Google Quietly Kills Off ‘Twitter Killer’ Google Buzz – What Price Google+ Next?

Over on their official blog, Google has announced the shutdown of a number of Google products, including Jaiku, Google Labs and, unsurprisingly, Google Buzz.

Google Buzz? Oh, you remember – that was the Twitter killer that Google launched with much fanfare in February 2010. Ironically, the only thing it killed was Google’s standing in the world of social media.

Well, until Google+ came along. But, despite the hot start, I’m not convinced we won’t be having this same conversation about Google+ a year or two from now. In fact, I think that it’s increasingly probable, because I’m not sure that Google learned enough from the failure of Buzz.

“In a few weeks we’ll shut down Google Buzz and the Buzz API, and focus instead on Google+,” says Google. “While people obviously won’t be able to create new posts after that, they will be able to view their existing content on their Google Profile.”

(Thank heavens for that.)

“Changing the world takes focus on the future, and honesty about the past. We learned a lot from products like Buzz, and are putting that learning to work every day in our vision for products like Google+. Our users expect great things from us; today’s announcements let us focus even more on giving them something truly awesome.”

Google Buzz launched with – ahem – a lot of buzz but it was obvious from the start that the platform was riddled with issues, notably with regard to privacy. It also suffered from poor UI decisions, including no limits on characters or images. But the biggest problem was how easily Buzz was dominated by the big personalities in the world of tech – a phenomenon I’ve previously termed as The Scoble Effect, named after early adopter supremo Robert Scoble. The moment that Scoble gets his hands on the next big thing is the real test of that platform’s viability, and with Buzz it was obvious early on that if you were in any way connected to Robert, that’s pretty much all you would see in your feed. They might as well have named it Google Scoble and been done with it.

(No offense meant to Scoble – I like the guy a lot. His enthusiasm is infectious. But he does break things. Or at least shine the light on the pitfalls. This is a good thing – he plays a key part in the social ecosystem.)

Here’s the thing: I see the same problems with Google+. Like Buzz, if you follow Scoble on Google+ it’s all Scoble, all the time. The same is true for most of the other tech powerhouses. Follow half a dozen of these guys and with all of their updates and the comments they receive you’ll get the impression that Google+ is the centre of the universe. But take those same guys away and you’ll quickly realize that it’s all an illusion. It’s either one or the other. Sure, you can mute posts and so on, but if you’re having to do that to make a platform remotely useable, why even bother with it at all?

It’s different on Twitter, as tweets are far more manageable, and the 140-character limitation means you can absorb a lot more in a brief amount of time. You can digest an entire screen’s worth of tweets in a few minutes – that same screen can be made up of half of some of Scoble’s posts on Google+. And Facebook’s News Feed algorithm makes it more palatable there, as well.

Also like Buzz, Google+ had a huge amount of initial interest and everybody was singing its praises. But, again like Buzz, that didn’t last very long. Traffic is down considerably since the public launch – as much as 70 percent according to some sources.

Stickiness appears to be the issue – millions are rushing to sign up, but they aren’t coming back. I see this exact same pattern with the majority of my friends – they’re curious, but Google+ isn’t exciting or different enough to make them give up Facebook or Twitter time.

It’s the same for me. I check in from time to time but I haven’t updated my Google+ feed since July. To be honest, I wish I could turn off the red box notifications that show up throughout Google, as I find them increasingly irritating.

Anecdotal evidence? Sure. But there appears to be an awful lot of that going around.

Google Buzz was like Friendfeed, and Google+ is even more like Friendfeed. I liked Friendfeed, as did a lot of the tech crowd. But while Google+ has quickly surpassed Friendfeed in size and column inches, it’s essentially dominated by the exact same people. Yeah, a few celebrities have signed up, but I’ve yet to see anything somebody famous has said on Google+ be quoted or analyzed in and by the mainstream press. This happens all the time with Twitter, of course, and while you could argue that it’s still early days for Google+, it’s curious that it isn’t really making much of a dent on the social consciousness. Twitter has proven itself as a source for all sorts of real-time news and gossip, both from celebrities and normal people, and Google+ should have picked up on some of that quickly and easily. But it hasn’t – and I think that’s indicative of bigger problems, both in accessibility and acceptance.

Ironic, too, that Mark Zuckerberg is still Google+’s most-followed user – but even his 596,221 followers only accounts for 1.5 percent of Google+’s 40 million users. Lady Gaga tops Twitter’s popularity ladder, and she can boast that 5.7 percent of all of Twitter’s 254 million follow her. It’s roughly the same on Facebook – 5.54 percent of Facebook’s 800 million are a fan of Lady Gaga.

Twitter is more than six times bigger than Google+, and Facebook is twenty times the size, so if anything those ratios should be getting smaller. But the exact opposite has happened. Again, early days, but it’s another comparison that, for me, means that Google+ is already in trouble.

Google+ has many fans and I imagine we’ll hear from a few in the comments. And it’s only really fair if we re-visit Google+ a year or so after its launch and see where things stand then. My insights may turn out to be completely wrong, and I’ll be the first to put my hand up if Google+ is a half-billion strong powerhouse by September 2012.

But I don’t believe that will prove to be the case. Because while Plus is Google’s best attempt yet to crack the world of social, it simply is not enough to make a dent in the big three. Google+, even with their promised business pages, can’t compete with Facebook’s sheer size and proven value as a marketing platform. Why would anyone market to 40-50 million people when you can market to 800 million? It doesn’t match up well against Twitter because all the things that make Twitter work – speed, brevity and ease-of-consumption – are polar opposites on Google+. And LinkedIn seems to have the whole ‘we both have jobs so let’s pretend to be friends’ thing sewn up.

(At least for now – it can’t be long before everybody on LinkedIn wakes up and goes: “So, uh, why are we using this exactly?”.)

Is there room for someone else at the table? Sure. Is there a fourth aspect to social that we’ve yet to embrace? Very likely. But whatever that is (please don’t let it be 3D) it doesn’t appear to be Google+.

Which leaves it where, exactly? Somewhere between an immoveable rock and an impenetrably hard place. Thankfully, you can’t buy social. And, unfortunately for Google and their record profits, no amount of money is going to change that.