Pair of reports highlight Google Plus growing pains

Credit: Source: Gigya

My favored social network these days is Google+, though I still dabble on Twitter, Facebook and even Pinterest from time to time. I like Google+ because of all the networks I use, it is most apt to house rich conversations about the topics I'm interested in. Lately though, I've found my patience wearing thin with my friends over there. Google is constantly iterating the design of Google+, tweaking features and rolling out new ones. And with every change Google makes, my stream fills up with all my friends griping that they want things back the way they used to be.

I thought I just had a bunch of whiny friends (sorry guys and gals), but according to a report that was released today that isn't really the case; this post is my way of apologizing to those friends who I've chided about their griping. My source is the "ForeSee Annual E-Business Report for the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)" which attempts to measure user satisfaction in three segments of what it calls e-businesses: Social Media, Portals and Search Engines, and News & Information Websites. I wanted to focus on the Social Media segment today.

In aggregate, Social Media scored a user satisfaction rating of 68 on ACSI's 100-point scale, which is one point lower than last year, but a few social media networks improved. Pinterest, for example, scored a 72, a 4.3% increase over its 2012 score of 69. Both Twitter (scored 65) and Facebook (scored 62) showed small improvements too (each was up 1.6%, from scores of 64 and 61 respectively). Losers in this segment included LinkedIn (scored 62 down from 63 or a -1.6% change), and YouTube (scored 71 down from 73, or a -2.7% change).

But the network that really dragged the whole segment down was Google+. In 2012 Google+ scored a 78, but in 2013 is was down to 71, or down a whopping 9%. Last year's score of 78 tied WikiPedia for the highest ranked Social Media site. This year's 71 leaves it ranked higher than Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but behind Pinterest and WikiPedia and tied with YouTube. Google needs to reverse this trend ASAP if it doesn't want it's social network to keep falling through the ranks.

2013 was only the second year that Google+ was measured for the ACSI (the service opened during the summer of 2011) and the report suggests that part of this drop was due to Google+ losing it's "newness." However Pinterest is in the same boat (according to Wikipedia Pinterest launched in closed beta in March 2010 but didn't really open up widely until Summer 2011) and their satisfaction improved in the 2nd year it was measured.

Moreover the report fingers advertising (tagged as 'noise') as being one of the factors that hampers user satisfaction with social media sites, and Google+ doesn't currently have ads.

So it seems to me we're left with two factors that could result in this radical drop in satisfaction. Either the audience itself has changed, or the changes Google has been making is alienating the audience.

My anecdotal experience is that Google needs to slow down on making changes; the people in my Circles have remained pretty much the same year-to-year but most of them seem less happy with every change that Google makes.

Of course Google+ was originally known as the social media site for geeks and photographers, and as the audience expands beyond those categories it could also lead to less satisfaction. One data point in the report that alarmed me was that 46% of the respondents said they didn't pay attention to the ads on Google+. Since there are no ads, I don't know what to make of that.

But the ForeSee report isn't the only recent source for bad Google+ news. Android Authority reported on a study of social media done by Gigya and it didn't have any better news for Google+.

According to the Gigya study, Google+ accounts for just 2% of shared content across social media sites. That puts it roughly on par with LinkedIn, and way, way behind Facebook (50%), Pinterest (16%) and Twitter (24%). These numbers are particularly interesting in light of the fact that one of the very unpopular features Google recently launched is "+1 sharing." This new feature automatically shares some of the posts you +1 (the Google+ equivalent of a Like) with people in your Circles. When it rolled out it was immediately declared 'spammy' and too much like Facebook and there was a lot of social pressure to turn it off. +1 sharing is too new to be reflected in Gigya's figures, but the numbers do illuminate why Google would decide to add the much-resented (in my Circles at least) feature.

The one bright spot in the Gigya report is that in terms of Social Logins Google+ is doing better with 24%, putting it in second place behind Facebook (52%).

As someone still feeling the sting of Google shutting down Reader, all this bad news has me feeling a bit on-edge. If the trend we're seeing now continues, it's easy to imagine Google pulling the plug on Google+ in the same way it pulled the plug on Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google Reader, and a number of other services.

Can Google save Google+? Is it even in need of saving? My take is that the G+ team needs to get feedback from users ahead of launching new features and design changes, rather than after the fact. That'd be a start anyway. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment!

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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