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The Rise and Fall of Google+

Google+, a social networking platform released by the tech giant, Google, was released more than 7 years ago. However, since then, the product’s following has only diminished. Initially, it seemed that the reason Google+ failed to gain traction among consumers was due to its underperforming features. For instance, one engineer described Google+’s Hangouts feature as “janky”. Google would spend the next few years ramping up production, earning praise for its’ improved its video hangout service and smart, algorithmic photo-editing and search features. Yet, despite all these product improvements, the platform still failed with consumers.

The problem was Google was trying to attract a market whose needs were already fulfilled, and by using a product whose utility was directly related to the number of users no less. “What people failed to understand was Facebook had network effects,” a former Google+ employee said. “It’s like you have this grungy night club and people are having a good time and you build something next door that’s shiny and new, and technically better in some ways, but who wants to leave? People didn’t need another version of Facebook.” Google couldn’t succeed by imitating an existing product, especially when it was the product’s extensive user base that made it so attractive. Google certainly needed to develop a high-quality social media platform, but more importantly, it needed to the platform to have a large initial following.

As stated by one of the engineers themselves, the Google+ phenomenon reflected the network effects we discussed in class. We learned that the true value of a product is based on both r(x):  the value of the product itself, and f(z): the value related to how many people are using the product. A social media network is a significant example of a product with a heavily weighted f(z) function. Though the actual functionality of the product is still important, a social media network gains great value from the number of users it attracts. Thus, even though Google went on to improve their initial product, they were unable to attract users because the initial user base was so small. This would be equivalent to the f(z) starting before z’, the smaller, unstable equilibrium. At this point more and more users leave the network, thus decreasing the value of Google+ more and more. Google+ needed to have created a really good product, or one with unique features that Facebook didn’t offer, in order to attract a large initial userbase.


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