Happy Birthday, Google+ -- Are We There Yet?

Google+ is hitting a major milestone this week. Google's fledgling social network has hit its first birthday.

That's right. Google launched its own social network a year ago on Thursday. And while it's a distant competitor to the world's top social network, Facebook, Google+ is finding its own niche -- it's becoming the hub for all things Google.

"Google+ is at the heart of our efforts to create a simpler, more intuitive experience for all Google users," said Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice president of engineering, during the morning keynote at the Google I/O developer conference on Wednesday. "We want to present you with one seamless experience and not a bunch of disconnected products."

While Google+ hits its birthday on Thursday, there was very little mention of the social network and not one single mention of its milestone during the morning keynote at Google I/O that day.

However, on Wednesday, the first day of Google I/O, which is the company's largest conference of the year, the company announced a Google+ version for Android tablets and one coming for the Apple iPad, as well. Google+ also got an Events feature, which is tied into Google calendar.

And Gundotra told the Google I/O conference audience that the social network now has 150 million active monthly users and about 75 million daily users.

A year after being launched, those numbers still leave Google+ well behind its main rival Facebook, which has approximately 800 million users worldwide.

A Category of Its Own

But that's not the whole story for Google+, according to Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.

"As a standalone social network, Google+ isn't close to comparing to Facebook or Twitter, but that's not necessarily the point of it," said Moorhead.

"Google+ is the home base for all things that connect Google. It's the glue that holds it together. But for numbers, it is more like RC Cola, not Pepsi, as it relates to competing with Coke."

And that fits in with what Larry Page, Google co-founder and CEO, said last October.

Page, speaking during the company's third-quarter earnings call, said he plans to use Google+ to transform the entire Google experience.

"Our ultimate ambition is to transform the overall Google experience, making it beautifully simple, almost automagical, because we understand what you want and can deliver it instantly," Page said last fall. "This means baking identity and sharing into all of our products so that we build a real relationship with our users. Sharing on the Web will be like sharing in real life across all your stuff."

And the company quickly began moving in that direction. Last fall, Google began integrating Google+ with Google Apps, the company's cloud-based office suite. A spokesman said at the time that Google engineers were "working fast and furiously" to bring features in Google+ to Google Apps.

Google+'s Ongoing Challenge

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, noted that Google does seem to be looking to weave Google+ social and collaborative features through its product line but he's not sure the social network is living up to the company's own expectations.

And that, he added, could be why there wasn't more excited talk around Google+ this week -- despite its big anniversary.

"They could be aware that they don't have a lot to brag about," said Olds. "Their baby isn't walking or talking yet and, really, not crawling so much either. [Google+] hasn't seen anything near the meteoric growth they expected or hoped for. But this would have been the perfect time to make some Google+ announcements and maybe rekindle some buzz."

Moorhead, however, said Google+ has made strides and is on a good path.

"What they need to show is just how far they have come in one year comparatively," he noted. "When you compare Facebook and Twitter one year into their development, Google+ looks great comparatively. Google+ needs to show how... integration improves the experience."

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 email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Happy Birthday, Google+ -- Are We There Yet?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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