At one month, Google+ already a 'major player'

The new social network takes on Facebook right out of the gate

Google+ on Thursday hit its one-month birthday and is already a major social networking player, analysts say.

Google released its much-anticipated social network on June 28. Google+ quickly grabbed headlines, gained 10 million users in its first two weeks (and another 10 million since then) and had people seeking invitations to its field trial from total strangers.

Oh, and it's gained a lot of interest in the much-sought-after and lucrative enterprise market. Businesses have been clamoring to set up Google+ accounts, even though the network has asked companies and organizations to wait until a business version is ready in a few months.

"With tens of millions of users and Google behind it, Google+ has become a major player," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "It has a good vibe going for it. The product is embracing concepts from Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.... The end result is a higher average quality of information and less overall information traffic, making the service more useful for most."

All of this fanfare and success means Facebook, which had been skating along with nary a serious rival, is having to make room for a new competitor.

"It's been going very well for Google+," said Dan Olds, an analyst for The Gabriel Consulting Group. "I'm not sure [Google] can ask for much more at this point - although I'm sure they will."

Olds pointed out that the new network's technical rollout has gone very smoothly. There have been no outages or security breaches.

"It looks like everything that's supposed to work is working," he added. "This is crucially important at launch, since it ensures that news coverage concentrates on the Google+ story, rather than focusing on bad technical execution or something like that."

Google+ did have to deal with a report from Hitwise, an Internet traffic tracker, this week that its traffic had dipped. Hitwise reported that for the week ending July 23, Google+ had 1.79 million visits, down 3% from the week before. The report also noted that the average time spent on the site had fallen 10% that week to 5 minutes and 15 seconds.

Also this week, some Google+ users were frustrated and angry that the site was shutting down accounts that didn't conform to its controversial naming policy. The network, however, moved quickly to modify its policy to smooth things over.

Despite that controversy, analysts say Facebook must be nervously eyeing its new competitor and trying to figure out how to stay a few steps ahead of the fledgling site.

Just a week after Google+ was introduced, for instance, Facebook announced a new partnership with Skype that brought video chat to Facebook. At the same time, the company unveiled a new group chat feature for the site.

Though the partnership must have been in the works for some time, the timing of the announcement seemed like a direct strike at Google+, which sports a feature called "Hangouts" that supports online conference calls.

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, said during the Skype announcement that users should expect a lot of new features in the coming months.

Olds said Google+ clearly has become a big enough player in the market to make Facebook nervous ... and to make it work a little harder. And that will only be a boon for social networking users.

"I think that Facebook is taking Google+ very seriously," Olds added. "Facebook would be insane not to consider Google and Google+ as their most formidable competitor to date. This isn't going to be just a six-month effort from Google. With Google+, they're in the social networking game for the long haul."

However, Enderle said Google's big challenge at this point is sustaining the momentum behind Google+. And that, he said, means staying away from privacy pitfalls with user data, and paying attention to customer satisfaction.

As for Olds, he noted that Google needs to start using all of its assets to promote Google+. "They want to start combining other Google tools, like Google Earth or Google Maps, into the mix," he said. "And they need to get the independent developers involved, as well."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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