Social Developers Hopeful About Google+ Platform Potential

Facebook has had a de facto monopoly on social platforms over the last couple of years, and until the launch of Google+ the main other options for developers have been mobile — and those require a distinct set of product and marketing skills.

So you’d expect social developers, especially companies wanting to diversify beyond Facebook on the web, to be pretty interested in what happens with G+. Even so, we’ve been surprised by the optimism among companies we’re talking to, and they’re not just having wishful thoughts. The specific reasons: Google+ is a respectable product, it’s grown quickly, there are clear social communication channels like Streams where developers could promote discovery and engagement, and the transaction fee is likely to be quite low.

Here’s a look at where G+ is so far, followed by details about what a platform launch might mean.

Good Product and Solid Early Traffic Growth — What’s Next?

The initial set of features in G+ accomplished what at least a noticeable subset of internet users have been wanting — Facebook features without the Facebook part. Between the Stream, Circles, the integration with other Google products, and complementary launches like Hangouts, users can experience many of the positive social interactions and information-sharing dynamics that Facebook has defined. The initial result has been impressive traffic growth, with G+ reaching 25 million, according to comScore — and as every would-be platform company knows, the first step to attracting developers is having users to connect them to.

It’s clear that users who love Google and/or hate Facebook are on it in force. And that audience, in and of itself, ensures some sort of longevity for the service. The big unanswered question is how quickly Google+ is going to be adopted by mainstream users, especially considering that the majority of the US and many other countries are already on Facebook. Already, some third-party measurement firms are showing traffic slowdowns (although that data is qualified by the fact that Google has not yet fully opened registration to all users).

Still, the results so far are much better than its past efforts. Its OpenSocial platform standard was widely adopted by other Facebook rivals, but didn’t manage to create big alternative platforms. Buzz, an earlier social product meant to take on Facebook, had a variety of privacy issues and never fully got off the ground.

Going forward, Google is pushing big marketing campaigns and developing tighter integrations with its other products — one can imagine a version of G+ being quite useful for companies using Google Apps, who want a Yammer-style interface for sharing and discussing changes to Google Docs, emails, calendars, etc. All of those efforts should drive many more users.

But what will keep people coming back and socializing? Google still can’t duplicate anything like what Facebook did — launching quietly to closed groups of real-world young people, building on key viral features like Photos — that feature got college students to share their party photos with each other (and tag each other) back in 2006, and that type of voyeurism has been a key ingredient in Facebook’s growth, as evidenced by the massive ongoing popularity of its Photos product.

While Google has been integrating various other content properties, like its Picasa photo service, it doesn’t have the same set of compelling social features that Facebook has offered. And that’s where developers hope a social platform could come in, providing consistently entertaining activities for at least a portion of the user base.

What a G+ Developer Platform Might Look Like

Google has made a few official statements about a developer platform, but there’s plenty of evidence about what the company is up to.