In recent days, the Internet talking heads have been ganging up on Google+ over some new data published by research firm comScore. Their research found that visitors using personal computers spent an average of about three minutes a month on Google+ between September and January, versus six to seven hours on Facebook each month over the same period. Pundits were quick to draw dire conclusions: "Nobody wants another social network right now," said Brian Solis, an analyst at social-media advisory firm Altimeter Group. For those who already use Facebook, "Google hasn't communicated what the value of Google+ is”¹
On the contrary. Google knows exactly what it is doing with Google+.
Despite comScore showing that the average Google+ user only spends 3 minutes per month on Google+, VP Bradley Horowitz wasn’t lying when he told the Wall Street Journal ”We’re growing by every metric we care about.”²
It’s all about data aggregation. The company's main financial goal with Google+ is to obtain personal data about users to better target ads to them across all of Google. That’s why in a 2011 3rd quarter earnings call, Google founder Larry Page said that by “baking identity into all of our products…you’ll have better, more relevant search results and ads.”²
But Google’s data aggregation initiatives are about more than just Ad targeting. With Google+, the company is essentially replacing its open social graph API with a propriety model. It’s no surprise that Google announced it is mothballing its Social Graph API this coming April. Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land lamented in a recent post, “I still find it disappointing that the Social Graph API is being closed. It gives me the impression that since Google now has its own social data within the walls of Google+, it’s less interested in having an “open” system that anyone can use to share social data.”
In January of 2012 Google introduced Search Plus Your World, an integration of Google’s Internet search engine and its Google+ social network. In one move, the entire social graph of over 90 million Google+ users was funneled into Google’s growing knowledge graph.
The social data collected via Google+ may also feed into the Google’s other big information collection initiative: building a comprehensive knowledge graph to improve search.
KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE
Google’s massive knowledge graph of interconnected entities and their attributes marks a fundamental transition from a word-based index to a system that will radically increase the power and complexity of Google’s search.³ In a recent interview with Lance Ulanoff of Mashable, Google SVP Amit Singai discussed the direction they are trying to take their search capability. Google wants to transform words that appear on a page into entities that mean something and have related attributes. It’s what the human brain does naturally, but for computers, it’s known as Artificial Intelligence (AI). Google is “building a huge, in-house understanding of what an entity is and a repository of what entities are in the world and what you should know about those entities,” said Singhal.³
While Google would surely love to see Google+ supplant Facebook as the social media network du jour, I don’t think anyone is shedding a tear over the comScore data at the Googleplex in Mountain View. Just because users are slow to fully integrate G+ into their daily lives does not mean that Google’s social search initiative is a failure. Businesses should continue to take Google+ seriously, and do their utmost to build up their G+ page brand profile.
Sort of like death and taxes, as a general rule it is safe to assume that Google knows exactly what it is doing.
¹ The Wall Street Journal, “The Mounting Minuses at Google+”
² TechCrunch, “Why Google+ Doesn’t Care If You Never Come Back”
³ Mashable, "Google Knowledge Graph Could Change Search Forever"