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Is Google+ Down For The Count?

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A flurry of recent articles and blog posts have called into question the long-term prospects for Google+. PBS MediaShift blogger Dan Reimold said "Google+ is dead" and quoted Omaha World-Herald columnist Rainbow Rowell as saying her Google+ home page is "worse than a ghost town." contributor Paul Tassi said "Google Plus is a failure no matter what the numbers may say." And several posts on Facebook note the lack of activity over on Google+.

Are the naysayers right? Is Google+ headed in the same direction as Google Buzz? Or are we pulling an Edgar Allan Poe with a premature burial?

Step away from the shovels, say many of the experts contacted for this article.

"It is far from being a 'ghost town,'" said Jake Wengroff, global director of social media strategy and research at Frost & Sullivan. "There may not be 700,000 pieces of content shared every minute, as with Facebook, but it will get there."

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Indeed, it was reported in August that Google+, launched in late June, had attracted 25 million users in about a month. Facebook, in contrast, took about three years to attract that many visitors, while Twitter took just over 30 months, according to ComScore. Google+ has since hit the 50 million mark.

Three years ago, however, "social" was not a household word, at least not in the sense we think of it today. And some have said that the initial rush to Google+ included the curious and those whose egos got a boost by being invited to engage (or those whose egos were bruised by not getting an invitation and therefore actively sought out someone with an "in").

The success of a social network is not how many people are signed up to it but how many people are active on it. That's not a problem for Google+, either, said Jesse Stay, author of the forthcoming "Google+ For Dummies, Portable Edition." In fact, Stay suggests that people who see Google+ as down for the count may actually be the problem. "If anyone is getting an impression there is no activity, they're following the wrong people and they're not trying to be active themselves," he said. "In Google+, you get what you give."

Both Wengroff and Stay noted Google+'s integration with other Google services and applications as a key differentiator of the platform--and one that will attract more and more users as it evolves to include more functionality. They also cited Google Circles, a feature that allows users to organize their contacts into meaningful groups, as a big Google+ plus.

However, Ari Lightman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who teaches a course in which graduate students and companies such as Microsoft, RIM, and Pepsi come together to apply measurement schemes around different social tools, applications, and techniques, noted how quick Facebook was to offer similar functionality, a game of one-upmanship that he sees continuing over time.

Lightman does not go so far as to dismiss Google+'s chances of success, but he does think Google has its work cut out for it when it comes to competing for mindshare--and users' time--with more established social networks such as Facebook.

"The real difficult thing is that Google has some of the pioneers, some of the innovators," said Lightman. "That's all well and good, but they need to try and expand it to the early majority. That's difficult, because the early majority is not going to be spending that much time online updating all of these different networks. They're going to pick and choose one vs. the other, and the one that gives them the best bang for the buck is the one they've already set up, the one they already know and the one that their friends are already involved with."

It shouldn't take long to see whether the social networking platform has the momentum it will need to succeed in the long run, said Michael Skaff, the CIO of the San Francisco Symphony.

"Now that they've opened it up to the public, I think we'll know within the next six months at the outside whether it has the momentum to achieve success or whether people are too entrenched in the existing networks," he said.

The symphony is actively using Facebook and Twitter for marketing and outreach, and Skaff said he and his colleagues are researching Google+ for possible future use.

"I absolutely think Google+ has potential," said Skaff. "[Google] learns from their mistakes, as we've clearly seen in the past. Time will tell."

Author Stay admits he may be biased but is sure Google+ is here to stay.

"This isn't Google Buzz," said Stay. "The simple stats and rate of growth show [Google+] has momentum to keep growing, and you'll see it grow even faster as they start to integrate it more into each of the Google products. The Google team isn't giving up on this one--in fact, their future depends on it."

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