Two of the hot social media platforms are Google+ and Path. Both have uber talented people working on the products. Both are basically trying to solve the same “problem” with facebook (too many non-friends in my feed) and are using similar approaches (create a smaller network). But while each company started with the same ambition to disrupt facebook, each is taking a very different approach to growth.
So I have a G+ account. I don’t remember signing up for it. But I use gmail, so boom, I have a G+ account. Woopie. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Apparently over 170 million people also have a G+ account. But amazingly, when I log in, I see nothing from anyone that I know in my stream. Literally, the last post in my stream from someone whom I know was on November 24th, 2011. It is possible that my account is a statistical outlier. That G+ is really a thriving community and I just don’t see it. But the odds are hugely against that possibility. Note, as another data point, check the G+ counter next to your favorite web article. I would be willing to bet the number of posts to G+ is paltry (or even zero) compared to the number who Tweet or Like an article. Still not convinced, read this measurement report.
Path is using the different approach to growth. The classic “Crossing the Chasm” approach…start with a specific community. Attack that “beachhead” and establish yourself within that community and then grow horizontally to a new beachhead. And since I have some friends in Path’s initial beachhead, I see activity every time I log into Path. Path only has a few million users, so it hasn’t crossed the chasm to general user adoption. But Path’s users actually use the product. And so it provides me with a satisfactory experience, while also reminding me that “my Path would be better if I invited others to join it.” Good point Mr. Path. I agree.
So What’s the Big Deal?
Who cares Steven? Ultimately people will start posting pictures, comments, etc into G+ and then it will be awesome! Maybe, but probably not. In my opinion, products that are community based develop a culture. Its users build that culture for the product, not the other way around. And the aura that the users build in a product means something to those users. The aura means so much that it is tough to change once it is established. And by telling 170 million people they are users of a product experience that is empty, G+ is pushing a product on people before it is ready for them. Google is literally hurting the reputation of G+ with each new user. What is the word for the opposite of network effects?
What would I do?
It looks like Google brought in Kevin Rose to fix this mess. Good decision. He is much more knowledgeable about social communities than I am. So I am sure he will figure out a solution. But since I don’t like complaints without suggestions, here is my suggestion. Stop it. Stop faking growth numbers. There are no short cuts to a building a great web community. Respect your users. They are not idiots. After you stop the silliness, pick a beachhead. Focus on that user base. Build a product that they LOVE. Work on it. Iterate the product features until they just can’t stop playing with it. Until they agree that their experience would be better with their friends. Let them want to help you grow, rather than forcing a product on people before it is ready for them. In short, follow the process.