Google is relaunching Google+ with a greater emphasis on interest groups. It appears to be a recognition that for many users it was one social network too many.
The changes revamp the organizational emphasis when users visit the site. Rather than personal posts and online friendships/contacts, the most prominent sections will now be Communities and Collections.
Communities is simply interest groups, working in a similar way to groups on Facebook. Collections are similar but based around media rather than written posts and operate more like Pinterest.
The changes will be rolled out gradually. At some point in the coming days, users logging in will be asked if they want to switch to the new format by clicking “Let’s Go.” For now at least they’ll then be able to revert to the old system via a link in the bottom left of the page. There’ll also be updates to the various apps in the near future.
How well or badly Google+ is doing is as much a matter of perspective and attitude as it is about the raw numbers. Perhaps surprisingly for many, one report says it has almost as many users as Twitter and Instagram.
However, there’s no doubt it’s far behind Facebook (with roughly a fifth of the userbase) and certainly lacks its widespread appeal and critical mass.
The big limitation seems to be that although Google+ “solves a problem,” it came too late to make a difference. The idea of Circles, making it easy to share content and status posts with differing groups sounded like a great alternative to the way such control on Facebook is handled.
However, it seems that this wasn’t enough of a gamechanger to get enough people to adopt Google+ as an alternative to Facebook, let alone a replacement. That’s partly because of a reluctance to put extra time and effort into building up a new account and partly because Google+ never seemed to get past the vicious circle of people not bothering to use it once they saw that few of their existing friends and contacts were using it themselves.
An estimated 300 million users is nothing to be sneezed at of course, but it’s unclear how many of those people actually visit the site regularly or if there’s any hope of turning that vicious circle into a virtuous one.
Indeed, it seems Google may even have given up on building the user base. It notes that the changes are based on having “spent lots of time talking to people who are passionate about Google+. We visited them in their homes, we invited them into early testing communities and we learned more about how and why they use Google+.” Useful as that exercise may have been, it will have told Google nothing about why so many people have opted not to bother with the service.