Agile development can be fantastic. When executed properly, with engaged managers or product owners, it can lead to a steady cycle of new features, feedback, changes and growth. So watching Google+ has been intriguing as it releases a fairly steady stream of new features. Today, Vic Gundotra, Senior VP of Engineering and man behind Google+ and the +1 button, announced hashtag support and real-time search for the social media application. Google+, if nothing else, has given us a great view into the results of agile development.
So why does it feel as if the social media site is starting to sputter? Google engineer Steve Yegge put out one of the best reads of the year with a insightful opinion about Google+’s direction, touching on differences between products and platforms, and contrasts of his experiences at Amazon and Google. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend it. He points out that companies should be eating their own dogfood, but if you look at the executive management of Google, it would seem despite a big, exciting start, their usage is winding down.
You don’t have to look far to find announcements of Google+’s imminent demise or inevitability of its failure…those have been circulated since the site started, and it’s almost as if Google’s internet efforts seem as predestined to fail just like an Apple product launch seems predestined to revolutionize technology.
Which brings me back to my question – how could Google+ be faltering even as it continues to release feature after feature to make the application better?
The problem…You only get to launch once.
It’s not that Google didn’t have a decent product in terms of features when it did launch. But it didn’t have enough. I think it had two significant issues at launch. First, I don’t think it had a strong differentiator to pull people away from their current social media networks after the initial excitment and novalty wore off. And second, and probably more importantly, it didn’t cater to each of their user groups. Apparently, the business user persona is still on the drawing board at Google. They’ve been saying for months, if you are a business…stay away. For now. Google+ for business will come. Eventually. They said this in July, August, September…and businesses are still waiting. In essence, an entire critical user base has effectively been told to stand down on a product that is entering its fourth month of life. That may not seem like long, but for Google, that’s an age.
For your own products, it’s a lesson you can keep in mind. Your initial launch is a critical time when your marketing kicks into overdrive, touting the release and features. If you are using agile development, I argue that it’s less important to have a deep feature set than it is to have a feature set that offers something for each of your user personas.
This is a major problem for Google’s latest social media endeavor. Google didn’t set the hook on business users, and everyday consumers have been largely ambivalent. Google’s active user base is on a decline. The reason may be that folks sign up to see the hot new thing that Google’s got before going back to their well-established network of friends back at Facebook and Twitter. The stream of feature releases, no matter how fast, just doesn’t seem to matter.
I don’t think that Google+’s death is inevitable, but it doesn’t seem likely that they are going to become dominant by going after the consumer. Getting its business features, whatever they may be, could help change course. Even now, a business doesn’t want to ignore the site. Plus 1 button’s are a key component of Google’s search rankings. Participation on Google+ and frequency of shares also impact searches. But it’s clear that Google+ needs something to shake things up, and feature releases for the consumer don’t seem to be working.
What do you think?