Google has done quite well over the last few months with Google+... at least as far as keeping people talking about it. (If you have missed out on that conversation, circle a few social media people and you'll be in the loop fairly quick.)
However, finding an accurate source for the total number of users that are actually using it is another story.
Google, for obvious reasons, prefers to emphasize how many people have signed up and logged in at least once. Obviously, those should not count as active users, but Google is ultimately in charge of that decision.
Today, Google had a big announcement in its continued push to build out its social media efforts: Branded Pages (dedicated pages for companies, brands, local businesses, etc. - you can read more about them here).
My initial impression is that Branded Pages are very quick and easy to set up and function much like a personal page. With time, I expect this to change as additional features come online and other Google assets are incorporated (for example, one shortfall is that only one person can manage a Branded Page)... and hopefully some metrics to go with them!
However, there is one glaring attribute that still seems to define the overall Google+ experience that carries across to Branded Pages too.
The pages feel pretty lonely.
Mashable, one of the industry leaders in technology, social media, and business news, launched its Branded Page today as well as a slew of others listed on Google's blog. Next to the Muppets and FC Barcelona, Mashable's page has the largest following, yet they all seem dull.
At the roots of social media you will find engagement and conversation. These are the two elements that should also be fully-bloomed and gloriously blowing in the wind such as the hair of 1980's high school yearbooks. Engagement and conversation need exposure for social media to flourish. Hopefully Google+ will shed some light on this fertilizing stuff, and soon.
Everything in the Facebook experience: Is. About. Connections.
Compared to Facebook Pages, the Branded Pages of Google+ feel lifeless in their current state.
While the leftmost 20% percent of the Facebook screen is reserved for navigating the information that a brand publishes, the remaining 80% is dedicated to interaction. Connecting. Finding NEW connections.
This is where Google+ is failing: new connections. And the experience feels very lonely because of this void.
Google is currently refining all of its products with the intention of "getting the platform out of the way" to increase functionality (see recent updates to Gmail). However, if too much of the platform is missing, functionality loses to aesthetics and users go away.
Even from its launch, Google+ seems to have left out a key piece of platform functionality in its pursuit of simple: the importance of encouraging the discovery of new things. It wasn't until almost 3 months after its launch that it introduced the ability to search within its platform: people, posts, topics, anything aside from email addresses... WAYS TO CONNECT.
Users have already enhanced existing personal relationships via direct connections on Facebook. Did Google expect they would all pick up and move while this connection was already working on Facebook? Who wants to take the time to teach grandma a new social network?
However, if this minimalistic approach to social media is the direction that Google is going - intending to create simple, personal webpages that tie into any interaction with the internet, and compiling these experiences and interests into one place to where they can connect and share with others seamlessly, reaching beyond the I-have-to-know-you-to-friend-you mentality of Facebook - then Google has my attention and I'll rescind my criticisms.
In the meantime, show us suggestions of people to follow based on our interests. Bring labeling options to posts so that they can be categorized and searched for by topic. Highlight new subjects to explore that are of interest to our connections. And most of all, show us this content through the actions of other users who are active on Google+.
Help us explore and discover. This is what you have always done best. THEN, help us connect in new ways through these experiences. Until then, I deplore your unused and vacant white space.