Google+ : Visitors on the rise, for now

Find Heather on G+!

View Heather Hildreth's profile on LinkedIn

This post was written by Heather Hildreth. She is a a third year physics major at the University of Virginia. While she does enjoy physics very much, she has also learned after writing numerous twenty plus page lab reports, a life in the lab is not for her. She would much rather pursue a career relating to patents and IP law. Last summer, she interned at Cooper, White, & Cooper, LLP in San Francisco, California, and was able to get her feet wet in the legal environment and practice her analytical writing skills. Originally from Northern Virginia, it would be ideal for her to get a job at the PTO or a firm close to Washington, D.C., but she will take whatever opportunities she can find! Thankfully, she has another year and a half until she graduates in 2013, leaving her enough time to start looking for jobs and enjoying her last moments in the physics library (aka the exclusive nerd library) at her school. Feel free to connect with her through LinkedIn or Google+, where she often share articles she finds about new research and inventions relating to physics.

All of these sites have one major thing in common: they’re on the rise. One thing to note before looking too deeply into these stats is that the data represents “unique visitors” and not necessarily total members, and thus is more of a measurement of traffic to the website. For example, LinkedIn’s number of unique visitors each month is increasing, and the highest data point (10/2011) is somewhere around 27 million members. However, “The LinkedIn Blog” announced in March that it reached 100 million members! The reason for this huge difference is that once a LinkedIn member makes most of his/her “connections” and completes his/her profile, there’s really no reason to visit the site very often because it’s not as interactive as other social networking sites.

In my opinion, the most interactive of these four websites is Google+, because it’s the other three combined and more. Users can share status updates with those that follow them; they can send private messages; they can share pictures, articles, and videos; they can connect with coworkers; they can write blog posts; they can send instant messages through gchat; they can “hang out” via video chat; and they have a profile where they can volunteer information about themselves. Of course, the key elements that make Google+ so versatile are the “circles” of selected audiences and the fact that “following” does not have to be reciprocated.

Unfortunately, despite Google+’s rising trend in unique visitors, it doesn’t seem, at least to me, that Google+ is catching on with a lot of people. While I see a few young professionals in my stream who frequently use it, most of my very close friends are not Google+ users, and if they are, they prefer to use Facebook to communicate. When people started switching from Myspace to Facebook, it seemed like within a couple of months, I was Facebook friends with all of my Myspace friends. However, I’m not experiencing the same quick change to Google+, probably because Facebook users have years of information stored on their accounts, and honestly, it’s a lot of work re-friending almost 1000 “friends” and re-uploading thousands of photos.

Luckily, Google+ is improving the social media experience even for those who are not users. For example, soon after Google+ launched, Facebook added a feature that allowed users to customize the audience of their status updates by selecting “Public,” “Friends,” “Just Me,” “Custom,” or a network or a customized group, which is similar to how Google+ users select which people and circles can see a post. While users can still only be friends with another user if both agree, they can control how often their friends appear in their Newsfeed by clicking the “Subscribe” button on their profile and selecting what types of updates can appear and how many. There were also rumors a little after Google+ launched that Facebook would be launching a new feature, Facebook Timline, which should be out soon. While this feature was not inspired by any one particular feature of Google+, I’m convinced that it was created because Facebook was a little threatened by Google+ and wanted to step up their game.

While Google+ is improving social media for non-users, it is also useful for Google+ users who don’t have that many friends with an account yet. Users can make “circles” where they are the only one in that circle and manage private documents. Using this feature, users can organize projects, papers, recipes, shopping lists, wedding plans, visual wish lists (which is honestly the only thing my friends use Pinterest for, anyway), New Year’s Resolutions, work-out routines, inspirational ideas, etc. Users can also follow famous people, like on Twitter, and can now even search the topics trending on Google+, which, like Twitter, are shown with a #. Finally, users without followers can write blog posts and share them with the public. All of these things can be done on one site, while before, it would have taken a combination of various sites.

Unique users on Google+ are increasing, but it’s hard to determine if this trend will continue like it did on Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Personally, I see two distinct possibilities: people will slowly start to switch over to Google+, or Facebook will keep adapting to incorporate features of Google+. I’d like to think that the first option will happen for the same reason Myspace users switched to Facebook: privacy. Facebook hasn’t exactly had the best reputation concerning privacy, and I find it inconvenient to either not add someone like my boss or my mom due to privacy concerns or to add those people and then immediately mess with Facebook’s privacy settings to put them on a limited view. The privacy settings on Google+ are more convenient because the site treats relationships among people like in the real world: unequally. Since following does not have to be reciprocated and since every individual item a user shares has its own privacy setting associated to it, the flow of information among various users is more natural because information exchange is unequal and asymmetric.