Why Google+ Failed

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Editor of Machine Words, Talin has explained the factors that contributed greatly to the eventual demise of Google Plus.

Talin, who disclosed this including his voyage into Google employ on medium.com, said he joined the Google Plus team shortly after its inception in 2010, transferring from the Blogger team. ‘I spent three  years on the project, working at first on the profile team, then transferring to the Growth and Engagement Team (GET), and finally ending up on Project Madonna and Project Zorro, where I helped with the repeal of the “real names” policy’, he said.

As a lowly software engineer level five then, Talin said one of the factors that killed Google Plus was the asymmetric following model, a system in which two parties have to agree in order to establish a connection. Also being used by both Facebook , LinkedIn and Twitter, an asymmetric following model is where one party can unilaterally establish a following relationship without the other party’s interaction according to Talin.

He said the founders of Google Plus wanted rapid growth of the social graph because they knew that beating Facebook was going to be a matter of scale as people doesn’t go to social networking sites with the best features, but the ones that all their friends are on.

‘At the same time, they also wanted Google Plus to be a “close ties” network, one that you use to remain in touch with your friends and family. They believed that the asymmetric choice would produce a faster growth of the social graph, since it did not require a “handshake” where both parties agreed to be friends. And they were right—at least initially. However, the asymmetric model is a poor channel for bidirectional communication, according to Talin and using it led to the downfalls of Google Plus.

Talin added: ‘Humans are motivated to communicate. But they are only motivated to do so if they think that people are actually listening to them. Simply shouting into the void is, for most people, highly demotivating. What is also demotivating is the lack of feedback. If there’s no signal that says someone received your message, then the natural, human response is to stop using that communication channel and find another one. One of the things that became clear early on in Google Plus was that messaging was highly unreliable. Not in the sense that Google Plus would lose the message or that it wouldn’t be delivered, but rather that there was a good chance that no one would bother to read it.’

He stressed that the problem associated with Google Plus was not found with email and Twitter. His words: ‘ Even though there’s no signal that tells you that the recipient has read your message, you know how email clients work; you know that the message will stay in their inbox until they do something, so you have a high confidence that your message will be read, sooner or later. This also isn’t an issue with Twitter because Twitter is not a close-ties network. With Twitter, communication is a statistical phenomenon: You don’t care if a given message is received by every one of your followers; what you care about is how many followers you have and that a high percentage of them received the message.

Another factor that contributed to the overall unreliability of communication on Google Plus, according to Talin, was the use of ranking. He said: ‘When you viewed content in your Google Plus stream, the content was ranked using a sophisticated algorithm so that “important” or “interesting” content appeared at the top, while lower-priority communication appeared lower down on the page.

‘In addition, the page also supported “infinite scrolling,” meaning there was no actual end to the page. As long as you kept scrolling, it would continue to show you more and more posts. What this meant is that you could never actually be “done.” There was no finish line, no sense of closure. Which in turn meant that each individual user would eventually have to stop, and where they stopped proved?’.

‘The combination of these two factors was, in my opinion, a fatal blow to the “close ties” goal. If my sister sent me a message, there’s no guarantee it would appear at the top of my stream, and if it appeared lower down, there’s no guarantee I would get to it before I stopped reading. And this is less of a problem for me than it is for my sister, who won’t know whether I read her message or not.’

Talin further added: ‘The problem with ranking in general is that it takes control away from the reader. After all, who is to decide what is and what is not important and interesting? The leaders of Google Plus were convinced that ranking was the key—after all, the entire success of Google was based on ranking algorithms—and that any problems could be solved by coming up with a better, more personalized algorithm’

The Machine Word Editor stressed that ‘despite the problems mentioned above, when Google Plus was first launched; it actually felt pretty fresh and vibrant. There were a lot of highly engaged users and diverse voices talking about interesting topics. However, that changed once they started onboarding Google users onto Google Plus in mass numbers.Again, the executives were concerned about the problem of scaling up to beat Facebook. And they already had billions of users—that is, users who had Google accounts. How do you get all those Google users to start using Google Plus?’

He said Project Hancock was the internal code name of the project designed to do this and that it was going to set up a Google Plus account for every Google user which is actually much more complicated than it sounds as it took a team of engineers somewhere around three months to accomplish it.

 

Posted By Oyedeyi Samson

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