years ago this month, Google Inc. launched a new social
network with high hopes of countering the rising tide of
Internet users who were flocking to Facebook.
hasn’t happened. But experts say Google Plus has
served a valuable purpose for the giant Internet company
as the centerpiece of a broader strategy to create a
unified profile for each person who uses any of Google’s
online products — the better to deliver more targeted
advertising, which is highly profitable for Google.
despite speculation fueled by the resignation of
longtime Google Plus boss Vic Gundotra, the company says
it has no plans to abandon the service.
of our death have been greatly exaggerated," said
David Besbris, a Google engineering vice president who
took over Google Plus when Gundotra, a senior vice
president, left the company two months ago.
his first public comments to a reporter since Gundotra’s
departure, Besbris said in an emailed statement to the
San Jose Mercury News that Google Plus has
"hundreds of millions of users (and growing)."
He vowed: "We’re committed to building a product
that people absolutely love. So no, Google isn’t
giving up on Google Plus."
declined to make Besbris or Bradley Horowitz, a longtime
Google Plus vice president, available for a formal
interview. Gundotra hasn’t publicly explained his
departure from the company, though by all accounts he
left on good terms.
his statement, relayed through a spokesperson, Besbris
described Google Plus as both a social network and
"a social fabric on and off Google." The
latter refers to Google’s efforts to make Google Plus
serve as the identity that people use for signing into
other Google services and independent applications, as
well as to comment on YouTube and endorse or share
things they find on other websites while signed in to
says this helps the company provide a "more
consistent experience" to users — for example, by
anticipating that you want directions on Google Maps for
the restaurant you found with Google’s search engine,
then letting you review the meal on Google Plus.
say it also lets the company compile a more complete
picture of a user’s habits or interests, by
recognizing them on a variety of services and devices,
which in turn helps Google show more relevant
advertising. The biggest part of Google’s $60 billion
in annual revenue comes from ads tied to Internet
searches, but it’s increasingly selling other types of
online ads, too.
more they can combine what they know about people,
across all different channels, the better understanding
they have for each user, and that’s vital to their ad
sales efforts," said Forrester Research analyst
Nate Elliott. When combined, he said, Google’s broad
range of apps and services may provide more information
than Facebook can glean from its users’ likes and
who led the engineering team that built Google Plus,
posts regularly on the social network and likes to share
photos he’s taken of flowers and other things that
catch his eye. In his statement, he offered few
specifics about his goals for the service, but said he
wants to "build on our momentum, build a product
that people absolutely love, and make Google Plus the
place for meaningful conversations online."
difficult to gauge how many people are having those
conversations. Enthusiasts use Google Plus for
photo-sharing, video chats and sometimes passionate
debates. But it’s never come close to Facebook’s
popularity as a digital town square.
in a while, I meet people who are like, ‘Google Plus
is my life.’ But I think it’s mostly a small
group," said Chris Abraham, a digital marketing
consultant and avid social media user. Abraham said he
gets little response when he shares items on Google
Plus. He believes many users simply repost items they’ve
already put on Facebook or other sites.
hasn’t released any user statistics since October,
when it said 540 million people worldwide used Google
Plus credentials to sign in or post comments on any
Google service in the previous month. A smaller group of
300 million visited "the stream" of Google
Plus itself, but even that figure counts people who
merely click the red Google Plus symbol that can appear
on-screen while using other Google services, causing a
short list of updates to appear in the corner.
comparison, Facebook boasts 1.28 billion monthly active
users worldwide, although that reportedly includes
people who click a Facebook icon to "like" or
share something they find on another site while signed
researchers use stricter definitions to estimate that
27.4 million U.S. residents visited the Google Plus
website in April and 45.6 million opened its smartphone
app, with some overlap between the two. Nielsen’s
estimates for Facebook were 117.8 million U.S. users on
the website and 116.7 million on the mobile app, also
with some overlap.
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Plus always faced an uphill battle against the more
established Facebook, said Charlene Li, a social media
expert and founder of research firm Altimeter Group.
"If your friends are not on Google Plus, and likely
they’re not, you’re going to go on Facebook."
the number of Google Plus active users is roughly the
same size as those on another service — Twitter,
according to both Nielsen and Forrester Research. And
while there’s no direct advertising on Google Plus,
said Forrester’s Elliott, companies that maintain a
page on Google Plus have more online interactions with
their followers than they do on Twitter.
Plus is actually a useful social site" for
companies to promote their brands, he said, but
"even Google doesn’t seem to understand the value
of Google Plus as a standalone property."
Li said the future may lie elsewhere. While Google
already operates a variety of apps and services, she
noted that Facebook is building and buying a stable of
stand-alone apps that let people directly share
pictures, news items and messages with their friends —
all without visiting Facebook’s main site.
idea of a destination site, like the Google Plus
page," she said, "is getting kind of
NETWORKS BY THE NUMBERS
says it has 1.28 billion monthly active users around the
world. By comparison, Google Plus says 540 million use
Google Plus credentials for a variety of services, with
300 million users "in the stream." Twitter
reports 255 million active users.
says 117.8 million U.S. residents visited Facebook’s
website and 116.7 million used Facebook’s smartphone
application in April, with some overlap between the two
groups. Google Plus had 27.4 million visitors on the Web
and 45.6 million on its smartphone app, while Twitter
had 33.6 million visitors on the web and 38.9 million on
its smartphone app — both with some overlap between
Web and mobile visitors.
Research surveyed 60,000 U.S. adults who use the
Internet earlier this year, and found 72 percent used
Facebook at least once a month, while 22 percent used
Google Plus and 22 percent used Twitter.
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Nielsen and Forrester