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So who is using Google+ and why?

by Nigel Hollis | February 13, 2013

I have to admit that I am a Google+ doubter. Like many, I signed up soon after Google+ launched and then forgot about it. But according to a post on globalwebindex, Google+ is the second most popular social network in the world (thanks to Rob Valsler for the link). Who knew?

The reason that Rob highlighted the status of Google+ is that when I asked for examples of brand extensions that went badly wrong on The Greenhouse (Millward Brown’s own social network), Andrew Jerina proposed Google’s Wave and Buzz as failures and seemed to imply Google+ was destined to join them on the Google Graveyard.  

Rob countered by suggesting that Google+ was not a failure and said:

I don't think these failures are an issue at all but rather an inevitable consequence of a company with a phenomenal commitment to R&D… Their strike rate is pretty good: maps, chrome, android, news, Gmail are all huge.

And it seems Rob is right, Google+ is alive and well. A fact that seems to elude many people, including those who ought to know better, according to Dave Llorens writing in Fast Company. Llorens describes Google+ as:

…the Borg-like hive-queen that connects all the other Google products like YouTube, Google Maps, Images, Offers, Books, and more. And Google is starting to roll these products all up into a big ball of awesome user experience by way of Google Plus, and that snowball is starting to pick up speed and mass.

Reading this, a thought occurred to me. Because Picasa has been integrated into it, I do use Google+ on a semi-regular basis after all. I don’t like the fact that what used to be a stand-alone service has been bundled up with a social network, but habit makes me default to posting photos there. Maybe, like me, a lot of those people are not really using Google+ as a social network, but instead are using legacy applications that have been bundled into it?

In order to investigate I did what any self-respecting researcher does, I went to Google+ and posted my question (I also emailed my circles). The only replies I received stated:

Really interesting, Nigel. I am still trying to figure out why I'm using Google+.

The second states:

I find the figures difficult to believe.

So what do you think? Is Google+ a success? And who is using it and why? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Nick Stamoulis, March 06, 2013
    Google has proven that they are committed to Google+.  While it doesn't have the user base of Facebook, it's certainly still relevant.  There are some great features within Google+ and it's an appealing place for a business page due to its ties with the Google search algorithm. 
  2. Kathryn Kure, February 18, 2013
    Thank you, Nigel, for your response - and sorry about your sore shoulder ... we were rather wondering why the comments moderation was taking longer than usual and now we know why :-)

    I had alerted people on G+ to your post via my stream: and asked them to comment as to who they were and why they used G+.

    I have not met any of them IRL, but have the highest opinion of all of them - and what a diverse set of individuals they are:

    Diana Studer is an indigenous gardener from the Western Cape, who helps me identify plants and flowers - and corrects mistakes I make - especially with regard to proteas :D. Thank you, Diana!

    Lyndon NA works in SEO, and I love his posts (he's the only one of us who is semi-anonymous, and he finds it frustrating that to be verified as an Author by Google, he will have to take off his Darth Vader mask); he takes an at-times refreshingly contrarian approach to SEO - and through his interactions I have discovered other top-rate SEO specialists such as Michael Martinez. He has tended to comment - brilliantly - on other posts, so is someone we are all delighted to see will start posting his own, original content, as we'd love to see more of it - since it is fantastic to find someone with a unique slant and original voice in this realm. 

    Wolf Revels runs a community called "Everything Spicy" on G+, and is a chef, and propagates his own chillies - and I am an organic gardener and food blogger ... so it is a place for fantastic interaction in this regard, and my pictures and recipes get enthusiastic responses from within that community - I have met some of my best dedicated fellow foodies through that particular community. Far more so than in big communities for "food" generally - 

    Eileen O' Duffy's Ireland community is fantastic, and I started following her through comments she'd made on someone else's posts - I think Mark Traphagen's - and we have a shared love of W.B. Yeats, so I scanned in some calligraphy I'd done of one of his poems to share with her. I am slightly involved in the Travel South Africa community, and enjoy seeing what she does with her community, though I am not a member - but its posts are public. I gave up being a moderator on Travel South Africa since I am a bit much on my plate, but do share, in particular, eco-tourism sites that communities have developed. 

    One who did not post here, but on the comments to my posts is one by Eli Fennell, a self-described Tech Nerd and Google Enthusiast, who ticks the 'techie' box and wrote on my original post:

    I originally joined G+ because of Facebook's lax attitude towards my privacy and end user experience. I stayed because I met great people and great people discovered me and liked what I had to bring to the table here. I stay because Google+ is about passions and I am a passionate man

    And, of course, Martin Shevington is an author, a psychologist, someone who develops fantastic memes on G+, creator of great video content, inventor of the concept of comoogling - and someone who is encouraging many writers in the process of self-publishing, helped by none other than Guy Kawasaki. 

    All have made my life so much richer - and more interesting ... and more humane - and how wonderful to see them all show up here, at my request, and talk about what they love about G+ in such a delightful, rational, well-considered manner. 

  3. Nigel, February 17, 2013
    Thanks so much for the feedback everyone. Apologies for not putting the comments live before now but I bashed my shoulder skiing and decided not to use the laptop yesterday. Silly me! Clearly there is a major division of opinion here between the "lovers" and the "take or leave it" faction - that looks to be Rob and I - but I will follow up on the commentary. Thanks again!
  4. Martin Shervington, February 17, 2013
    Good to meet you Nigel!
    Google+ is a complex beast and one I write a lot about. I am just up on a Sunday morning but happy to chat if you'd like to talk further.
    In essence, one really needs to get involved and give it a go to understand what Google have done. 
    Here is a video I did to help explain how deep the rabbit hole goes...
    Hope to catch you again soon, Martin
  5. Wolf Revels, February 16, 2013
    If I had read Kathryn Kure's comments before I had posted mine?  I could have saved a whole lot of typing by just saying "What she said"
  6. Wolf Revels, February 16, 2013
    I love google plus. All my google products work great with it. I love the security, and control I get. Circles allows me to work, interact with several diverse groups of people. separately or in any combination I wish. Your home page never gets clutterd with spam disguised as suggestions. If you want games? They have them. If you don't want games? you just dont "follow" them. Hangouts are great. Video chat with anyone anywhere. Including the international space station recently. The thing people don't get about g+ is that (imo) FB is for connecting with people you used to know. G+ is for meeting people you want to know. So people do not follow you if you dont fill out your profile, post content, and interact. When you follow someone on g+ They will generally go and look at your profile to see who you are. What you post, and how,  or if you are interacting to determine if they want to see what you post in their feed. So if you are not doing those things, Or you are only stopping by occasionally? You are not going to have anyone to interact with, and "your" g+ is a ghost town. I have about 750 people in my circles. Because I actually try to keep my numbers down. I know lots of those people have several thousand people in circles. Each.  G+ is a very busy place. Google's newest addition "communities" should make it much easier for folks to find satisfying content in their particular interest, but you still pretty much only get out what you put in. If you decide to try again, I hope this helps.
  7. Diana Studer, February 16, 2013
    my RL name is Diana and I'm addicted to G+. I'm one of the second wave, who had to ask hopefully if anyone had a G+ invite for me? Apart from the 24/7 entertainment value, what I find wonderful is that I am building a growing circle of people I trust (Kathryn, Lyndon, Eileen just on Kathryn's link to this post!) to answer a wide range of questions. The latest example is+Irina Tcherednichenko translating the Russian TV about the meteorite.

    List and leave on Google Plus - bit like going to a party, and then walking past the open door, lights music people - and saying googleisaghosttown. 
  8. Lyndon NA, February 16, 2013
    I was told to come here and give reason for using Google+.

    Original reason - I knew (firmly believed) where G were intending to go with G+, G+ Profiles, Social Signals and verification of certain interactions.
    I don't use Facebook or Twitter - to me, they are junk.  But I see in G+ a strong influence for SEO/SEM, and the impact it will have on business.

    Then, after being on there a short time, I discovered other reasons - a fairly professional network, quality resources and interesting information being shared/curated, novel/detailed discussions and the pure pleasure of meeting some people from my various fields that were not scum, scam or spam (that was a shock!).

    Throw in things like Hangouts (with Googlers!), and the marketing opportunities (Hangouts on Air), as well as the strong content system that permits real engagement (twitter is far to limiting) ... and I'm more than happy with it.

    Hope that helps :D
  9. Eileen O'Duffy, February 16, 2013

    I joined G+ in July 2011 for the beta testing with the intention of hanging around for a few weeks to check it out. I’m still here 18 months later and loving it more than ever. G+ combines the best of the other ‘social’ networks for me:

    • I can still communicate with close family and friends (Facebook style) and share photographs and updates privately using limited circles
    • I can meet new business contacts and discuss the latest trends in education/technology/media in a very relaxed and informal manner without feeling that I am preparing for a formal Board meeting (LinkedIn style)
    • I can discuss and debate current affairs and politics in threaded discussions for weeks on end. Because most of the G+ users are using real names I don’t see very many trolls and flamers. Unlike Twitter, the comments are not limited to 140 characters thus enabling proper discussion and debate.
    • Now with the new G+ communities I can immediately find people with shared interests. For example, I own and manage the Ireland community here on G+ and have met more new Irish people in the last six weeks than I have in the previous year on G+.
    • Finally, I can hardly keep up with the huge number of intelligent, educated and talented people that I follow. There is never a dull moment and always an interesting conversation going on somewhere. G+ is a bit like a 24/7 pub where there will always be the regulars sitting at the bar and you can wander around from group to group as you feel like it.

    I’m sticking with G+, thank you Google!

  10. Kathryn Kure, February 14, 2013
    Nigel, there was so much made of this particular study on G+ that I know the data compares like with like, and those who actually used G+ as a social platform specifically were the only ones who were counted. Well, unless every one of the myriad articles I read on it all got it completely wrong.

    Rob - let's see : 2/3 of Google Plus users are male; very strong preponderance of techies, geeks and nerds, particularly those who strongly advocate open-source - Android rules - finally we are starting to get back to real inter-operability from all the  wasted years in the Windows Wilderness where they locked the code away ... seamless transitioning between applications,  an integrated place where you can finally find haven from the OS wars (albeit in one alternative OS). Did I mention FAST? It's fast. 

    The techies are legion - those million units of Raspberry Pi were sold in great quantities to Plussers (yes, we even have names for just about everything) - and not only would they Hangout for an unboxing but also upload the associated video to YouTube :D. For many of those with whom I interact on G+ it is precisely because it is holistic that we love it so much and are unashamed Google fan-boys and girls, with a strong Android bias - though the Apple-bashing can become a bit tedious. Then again, I do too hate patent trolling. So my feeling is that for all the techies who hangout there, it is about this fantastic seamless integration;  anytime I am near a WiFi point my phone Instant Uploads my photos - when done, I get notified, one click to share to anywhere ... it automatically resizes each picture for different functionality - full size for email, recommended smaller size for G+... all instantly, automatically - blows my mind. I can just concentrate on writing and photographing stuff ... no more tearing out of my hair at stupid programs that growl at each other (Do. Not. Start.Me.) or social media platforms that delete your older content or keep it hostage in a walled garden.  

    G+reminds me of the early days of Chat Rooms (yes, I do remember: 1986 was when my dad ran the first ever data collection project over the internet - dial up - in South Africa). However G+, unlike those early heady days of the chat rooms is without the FLAMING and Trolling that Anonymity brought there, with actual images, colour screens :D and now Hangouts too. To me and many, it is about finding your tribe and the other people like you you don't yet know ... I go to FB for tea and sympathy, but to G+ for real, stimulating conversation - interest-based rather than shared common history. It is not about interacting with the known which is scary at first. Plus, it all just works - fast, seamlessly, easily. What's not to "Like"? 

    Oh, as to talking to the rest of the (non-techie) world - with the number of Android activations - I get to interact with people everywhere - food lovers from all over, young IT start-up entrepreneurs in Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana - and even recently had a really long, food related interactions  with a herdsman from the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya - which then alerted me to his post as to seeing his first Rhino ever in his 25 years - they have been mostly poached out. Which is why South Africa, with 93% of the worlds remaining rhinos is having such issues with organised crime in wildlife trafficking - they are the last rhinos left in Africa.

    But how incredible, really is this increasingly intimately interconnected world? It's better than TV :-).

  11. Rob, February 14, 2013
    Wow, I hardly use it at all and was equally surprised by the stats. 

    Unfortunately I think Kathryn is in the minority of users contributing to the figures who have a holistic perception of what G+ is. I suspect that most are like Nigel and I where we're often connecting to G+ indirectly and superfluously. Of the more modest 131 people in my circles I think very few would respond to any communication as they just aren't checking in.

    Hangouts, though, are indeed truly amazing; incredibly slick and more reliable than any paid-for system I've used professionally. For me if Google launched them as a standalone product with a dedicated site they would become a serious player in web based comms. The fact that they tuck this away on the G+ interface surely signals their confidence in where the ecosystem is going. But in the meantime I can't help feeling they're the most under utilised tool on the web.
  12. Sarah Bauer, February 14, 2013
    Google+ is rapidly becoming the most important content publication platform for businesses with an eye on higher search rankings. The data in a piece of content posted on Google+ is immediately indexed for Google search, unlike on Twitter or Facebook, where Google has restricted access to the data, and indexing can take a few days. AuthorRank, the digital signature for Google+ users, is also set to effect the ranking order for search results.  Content marketers should make their way over to Google+ and get acquainted. This year, it's a game changer.
  13. Ernesto Padilla, February 13, 2013
    I got introduced to G+ as a by-product of an earlier product, Google Reader. I'm a heavy blog user (I just read your blog post from Google Reader), which makes using a blog reader pretty much a must. GReader provides a consistent feed from anywhere you get to connect to the web. More importantly, Greader USED to allow you to share blog posts with fellow Greader users. I had a steady "read this blog post and share it" community going on Greader.... until Google decided to eliminate this feature. The reason? You can now share the blog post on G+ Theoretically this sounds like a logical next step. There are two  problems with this:
    1) G+ posts are not integrated into the Greader feed, I'd have to check the G+ timeline and activelly scout for any blog posts (which is a bother, considering I have to check multiple social networks already).
    2) Not every person from my Greader community was someone I actually cared about. Yes, there are the circles, but adding someone to your social network is different. Some members of the Greader gang  were friends, but many more were pure "content providers." Also, those who were proper friends I already had in OTHER social networks. 

    At least in my experience, many people in G+ do have an account, but never use it. There are some diehards who keep posting content, but they are quite few.  
  14. Kathryn Kure, February 13, 2013
    G+rocks for me; I get to Hangout with robotics engineers and fellow foodies, and my sons even got to be in the first Hangout on Air with the chief physicist at CERN, while an experiment was being performed in the actual cavern where the particle accelerator is: how awesome is that? I follow and interact with materials scientists and mathematicians, indigenous gardeners, dedicated chili lovers and photographers; use it to raise awareness of the ongoing onslaught on our Rhinos, a major threat to our tourist economy and safety and security and it works fantastically as a micro-blogging platform for the non-profit sector so I photo-document most of my site visits to projects - which in turn, are then search-able ... so easy to hyperlink your document to. From an SEO perspective, as long as you post to "Public" it seriously rocks since these posts are searchable and the integration with the food blog has fuelled traffic and followers.  It is so easy to upload photos and videos,  I now live my data life in the cloud which is particularly useful given how much I am out of the office; if I had to choose between a computer and my Android phone - no contest - I am even using my phone now.  Its photo-handling and display capabilities are fantastic - which is why it is the go-to platform for professional photographers - image-rich in the extreme. I love the calibre of interchange and the whole focus on developing it as a community - and have seen a huge benefit to becoming a Google verified author (part of an experimental program but my newer blog posts have my picture next to them in the SERPs - provided I do not wait too long between posts - when it disappears) - but it is a really fascinating development from an SEO point of view ... this stated commitment to the concept of authorship. As someone who posts original, authentic content and who had scrapers initially copy-paste everything, much to my deep distress,   between Panda and Penguin and now verified Authorship and other rewards such as being rolled out a Vanity URL in Google Plus - well, I may be biased but I think it is fantastic that from nothing and spending nothing apart from time, I have been able to develop and understand through Google Profile Analytics an audience - that is, have a presence and audience and become, according to Circle Count, the most followed female in South Africa - how random is that? Of my 17500 followers, 500 have directly engaged with me through a +1 and/or comment - which I think is pretty interesting.  One thing I do note is that they are mostly interested in food (but I made it into a hand-curated circle of foodies world-wide compiled by a chef and the Google community manager so that figures - but a fellow South African nominated me but then we were hand-selected) and the community development work I engage in. So only original,  authentic content really works but that's good too ... and then it is so easy to tie up a bundle of pictures and albums on G+ into a new blog post - how easy is that? I have yet to do food hangouts but will get around to it - and you can upload directly to YouTube. Oh, love the full control you have - the few trolls and stalkers were easily blocked and their comments deleted - in all, I consider my life so much richer and more interesting, with having met so many amazing new people - Hangouts really are the jewel in the crown - and G+ is for me a completely different experience to that other social media platform ... they are as different as day and night. But you do have to work on G+ initially - it is a complex platform with masses of new features being rolled out continuously - you can pretty much tweak it however you like but it gives you loads of options. So you can't just arrive there and expect people to find you ... you have to begin by interacting and it gets jolly interesting from there - 
  15. Matt, February 13, 2013
    Great post Nigel.

    Given the amount of our data that Google is collecting, I think Google+ will silently grow into a time.

    It reminds me of an excellent Kantar article I read some months ago, here: -

    Page 9: "Friends, fans and followers in social networks" which illustrates the relative merits of Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

    It's very slightly out of date, but still very relevant in the context of your blog post.


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