you chose to reactivate your account.  Now Facebook has added a feature to download your information, but with Google+ that option is at the forefront and not just an afterthought.

Google’s stance on privacy is not only inspired by Facebook’s failings – Google made a big misstep of its own with Google Buzz last year, finally sorting out the privacy issues with the FTC earlier this year.  There have been a few early rumblings of privacy issues with Google+, but that’s one of the reasons why this initial launch has been called a “field test” – Google aims to sort out all the glitches before widespread adoption occurs.

Monetization:

Lastly, we come to the prospect of monetizing this social site.  Facebook was “cool” for a number of years, but has only started making real money for a relatively brief amount of time.   Facebook may be free for users (“and always will be”), but they are set to make upwards of $3 billion this year on advertisements, if some projections hold.  Conspicuously absent from all of the introductory videos to Google+ are any indication of advertisements.

Is Google banking on their social site being “cool” for the near future, waiting until it is widely adopted before they try to monetize it?  Could they be working on a corporate version behind the scenes to roll out as part of a software suite?  Interesting thoughts from SearchEngineLand on Google+ “hangouts” as the next generation of video conferencing for large corporations (end of post here: http://searchengineland.com/google-the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-83630).

We’re particularly interested in the possibility of ads targeted towards “Circles” for users with specific shared interests.   Will Google allow interest targeting in the same way Facebook does?  Will AdWords have an option to add Google+ “keywords” that essentially function like target interests?  If Google+ catches on, it could make +1 as ubiquitous as Likes, giving users more targeted search results.  With better search results Google should serve more targeted ads.   Better ads mean higher CTR, which is a huge win for Google.

The truth of the matter may be this: there’s no such thing as a “Facebook killer,” just like there’s no such thing as an “iPhone killer.”  The Evo, Google’s own Nexus One, and the Windows 7 phone were all called that at some point – but the iPhone still lives on.  These phones have each carved a niche for themselves in an increasingly saturated market.  Who’s to say Google can’t do the same thing with Google+?  Facebook’s almost 700 millions users can’t all agree when Gundotra calls online sharing “broken” – but there are certainly those out there who will prefer Google+ to its alternatives.

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  • James Burton is a Client Development Lead at RKG.
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