Two years ago Friday, Google unveiled its social network Google+ to the world.
In the early days, Google described Google+ as a “social layer” rather than a pure social network, partly because Google+ permeates lots of different services, and partly to offset the idea that Google+ was an attempt to directly compete with Facebook and Twitter.
Make no mistake, however, two years in, Google+ is most definitely a social network. There are more than 500 million Google+ users and reportedly more than 300 million of those users are active.
Although Google hasn’t formally made any Google+ anniversary announcements, the Google+ team is certainly in a celebratory mood.
When you’re logged into Google+, a special logo shows up commemorating two years of the network.
Dave Besbris and Google+ chief Vic Gundotra shared this GIF with the community:
From Facebook Killer to Ghost Town to Something Else
When Google+ launched in 2011, it was the company’s third attempt at social – coming after the high-profile failures of Google Wave and Google Buzz.
Initial enthusiasm around Google+ was high — especially in the early months when the service was invite-only and before brands were technically allowed on the platform. Many were quick to laud Google+ as the next Facebook or Twitter.
By the time the service launched to the public at large, however, some of the luster had worn off.
It didn’t help that when Google started touting its strong Google+ user numbers, the company failed to distinguish between people who have Google+ accounts as the result of being harangued into creating an account via Gmail versus those genuinely engaged in the Google+ social network.
As a result, the narrative for much of 2012 was that Google+ as a ghost town — a classification its most loyal users vociferously deny.
Two years in, I think that neither position represents the true reality of Google+.
For whatever reason, I was on the original suggested user list that Google put out for Google+ (to the best of my knowledge I’m no longer on that list and have not been for well over a year). As a result, I’m in more than 900,000 circles on Google+.
While I can’t say that I see the same amount of interaction on Google+ as I do on other social networks for all of my content, I can say that I tend to see a very specific level of engagement on certain types of content, particularly stuff that is related to Google, Google+ or Android.
Beyond that, however, I fully acknowledge that Google+ has its own ecosystem of users. Early on with Google+, I remarked on the similarities with it and FriendFeed. Two years later, I still think that’s true. The core users of both services are similar, though Google+ has obviously grown broader than FriendFeed ever could.
Google+ is not a ghost town. By the same token, the service doesn’t have the immediacy of a Twitter nor the ubiquity of Facebook. Still, for certain types of content and certain groups of users, it’s the best sharing platform on the web.
Google+ Hangouts: The Unsung Hero
The best part of Google+ is undoubtedly Google+ Hangouts. I know so many people who don’t bother using Google+ to update their status or share information, but absolutely use the Hangouts feature as a way to hold video chats with teams. Moreover, while the brand results with Google+ may be mixed, Hangouts are a consistently popular way to host discussions, interview and conversations.
At Mashable, we’ve been experimenting with Hangouts every Friday on the Tech team, opining about various news that has happened throughout the week. The tight integration with YouTube makes Hangouts On Air a great way to archive great moments and discussions too.
Part of the reason I like Hangouts so much is that it’s truly unlike anything available on other networks. Rather than trying to bring similar functionality that Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or any myriad of other services has, Google created something unique and something that really shows off the best of what Google can do.
Google+ in the Future
Two years later, I finally feel like Google+ is finding its place in the world. The network doesn’t have to replace Facebook as the most popular destination — it can be something different than what Twitter offers.
In the first year and a half of Google+’s existence, many of the integrations with other Google products felt forced and ill-fitting. Today, it finally seems like the company is on the same page when it comes to platform strategy and the role Google+ plays in that strategy.
The way that Google Glass integrates with Google+, as an example, feels much more natural than the way Gmail ever has. Moreover, the quality of the stand-alone Google+ apps for iOS and Android are some of the best in the business.
So here’s to you Google+ on two years of experimentation. Here’s to the next two years!
Images courtesy of Google