Social media has been one of the hallmarks of web culture, one of the most distinct examples of the Internet moving from an increasingly common tool to an ingrained aspect of everyday life. It’s been around long enough now to establish a brief but colorful business history and to reflect a certain degree of nuance. To the former, the crown of reigning social media king gradually passed from Myspace to Facebook, with the successor’s domination having become so complete that an award-winning film was made about its origin. To the latter, a number of more niche sites have sprung up, from the stream-of-consciousness Twitter to the business-oriented LinkedIn. Much has been learned from these successes, but a lot can also be taken from the failures.
Google seems like it would be an unlikely example in this regard. It’s ranked forty on the Fortune 500 list. It’s achieved brand-name ubiquity on par with Kleenex and Band-Aid, with people verbing the name instead of saying “web search” (“Hey, would you Google something for me?”). Its map and email services are widely used. And yet, success in social media has consistently eluded Google. Google Plus, the company’s current foray into the field, is its fourth attempt, following Google Buzz, Google Friend Connect, and the Brazil-based Orkut. Despite these iterations and an already powerful web presence, Google Plus has achieved only a 22% market share, a meager claim next to Facebook’s 61%. The company tried to leverage higher subscriptions by integrating the service with its other offerings, including making it a requirement to have an account in order to comment on YouTube videos in 2013. After a great deal of criticism, this hurdle is finally being walked back. The underlying issue was perhaps illustrated at the service’s launch by Google engineer Steve Yegge in a lengthy blog post. “Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction,” he wrote, “a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product. … Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. … The problem is that we are trying to predict what people want and deliver it for them.”
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