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It’s Google+’s birthday.

All the other social media players are at the party: Facebook’s drunk again, Twitter’s got over-excited and won’t stop talking, while LinkedIn is working the room in a business suit. But what about the birthday boy?

At the grand old age of 2, what will Google+ be doing on its birthday – throwing its toys out of the pram or gloating from the top of a pile of presents?

A Confusing Start

When Google+ was born (I’m sticking with this analogy so just accept it and we can move on) in 2011 it was met with a shower of media attention that was hailing it as the new wunderkind of social media.

Battle lines had been drawn by the media, however only a year later the site was being compared to a ghost town. Had Google’s bid for social media glory actually failed?

Perhaps not…

From the very start Google seemed to have set its sights on loftier ambitions, ones that are much easier to read with the delicious smugness of hindsight.”We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests. And so begins the Google+ project,” so saideth the Google Gods.

The use of the word project suggested something larger, something more ambitious, something that ”will impact Google.” So, perhaps Google+ was never just a social media platform after all and, as such, shouldn’t be judged alongside the others.

What’s really going on?

In late 2012 Google+ overtook Twitter to become the second largest social platform in the world, behind Facebook. According to recent statistics, there are now 343 million active users on Google+, however they don’t seem to be dedicating the time that Facebook draws. The average user is spending under 7 minutes on the Google+ site, in comparison to a hefty 6 hours on Facebook.

With so many people spending so little time on Google+, what’s really going on in there?

“The smart people, the ones who always seem to be ahead of that damn curve, are using Google+ to their advantage.

Perhaps these figures are really missing the point; looking at the amount of time spent on the site rather than the amount of time spent logged into their account. Perhaps you don’t need to be on the site for an age, busy uploading another hilarious picture of your cat, baby or drunkenness to get Google+ working for you.

As Mark McGuinness puts it, Google+ is “not a place for broadcasting to ‘everyone’, or for keeping in touch with the people you’ve known since school. But a place to make connections and have conversations with people who can open doors in your mind and in your career or business.”

The smart people, the ones who always seem to be ahead of that damn curve, are using Google+ to their advantage. They are getting in fast before everyone realises its potential and it becomes the crowded marketplace of Facebook and Twitter.

A Personalised Service

Google+ is quietly offering something different – or so it would have you believe. Instead of a separate social site it wants to make your whole web experience social. A personalised place customised using the data you provide from your social interactions and the organisation of your own data.

It sounds exciting, if a little Orwellian, and there is a lot of praise for circles, communities and hangouts amongst those in the know but for many +1 is just another button that has to be clicked.

The problem is that it’s a ‘social layer’, as it’s been called, or “a way for Google to get to know our users, who they have relationships with. We give them the ability to share. That layer, that spine, that backbone, is intended to help us make search, Maps, YouTube, Gmail better. That’s the real point of Google+,” according to David Glazer, Engineering Director of Google+

It doesn't sound like a place that will get your friends talking but that isn’t to say it isn’t useful. Some people are using its novelty as a way to stand out and it’s working.

You Created It. Own It.

One of the more exciting facets of Google+ – the one that has got everyone talking but only some using – is Google Authorship. As a truly integrated product, this seems to be an insight to where Google+ wants to take Google search. Authorship gives people, brands and businesses the ability to be recognised for their content across the web.

Google is encouraging people to take credit for their work; ranking content higher in personalised results through Google+. As time goes on, Author Rank will likely spill over into the master search results; a thought that perks up SEOs ears and gets them listening.

In a linkless future – where being a thought leader and an industry authority people naturally associate with your chosen keywords is crucial to improving traffic – is going to help SEOs achieve this in a way everyone can be proud of.

What Is Google up To?

Perhaps more interesting than what us as hapless fools are doing with it – what are Google’s ‘Don’t be Evil’ plans?

Bas Van Der Vald puts it very succinctly,

“To make their social strategy work Google needs data. Because data helps Google to figure out what kind of information they should give you back.”

Enter Google+.

“They couldn’t get the data through Facebook, so why not get it directly from you?” 

What Happens When the Child Grows Up?

At the moment Google+ is only an infant, admittedly probably a child genius that can do advanced mathematics and is secretly dreaming of world domination from its cot.

Because it came from Google we imagine that it was going to be amazing, life-changing technology immediately, but according to social media history there is a seven year cycle.

 ‘Let us examine the rise of social networks like Linkedin (2002), Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006). All them of took seven years to reach critical mass and acceptance in society. Linkedin 2009, Facebook 2011 and Twitter 2013 (right now),’ writes Thomas Power, a Google+ Guide.

So, what happens when Google+ reaches its seventh birthday?

Thomas Power writes of a futuristic world that is almost already here, one that is dazzling and a little scary in its realistic imaginings.

‘Everything in your life hinges around these circles. Your family, your friends, your sports club, your church, your clients, your suppliers and you’re going to need access to all of your data in all of your circles in an instant wherever you are. You are going to be carrying a social infrastructure in the palm of your hand all the time. Yet none of the actual data will be on any of the devices you pick up. The devices themselves will soon be given away free. You will have them everywhere airports, train stations, hotels. It won’t matter if you lose them or drop them, just grab another from anywhere like a free newspaper,’ he writes.

The fact that your computer (just a little minion for the big Google in the sky) can learn your data habits, lead your thoughts and organize your work and personal life might feel a little too intrusive but we’re already being led down that path.

So, after all this celebration, speculation and extrapolation, where is Google+ on its second birthday? As an integrated part of Google’s powerful toolset and with long-term goals set in its sights, it looks like Google – and its child genius Google+ – are willing to wait.

Let’s see what it can manage to do by its third birthday.

Are you using Google+?  Is it winning or losing? Share your thoughts, predictions and experiences.

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