Google+’s Antisocial Mobile Strategy

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Shortly before Google+’s native app for iPhone was released on Tuesday, Ancestry.com founder and “Google+ unofficial statistician” Paul Allen projected that Google+’s atmospheric growth was beginning to slow down. From a high of 2 million users per day, new signups had dropped to approximately three quarters of a million. In a follow-up comment, Allen guessed that that day’s release of the new mobile app might have “a slight positive impact” on growth.

But just how many new mobile users would sign up? And what kind of experience would they have?

Many current and prospective users were disappointed right away: the new iOS app is iPhone-only, leaving iPod Touch and iPad owners out in the cold, unable to Huddle for warmth. WinPhone 7, Blackberry, and Nokia smartphone owners are likewise still limited to Google+’s mobile webapp.

Google+ Huddles, a kind of group text message, are mobile-app-only. So is the “Nearby” stream, a location-based timeline of public posts from nearby users. It might be the iPhone’s GPS-augmented location service that makes it, rather than the iPod Touch and iPad, at least some of which are Wi-Fi-only, tailored for G+’s mobile app.

By far the most common complaint among both iPhone and Android mobile app users is the inability to reshare other users’ posts. As I alluded to in yesterday’s longer Google+ story, the lack of this functionality, at least in the early days of the app, suggests that Google+ is competing less with text/news-driven social media networks like Twitter, and more with multimedia and location-based applications like Foursquare or Color, where “social” is defined somewhat more loosely.

While you’re on the go, Google wants your location, and it wants your photos. (Not all iPods or iPads have cameras, either.) It wants you to check for new messages. It doesn’t really care (yet) whether you share them.

There are two major differences between the Android and the iOS apps, one obvious and the other less so. The first is that Android phones allow you to auto-upload photos to G+. In fact, once you install, G+, the default is to auto-upload the pictures to Google (albeit to a totally non-public folder); you have to disable it if you don’t want your pictures going to Google at all.

I missed the second difference until my friend Andrew Simone called it to my attention. The iPhone app, unlike the Android app, doesn’t have a landscape view or keyboard mode — either using auto-rotate or as an option. So if you prefer to type on your iPhone with a wide keyboard, you’re out of luck when posting status updates or comments in G+.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber complains about inconsistencies in the iOS app’s user interface:

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The Google+ app feels like it was designed by people who don’t like the standard iPhone design idioms… It’s certainly not Android-like, but it’s not iOS-like either. For example, [it]uses left-right swiping to change views in your “Stream”. I see three: Incoming, Circles, and Nearby. The idiomatic iOS design for this would be a tab controller at the bottom with three tabs, one for each view. Google+ has a thin header at the top of the view, showing all three, with the current view in the middle, in a slightly larger font size. To switch from, say, Circles to Nearby, you swipe left. But you can keep swiping left, left, left to cycle around, like a carousel.

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“It does not solve my fundamental problem with Google+,” Gruber writes, “which is that it feels like work to use.”

I’m going to hold off on final judgment here. It’s still very early in the life of Google+, and even earlier in the life of its cross-platform mobile apps. But I’ll just say that right now, its mobile and desktop pieces don’t really seem to fit together.

That may slow down its adoption. Given that G+ is still the most-downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store, and Google still hasn’t made a big advertising push, ramping up growth might not be the company’s biggest priority. But maintaining user enthusiasm for the platform ought to be.

The viral growth of Google+ has slowed somewhat over the past few days, but my new-and-improved 1,000 surname model shows that more than 750,000 people joined the site on Monday, bringing the total user base to just under 18 million.

Last week we saw two days where more than 2 million signed up in a single day. If that rate had continued, Google+ would have reached 20 million users by last Sunday night. But the last four days have averaged only 948,000 new users and yesterday the site added only 763,000. Yesterday’s growth of 4.47% was the slowest viral growth since Google opened up invites back on July 6th.

Google hasn’t started marketing Google+ through any of its other channels yet. More than a billion people worldwide use Google products, including its top rated search engine, YouTube, and Blogger. Chairman Eric Schmidt says the vision is to integrate Circles and sharing with all the other Google properties. When that happens, you will likely see millions of people joining Google+ every day for some period of time.

Why hasn’t Google turned on the marketing machine yet? Perhaps the product management team is still trying to get the product right. They are certainly paying attention to what customers are saying and responding quickly to try to improve the service. Perhaps the engineering team, which has publicly admitted some degree of surprise at the amount of traffic Google+ has already generated, needs more time for scalability. It’s probably a combination of those two factors.
As always, I admit weaknesses in my model. Larry Page announced Google+ had “over 10 million users” on Thursday, July 14th, but unfortunately he didn’t say when they passed that milestone, or how far they had passed it by. My model showed more than 13 million users when he made that announcement, so I suppose my model could be overstating the actual usercount by 30-35%. But if Google+ actually hit 10 million a day or two before the formal announcement, then my model may still be spot on. I wish I knew. I’m looking forward to future Google announcements or announcements from other industry players who have other ways to measure web site traffic growth.

I don’t have access to log files or to a massive consumer panel. I’m simply measuring how many Google+ users there are of various randomly selected surnames every day. Last week I increased the sample of surnames that I query from 100 to 1,000. Over a 4-day period, the 100-surname sample showed a Google+ growth rate of 28.4%. The 1,000 surname sample showed a growth rate of 28.5%. Statistically insignificant. So I’m not sure whether to keep running 1,000 surname queries per day or just stick with 100. Yesterday, the number of users with the 1,000 surnames jumped from 23,922 (all counted by hand) to 24,990, for an increase of 4.47%. I tried to get the count a full day after the original count, but there is no way to make sure that my data entry team can time it exactly right. The counts could be off by several hours, cutting into the accuracy.

With a surname sample size this large, the connection to what is really happening with Google+ user growth seems very tight. Within the surname set are popular surnames from many highly populated countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But we currently have no ability to count users in certain non-Romance languages.

If I stick with the smaller sample, I’ll have more time and resources to do male/female ratio analysis, look for number of people in circles, study the number of posts per user, and run more customer surveys.

Here are some of the other things I’d like to track over time:

– Percentage of active Facebook users who say Facebook is their favorite social network
– Percentage of active Facebook users who have heard of Google+ and who have tried it
– Percentage of active Google+ users who say Google+ is their favorite social network
– Percentage of active Twitter users who say Twitter is their favorite social network
– Average number of people in circles
– Average number of public posts per user per day
– Male/Female ratio

What questions do you have about Google+ adoption and usage? If you had the ability to know what is really going on, what would you like to know most?

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