Google has turned the social network paradigm on its head. Instead of iterating and apologizing for a privacy failure--the norm for the past few years among companies involved in social networking--Google finds itself iterating and apologizing for a provisioning failure.
Google+, Google's nascent social network, has proven to be so popular that businesses are ignoring Google's rules and creating profiles. Google has responded by blocking profiles that don't represent individuals and by rethinking its plan to conduct a limited pilot test for businesses. Google simply underestimated demand for Google+ among businesses.
Google+ has grown to an estimated 20 million users in the space of just three weeks, according to comScore. Another metrics firm, Hitwise, says that Google+ saw 1.8 million visits during the week that ended on July 16, up 283% from the previous week and up 821% compared to the week that ended July 2.
Google+ still has a long way to go to get to the big leagues--it's ranked 42nd among social networks, according to Hitwise--but it so far has avoided the problems that beset previous efforts like Google Buzz and Google Wave. And issues that have arisen, such as Google's rejection of pseudonyms and its initially limited Profile gender options, have failed to slow the service's momentum.
Google, however, has been caught flat-footed by interest from companies and other organizations. Businesses, having surrendered to years of venture-driven enthusiasm about the value of corporate social networking, want to be part of the excitement. They see Google+ as a marketing opportunity and as a potential tool for corporate communication and sharing. As an example, online tech news site Mashable on Friday said that it had dropped Skype internally as a video conferencing service in favor of Hangouts, the Google+ multiparty video chat service.
But Google+ isn't ready for businesses just yet. Christian Oestlein, a Google product manager, on Thursday thanked the tens of thousands of businesses, charities and other organizations that have applied to participate in what was to be a limited pilot test of Google+ for businesses. Faced with so much demand, he said that Google has opted not to conduct a closed Google+ trial for businesses.
"With so many qualified candidates expressing intense interest in business profiles, we've been thinking hard about how to handle this process," Oestlein wrote in a Google+ post. "Your enthusiasm obligates us to do more to get businesses involved in Google+ in the right way, and we have to do it faster. As a result, we have refocused a few priorities and we expect to have an initial version of business profiles up and running for EVERYONE in the next few months."
But Oestlein also repeated his request that businesses not create regular Google+ profiles, which are intended for individuals rather than organizations. "The platform at the moment is not built for the business use case, and we want to help you build long-term relationships with your customers," he explained. "Doing it right is worth the wait. We will continue to disable business profiles using regular profiles."
For businesses determined to be a part of Google+ right now, Oestlein urged that companies rely on an individual registered under his or her name as a representative.
Google's decision to close Google+ accounts identified with businesses--apart from a few favored test accounts like Ford's--has rubbed some the wrong way. Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineLand.com, and an early adopter of Google+, on Thursday published an open letter--aka Google+ post--lambasting Google for its arbitrary rule changes and unfair treatment of businesses.
Not everyone is sympathetic to Sullivan's complaints--arguments online, like Denny's, are always open--but Google's VP of social, Vic Gundotra, weighed in to side with his critic and take personal responsibility for the discontent.
"This is my fault," said Gundotra in a comment on Sullivan's post. "I prioritized other things first. So when Danny says Google screwed up, he is right. We prioritized making a great experience for people first. None of our internal models showed this level of growth. We were caught flat-footed. This growth is very enticing for people/brands who crave an audience. We are doing all we can to accelerate the work to properly handle this case. Please give us just a little more time."
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