Slate’s Farhad Manjoo:
…I’ve been surprised by just how dreary the site has become. Although Google seems determined to keep adding new features, I suspect there’s little it can do to prevent Google+ from becoming a ghost town. Google might not know it yet, but from the outside, it’s clear that G+ has started to die – it will hang on for a year, maybe two, but at some point Google will have to put it out of its misery.
Why am I so sure that Google+ can’t be saved? Because there’s no way to correct Google’s central failure. Back when companies were clamoring to create brand pages on the network – or users were looking to create profiles with pseudonyms, another phenomenon that Google shut down–the company ought to have acceded to its users’ wishes and accommodated them. If Google wasn’t ready for brand pages in the summer, it shouldn’t have launched Google+ until it was. And this advice goes more generally – by failing to offer people a reason to keep coming back to the site every day, Google+ made a bad first impression. And in the social-networking business, a bad first impression spells death.
But a social network isn’t a product; it’s a place. Like a bar or a club, a social network needs a critical mass of people to be successful – the more people it attracts, the more people it attracts. Google couldn’t have possibly built every one of Facebook’s features into its new service when it launched, but to make up for its deficits, it ought to have let users experiment more freely with the site. That freewheeling attitude is precisely how Twitter – the only other social network to successfully take on Facebook in the last few years – got so big. When Twitter users invented ways to reply to one another or echo other people’s tweets, the service didn’t stop them – it embraced and extended their creativity. This attitude marked Twitter as a place whose hosts appreciated its users, and that attitude – and all the fun people were having – pushed people to stick with the site despite its many flaws (Twitter’s frequent downtime, for example). Google+, by contrast, never managed to translate its initial surge into lasting enthusiasm. And for that reason, it’s surely doomed.
I have the feeling — and that’s all it is, a feeling — that most of the people who really use Google+ are doing so because it’s simply not Facebook, and not because there’s anything truly unique or compelling about Google+ itself. But as I said, that’s just a feeling.