Image by Marc_Smith.
Back in September 2011, Google+ released an API for third-party developers. At its release, the API provided read-only functionality. Many assumed it was just a matter of a few months before Google+ revised its API to allow posting. Then, in a March 2012 SXSW session, Vic Gundotra, SVP of Social Business at Google, surprised developers and the media by suggesting Google+ may not release posting functionality anytime in 2012. The rationale? Your Google+ stream could “easily be overwhelmed.”
This delay in releasing posting functionality is a strategic misstep, and here’s why.
Google+ is a social network that is subject to “network effects.” A network effect exists when the value of a platform (e.g., a social network) to a user increases with the number of users on that platform. Consider the fax machine. As the number of fax machines in use increases, the value of fax machines to each user increases; that is, users of fax machines can send and receive faxes to and from, respectively, a larger number of other fax machine users.
Google+ is a relatively new social network trying to gain ground on Facebook and Twitter. While the network is small, there is little incentive to use Google+ over the more dominant platforms. We contribute to Facebook and Twitter because this is where our friends, family, and colleagues are active and engaged.
The incentive for users to use Google+ is reduced further due to “multihoming” costs. Multihoming costs are the costs associated with using an additional platform. If we’re allocating limited time and resources to a platform, we’d choose to invest in the platforms with greater network value. In this case, Facebook and Twitter.
What does network effects and multihoming costs have to do with Google+ and posting via its API?
Many users interact with social networks via third party clients and plugins. We use these tools, in part, because they allow us to efficiently interact with multiple social networks. As an example, a user might have a WordPress plugin that automatically distributes new blog posts (i.e., the title and link) to Facebook and Twitter.
Because the Google+ API does not support posting, none of these clients and plugins work with Google+. Accordingly, users have to post manually to Google+. Due to multihoming costs, and the fact that Google+ is the platform with lower network value, users likely skip posting content to Google+, or only share content in very limited cases (e.g., if they are having a slow day at work).
This posting behavior amplifies the value of Facebook and Twitter and works against Google+. While Facebook and Twitter are vibrant communities of content and discussion, Google+ is struggling to gain the same level of attention.
By updating its API to support posting, users of clients and plugins would start to actively publish to Google+. This would quickly increase the amount and quality of content available on this platform and in turn attract users and engagement.
In short, by supporting posting via its API, Google+ can accelerate its adoption and usage and quickly rise as a vibrant social network.
Why do we care about this issue?
Intigi is a content marketing tool for finding and sharing great content (e.g., via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn). We’d love to help our customers also share content via Google+ but unfortunately we’re unable to provide this functionality. This makes us sad. :’(