Will Google+ ever achieve Facebook's popularity?

Google+ is often heralded among the big three social networks alongside Twitter and Facebook, but while it has millions of subscribers the actual usage rate is relatively low. The software development is something special, as evidenced by the myriad features that make it a truly excellent network.

Such features include the trending area, which is popular on Facebook, the ability to group friends and acquaintances into different circles so people only see what you want them to see, and the Hangout feature, allowing you to connect with friends or clients in a group video chat.

While these excellent features mean Google+ should arguably be the main social network, the reality is that it isn’t. Business Insider’s recent survey shows that Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are all more popular, that nearly twice as many people share links on a daily basis on LinkedIn than on Google+, and that of the Business Insider users, their LinkedIn network is 80 per cent bigger than their Google+ network.

IGN goes even further to show that stats from ComScore has Google+ averaging just three minutes of activity per user in January, which is lower than even MySpace, which had an average of eight minutes. Facebook, by comparison, had an impressive 405 minutes – all of which leads to the assumption that Google+ just isn’t catching on, and if it hasn’t by now, amid all the fanfare and media buzz upon release, then it never will.

Mobile application developers have done their job of getting a Google+ app to smartphones, but apparently not even that has reversed the trend for Google. The reason for this could be that Google has done its social network somewhat backwards.

Whereas Facebook and Twitter started off small and grew organically into the powerhouses they are today, Google has orchestrated its social network in such a way that anyone with a Google account, such as Gmail, automatically has a Google+ account. This is why the network has millions of registered users – even those who never use it or never actively joined it have profiles on it.

Last year, when someone searched Google, Twitter results would appear to give the latest tweets on that topic. Google later changed it so that Google+ results would show instead, which also means that public posts on Google+ can affect website traffic – and this should affect how many people user Google+. The problem is that it hasn’t, or at least not in large numbers.

Google has found itself in a catch-22. Most people won’t use Google+ because their friends aren’t on it, but people will not use it until it other people join. With Twitter and Facebook, and indeed LinkedIn, many people may feel that they just don’t want or need yet another social network to be a part of.

On the other hand, though, these things take time to grow and develop a foothold in people’s minds, so Google+ isn’t out of the game just yet. As mentioned already, it has some features that put it ahead of its competitors, and maybe what’s needed is time and promotion of these so people can see the advantage of using the social network on a regular basis.

The elephant in the room that can’t be ignored though is Google’s long-running and very public issues with security and confidentiality; almost certainly there will be people reluctant to use Google+ on the premise that they don’t want a company in as much trouble as Google to have so much private and sensitive data, and this problem cannot be overcome until Google makes changes to its privacy policy and starts to be taken more seriously in that regard.

Whether Google+ will be taken seriously will take time to see, but for now it has all the ingredients to make it a success.