Google Does Minus, Not Plus

Google+ shuts down soon; the first of several services it is closing. Is the giant finally stumbling?

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Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

his morning I received an email from Google telling me Google+ is shutting down for good on April 2, 2019. It’s already all over the news, but what many readers do not realize is, the shuttering isn’t stopping at just Google+.

Google Inbox (an alternative email app to Gmail) is shutting down in end March 2019. Google Hangouts will shut for G Suite customers in October 2019, with the consumer version to follow eventually at an unspecified date. Google Play Music is expected to shut and merge with YouTube Music this year or next.

First victim of rising privacy concerns?

But let’s stay focused on Google+ first and look at what really went wrong. The tech giant cited two reasons for the shut down in its official blog: low usage and security issues.

“The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds…”

“…users were not engaging with our APIs because of concerns around data privacy, areas where developers may have been granted overly broad access, and other areas in which our policies should be tightened…Our review showed that our Google+ APIs, and the associated controls for consumers, are challenging to develop and maintain.”

— Google’s official blog, October 8, 2018

Those five seconds of usage is probably when someone logs into a third party app using their Google account. Many mobile apps have sign-up screens that integrates with Facebook or Google sign-in these days. It gives new users instant gratification (one-click registration), making acquisition much easier for app publishers.

As for the security concerns, let’s just put it this way. I once switched from an Apple to Android phone in order to lead a mobile app development team for a client. After I realized how many apps were asking for user permissions to access your contacts, calls, notifications and messages data, I promptly switched back to using iPhones.

Google may be the first victim — among tech giants — of rising consumer privacy concerns. To be fair, it is fixing the problems in the main Android phone operating software and its other apps, but I guess Google+ had fallen to such a miserable usage rate it wasn’t even worth the trouble to fix the issue for its APIs.

Why didn’t Google+ work?

Google+ had no ‘special sauce’

The social media and app business is all about critical mass. Without critical mass it is extremely difficult to monetize and achieve economies of scale.

In the history of products, going viral always has a “tipping point”. What creates this tipping point? Malcolm Gladwell said this in his bestselling book ‘The Tipping Point’…

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Source: “5 Quotes From Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point’ That You Need To Go Viral” by Ashley Ruski Hinds

Google+ was introduced in 2011. The company thought it could achieve critical mass through forced integration with other Google products.

“… back then Google thought social was the future, and Google’s then-CEO Larry Page tied all employee bonuses to the success of Google+. As a result, Googlers forced Google+ into every other Google product, whether it made sense or not.”

— ‘Google+ shuts down April 2, all consumer data will be deleted’, Ars Technica, February 1, 2019.

Forcing usage down users’ throats has never worked. Microsoft tried it with Yammer and Skype, it didn’t work. It is now trying with LinkedIn, after paying a ridiculous price for it…

Every major social media thriving today has had some kind of differentiating factor that appealed to users in its early days. Facebook had the ‘poke’ and Ivy league exclusivity. YouTube was a pioneer in free Video sharing. Twitter advocated short shout outs — less than 140 characters per tweet. Instagram was purely picture sharing at first. Snapchat had the fun and naughty self-destruction of pics sent.

The initial version of Google+ felt pretty much like it copied and mashed Pinterest and Flipboard together.

G suite under attack from Office 365

As the tech giant scales back on apps within its G Suite for business users, its competitor Microsoft is catching up fast. Office 365 has been gaining market share rapidly over the past few years, whereas G Suite has stagnated.

Worldwide, 56.3% of businesses use Office 365, versus 24.8% for G Suite. In the EMEA markets (Europe, Middle East, Africa), Office 365 is even stronger — 65% market share in 2018, rising from 51% in 2016. G Suite only has 19%.

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Source: Bitglass

Is the social media game over for Google?

In the next 3–5 years, we could see a reshuffle of the players in the western social media ecosystem. Facebook just announced that they are integrating the technical platforms for WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram. Microsoft is still struggling with integrating LinkedIn into Office 365 and Dynamics (which they ambitiously planned as justification for its US$27 billion purchase price two years ago).

With so much going on for these tech giants, the opportunities for upcoming apps like Slack, Signal and Telegram to rise up may exist. While it could be hard to imagine a world now without Microsoft, Google or Facebook, don’t forget that in the history of big corporations, few has lasted more than 20 years, especially in the modern tech world.

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