July 27, 2011 -- Does the world really need a new social networking site?
Maybe it does, and maybe that helps explain the success of Google+. It only turns a month old on Thursday, but it already claims up to 20 million members. And since the service went live, Google Inc. stock has gone up nearly 30 percent, raising the value of the company (the "market cap" in Wall Street jargon) by $45 billion.
"They're probably the only company well positioned to launch a Facebook alternative," said Danny Sullivan, founder of Search Engine Land and a prominent Google-watcher. "People like alternatives. Twitter doesn't offer a full-fledged alternative to the Facebook experience. Google does."
Google+ is still far smaller than Facebook, but it is already stealing attention and advertising dollars. It offers one-stop shopping for people who want to link up with friends and family, but don't like using multiple sites.
"Google+ has aspects of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in it, and folks are a bit overwhelmed with all of the different social networking services," said Rob Enderle, a technology analyst based in San Jose, Calif. "Folks have also crammed these other services with tons of 'friends' they don't really know, and the sheer volume of activity has weakened the quality of the experience."
Google+ will look familiar if you've used Facebook -- but different. There are photos and comments from friends, but there are also "circles" into which you can categorize people with whom you've linked -- friends, family, acquaintances and so on. There may be something silly from that Saturday-night party that you'd share with close friends, but not with a business connection.
Enderle says the mix is well-thought-out. "Google+ thus simplifies their online social networking life," he said in an email to ABC News, "and has allowed them to start over choosing their 'friends' more judiciously, preserving the quality of the experience."
That said, tech-industry wags like the irony that the most-followed public figure on Google+ is Mark Zuckerberg -- Facebook's founder. (Well behind, according to Google+ Statistics, are Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google's founders.)
And writers have noted there's a tech-geek Silicon-Valley quality to Google+; Zuckerberg's 388,000 followers can't compare to the 11 million on Twitter that Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber each command.
But Google is not complaining. It has a success on its hands. "For people who love Google," said Sullivan, "it's like they've found a home where they can be loud and proud about the company."
One other thing: There is an aura of exclusivity to Google+. When it started you had to be invited to join, even if only by a friend you hadn't seen in years. "That last created a bit of a feeding frenzy that I think surprised a lot of us," said Enderle. "In a way they used social engineering to create initial demand and that was new to them."