Remember Google Chrome? It was a browser that Google launched in 2008. They said it’d be as well-known as Firefox and Safari and Internet Explorer and Konqueror. And it had a logo that looked like a Pokéball.
Ring a bell? Yes? Of course, I knew you’d remember the Pokéball. So what happened to Chrome? At first everyone was really enthusiastic about it but then they got bored and usage dropped off. People who look at browser statistics started saying that Chrome was a failure within a few months of launch:
Usage of Chrome peaked soon after its launch to about 3.1% share of the browsers market, after which users pretty much lost interest and went to their usual browser making Chrome’s market share down to a steady 1.5%…
And I was describing Chrome as a Google mis-fire in December 2008:
Like around 3% of the internet I installed and started using Chrome when it came out. However, I’m not among the 0.83% of the internet who are still using it…
So given that the writing was so obviously on the wall for Chrome, it’s not surprising that hardly anyone remembers it nowadays, right? Right?
…OK, time to drop this strained rhetorical device. The point, in case you haven’t guessed, is that a lot of people – me included – called time on Chrome when its brief honeymoon period ended. A couple of years later and these doubters – yes, me included – were proven wrong. In fact, Chrome’s just overtaken Firefox as the UK’s second most popular browser. An early stumble doesn’t always mean impending doom.
More recently, another new Google product has come off the starting blocks only to falter in its first few strides: Google+. Despite initial enthusiasm the buzz is dying down and traffic has dropped off from its early weeks. People are talking about “giving up” on it.
Can Google+ take heart from what happened to Chrome? Or is it doomed? Let’s look at a couple of arguments either way.
“Google+ will rule over us all and bring light to the darkest corners of the Earth”
Let’s compare Google+ to Twitter. To begin, how many of you had even heard of Twitter in May 2006 when it was as old as Google+ is now? I hadn’t, and I’m a committed geek. It took Twitter ages to get even recognisably close to its current levels of popularity.
Remember spring 2009, and how there was so much confusion about what Twitter was for? That was three years into Twitter’s lifespan. Google+ has only been around for three months, and already has 25 million users. Judged by Twitter’s standards, that growth rate is positively stratospheric.
The same applies to Facebook – it didn’t get to half a billion users in its first three months, did it? So who cares about a minor dip in traffic? Google+ is destined for greatness.
“Google+ is doomed! Escape before it sinks beneath the waves or you’ll be doomed too”
Let’s go back to the comparison between G+ and Chrome. So Chrome had an early stumble but then recovered? Fair enough. But there are differences between G+ and Chrome – big differences.
Imagine you’re a Chrome user and you love it. You uninstalled IE. You uninstalled Firefox. Hell, you even uninstalled Minesweeper – Chrome is that good. Then you find out that no-one else in the world uses Chrome, no-one apart from you. Do you care?
No, not at all. Your immediate experience of using Chrome is unaffected by others using it or not. But Google+, as a social product, is more exposed to network effects – if no-one you know uses Google+, it’s next to useless. If everyone you knew uses it, it is useful even if it’s a shockingly poor product (cf. Myspace). So the sophomore dip in traffic is meaningful for G+ in a way that it wasn’t for Chrome. When a social product like Google+ loses its users, it loses everything.
So what’ll happen to G+?
My gut instinct isn’t all that positive. I like it – there’s something a bit “old-school-internet” about my own personal experience of G+, probably because of the specific people I’ve been connecting to there. But I’ve been involved in launching and running quite a few “online communities” (remember them?) in my time and I notice some telltale signs among the people I follow. Not enough posts. Too many ghost speakers, links cast off into the void that spark no discussion, no debate.
Healthy online communities need some tension, some arguments, some passion, some disagreements. Maybe that’s what Google+ needs so that it feels less like a lab and more like a space for life and all its anger and mess. So let’s post some flamebait and check back in six months to see how it’s getting on.