"Will Google+ Succeed" Is Simply The Wrong Question


The geek section of online life finds Google Plus a Big Thing and asks a lot of questions about it.

The first and foremost -- the prerequisite for questions like Will Google Plus Kill Twitter and Is Google Plus A Facebook Killer -- is: will Google Plus succeed.

That isn't just the wrong question; it's a bad question.

How Long Is A String?

Compare it to questions asked in crafting communities.

How long is a string? Is this a good string? Could this string take the place of other strings?

These are incomplete questions. They make you want to prompt "What's the string for?"

What Is Google Plus For?

To measure Google Plus' success we have to know its successful outcome.

Jack Dorsey's successful outcome for Twitter was "a better way to connect with my friends".

Mark Zuckerberg's successful outcome for Facemash was to temporarily forget about being dumped by Jessica.

What's Larry Page's successful outcome?

Google Plus Is For Ranking

Google didn't program Google Plus to bring the world together.

Google is interested in "social" the way advertising agencies are in "genuine".

Google has learned that "social" can be one of the factors to stand in for relevance, to help approximate relevance.

That's what Google Plus is for: to put a stick in the ocean and measure the tides.

When Does Google Plus Succeed?

If the successful outcome is "Google Plus is a social network to effectively monitor social signals about what's relevant or not on the web so we can use that graph for search, our #1 property", then our question is not will Google Plus succeed, but when.

The answer, I believe, is: right now.

Now and Always. Why? Because:

No Matter Who Plays, Google Wins

The beauty is that it's a win-win project.

If a large enough number of people participate the signals matter in one way. If a smaller number of people do, the signals matter another way.

In the end social signals matter. Always.

HOW do they matter? That you can determine by inference.

Do The Math: Google Plus Already "Won"

But seriously, how many users are we talking about anyway?

What if Google Plus stays as fringe as Gmail with its 200 million users? Well, that would be already 25 million more than Twitter's self-reported user base...

Of course Twitter is much, much smaller than that.

Only 56 million accounts follow 8 or more people. And yet both Bing and Google acknowledge tweets can play a role in ranking.

Get that? If Google Plus remains as small as fringe, it would already be larger than Twitter which we consider a success.

But What If...?

Q: What if only a small number of people actively use it?

A: Small compared to what? How large a sample does a world wide operating search engine need to get significant data? Can the sample be even smaller if you can verify and corroborate the data with that from other tools (search, email, ads, video)?

Q: What if only a specific section of the web, like techno-geeks, use Google Plus?

A: Then the nature of the signals changes but the signal doesn't disappear. And currently nor we, nor the Google Learning Machine knows who gives off the best signals.

Q: What if everybody stays on Twitter and Facebook?

A: Nobody cares. It's not about the social graph or connecting friends; it's about adding factor #201 to the list of 200 already in use to rank (sort) search results.

About the Author: Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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