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I am 20-years-old, a rising junior in college. I realize that 20 years is not a terribly long time. I realize that this means that I am, by definition, quite young. And I realize that because I am young, there are many things in life that I do not know or fully understand. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that I don’t know or understand most things. I am young and fairly ignorant and in the grand scheme of things, I do not know very much.
However, if there’s one thing I feel pretty qualified to talk about, it’s the rapidly changing world of the Internet. I may be young in years, but I am not young in online experience. I grew up here. My generation is arguably more comfortable with technology than any other generation that has come before us. We have been raised in an innovative, progressive age, and we are no strangers to accepting, embracing, and pushing websites, particularly social media sites, to power.
I can remember the start of nearly every social media site on the Internet. I was among the first of my friends to join and embrace Twitter. I remember begging my parents to let me make a Myspace account. In those early days, parents still feared online predators. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like people just don’t talk about that danger much anymore. But that’s a conversation for a different article.
The point is that my generation has seen the rise and fall of a number of social media sites. We’ve helped them rise. We’ve also helped some, such as the aforementioned Myspace, fall. We have embraced Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, and countless other socially savvy sites.
But my generation has not embraced Google Plus.
It’s more than that, really. Many people my age don’t just ignore Google Plus: No, a large number seem to actually hate the site. These people aren’t using Google Plus, and they aren’t interested in learning how to use it. They want nothing at all to do with it.
Now, let’s keep in mind that the numbers don’t necessarily support this statement. Age demographic studies about Google Plus imply that a relatively high number of young adults are, in fact, using the site. Just in case you’re interested: Studies about Google Plus also show that users are mostly male and that they’re primarily based in the US. Still, these studies show that Google Plus is growing rapidly and that more and more people — young people even — are signing up every day.
But what these studies fail to talk about is that fact that Google Plus accounts are linked to Gmail addresses. Essentially, every time someone creates a new email address, they must also create a new Google Plus account. I should know. I have two Google Plus accounts because of this. One goes completely unused.
Because Gmail is linked to Google Plus, it’s pretty much impossible to know exactly how many people are using their accounts, and how many are letting them collect dust as they check daily emails. Google itself might have this information, but if the numbers don’t look positive for the site, you better believe the public won’t ever see them.
Regardless of what studies say, I don’t personally know anyone my age that uses Google Plus. Not one person. In fact, I really personally know only one person who uses the site, and I met him on Twitter.
In order to understand why people my age aren’t using Google Plus and in order to prepare for this article, I talked to a collection of 25 friends and peers about their reasons.
First, I asked if they were using it. When all of them – yes, every single person I spoke to – answered that they did not use Google Plus, I asked them why. Then, I asked if they knew anyone who was using it. Not one person that I talked to knew of anyone our age that was a regular user. No one even had a friend of a friend to mention.
It is possible that I happened to talk to a particularly uninformed, disconnected bunch, but I think it’s more likely that this is a fair representation of the relationship that most young adults have with Google Plus.
When asked why these people weren’t using the site, their responses were not varied. Everyone had the same few things to say.
Here are the most common responses, in no particular order:
“It’s too confusing”:
Nearly every person I talked to said that they did have a Google Plus account and had tried it out, but they couldn’t figure out how to use it, so they just stopped trying. This happened to me too, actually. I made a Google Plus account ages ago, before the site was even open to the public. I knew a friend who was one of the first users and he sent me an invite to join. I bumped around on the site for a while, but I was never sure exactly what it was for or how to use it. I sent invites to a few friends and we tried to utilize the site, but eventually our activity died out because we just couldn’t figure out what to do.
I have since returned to Google Plus and found it to be pretty simple. Maybe it just takes a bit of time. Maybe Google did make it simpler since the beginning. So even though a vast majority of the people I talked to gave this complaint, I can’t totally agree with it.
Actually, I’ve found that once you get your circles set up and sorted, Google Plus is quite simple. However, putting friends into specific circles and figuring out exactly how everything works can be taxing. When you compare Google Plus to Facebook or Twitter, there’s arguably a lot more work involved with getting Google Plus up and running.
Perhaps Google could tackle this problem by setting up a more comprehensive “how to” for people to click through when they first join the site. (Though then people would probably complain about that being annoying, so who knows if there’s really any winning with this one.)
This was also one of the top responses I got. Nearly every young adult I talked to said some variation of this statement. I heard, “It’s too busy,” and, “It’s too sparse.” I heard, “It looks like spam,” and, “It always looks like nothing’s happening.” Basically, I got tons of contradictory comments about Google Plus’ appearance, but none of the comments were positive.
I heard this response so frequently that I couldn’t possibly leave it out, even if there isn’t much of an argument here either. Still, everyone that I talked to agreed. There’s something unappealing to the eye about Google Plus. Somehow, the site manages to look both sparse and cluttered at the same time.
But again, I do have to agree that there’s something ugly about the site. Google could try to solve this issue by offering background colors or something to that effect. To be fair, Google Plus really doesn’t look that different from Facebook, so this is probably something that people would quickly get used to if they gave it a chance.
“It’s too vague.”
This is another argument that’s hard to argue with, because Google Plus is sort of vague. It’s vague by design. Because Google Plus has no many features, it’s tough to explain exactly what Google Plus is supposed to be used for. It can be used for keeping in touch with family and friends and conducting business transactions. It can be used for sharing photographs and videos and for chatting with friends through your webcam. It can be a site for sharing your own material and for finding and reading the work of others. You see my point.
Unlike most other popular social media sites, you can’t sum up Google Plus in one sentence. For example, Instagram and Snapchat are for photo sharing and editing. Facebook is for networking with friends and family. Twitter is for sharing quick thoughts. YouTube is for videos. Pinterest is mostly for the organization of future arts and crafts projects.
It’s a lot harder to explain Google Plus in a sentence.
Is it for networking? For chatting? For photo sharing? Even I don’t know and I’m on Google Plus quite a bit these days. There’s a chance that it’s actually a good thing that Google Plus can’t be easily summed up. It gives users the opportunity to do all kinds of different things.
Google Plus clearly has a lot to offer, but is there such thing as offering too much? Many of the young adults I talked to seem to think so. Here’s what one 21-year-old said, “I don’t know what Google Plus is for, and I don’t want to spend too much time figuring it out. Other sites haven’t made it that hard to pin down the functionality.”
This person advised that Google Plus get more specific about why it exists and what it can offer. To some extent, I agree with this advice. Perhaps Google could solve this with a simple ad campaign explaining what it envisions Google Plus be used for. That could help clear up the confusion.
Other functions could still be offered, but giving people something specific to turn to the site for in the first place could help attract new users. From there, Google could worry about introducing people to all the cool things Google Plus can be used for.
“Google is trying to force me to use it”:
Oh, Google, with its iron, Google Plus-obsessed, fist. There’s no denying this statement. Google has been doing its very best to make this site relevant. The first real nuisance was the forced linking of Google Plus to Gmail. Now, the recent hijacking of YouTube comments has enraged the masses. By requiring users to comment on videos through Google Plus accounts, it feels like we’ve lost any choice at all in the matter.
It’s an annoying tactic, and instead of bringing in new, eager customers, the forcefulness is driving potential users away. When talking to my peers, I asked how they felt when they were “forced” to sign up for Google Plus. The responses were all incredibly negative. People don’t like being told what to do. Especially young adults. It’s as simple as that.
I can see why Google required users to create and link Gmail accounts to Google Plus accounts, and I don’t think that was asking too much. However, I think Google should revaluate the decision to force YouTube comments to be made through Google Plus. Popular YouTubers and casual users alike seem annoyed by the tactic, and I have a feeling it’s only making conversation more difficult on the site.
“It’s only for professionals and businesses”:
I’m not sure exactly where the idea came from that Google Plus is for professionals only, but people my age sure believe it’s true. And I have the sneaking suspicion that people of every age believe it’s true. For some reason, word has gotten around that Google Plus is a place for professionals.
The opportunity to put friends in specific circles and control the content they see is one of the best features Google Plus has to offer. Essentially, separate sharing makes Google Plus a safe place for work and play. But it seems Google has stressed the business aspect a little too strongly, because most members of the group I talked to mentioned that they didn’t feel they were “professional” enough to need a Google Plus account.
In my opinion, this might not be a problem that Google needs to fix. A professional social media account might be a niche that Google should embrace for Google Plus, as there doesn’t seem to be anyone else taking advantage of the opportunity. Of course, Linked In already exists for professionals, so I’m not sure if Google wants to embrace this idea or not, but maybe it should. After all, Linked In isn’t really a social site. In many ways, it’s just a glorified online resume. Embracing Google Plus as a place for professional social interaction might be Google’s best chance at having a social media hit.
“I just don’t need it for anything”:
This was easily the most common response. Virtually every person I talked to said this was part of the reason they didn’t actively use Google Plus. People simply don’t feel that they need the site for anything. We have Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and sharing photos and highlights. We have Twitter for the rapid sharing of thoughts. LinkedIn covers professional relationships. YouTube’s got videos. Tumblr has GIFS and memes. Reddit works for entertainment, discussion, and whatever else it is that people do on Reddit. Pinterest has the arts and crafts fix. Instagram provides photo editing and easy sharing. The list goes on…
The point is this: There are already so many social media sites and apps out there. And my generation, well, most of us seem to feel like we have everything we need for the moment.
This is my big reason for being so lackluster in my use of Google Plus too. I haven’t found a reason to use it yet. For a brief period of time my friends used the Hangout function. It was easy to use and convenient, but our use fizzled out, seemingly for no reason at all.
Even if Google Plus could make life less complicated by offering key social media experiences streamlined together in one place, it’s probably not going to catch on until there’s something new and in-demand offered.
I think the Google Plus Hangouts might be Google’s best bet here. They are, as I said before, very easy to use and convenient. I would argue that they’re much simpler and more efficient than Skype, the only other site offering a similar function. But most people don’t know that they even exist. For some reason, Google has never advertised Hangouts the way it probably should. If more people, young adults specifically, knew about Hangouts, Google Plus might attract more young users.
“No one else uses Google Plus”:
Perhaps the most reasonable response I heard for why someone my age wasn’t using Google Plus was from a 19-year-old classmate. He said, “I don’t use my Google Plus account because no one else I know uses Google Plus. Social networks are hard when there are no people.”
That response sums it up for me. I have a Google Plus account. I don’t find it particularly ugly or confusing. I know it can be used recreationally and not just for business, and I’m not too annoyed with Google’s constant attempts to jumpstart the site. I don’t use Google Plus because my friends don’t use Google Plus. That’s it. Without people to interact with, there’s just not much point.
Another person I talked to said, “I don’t really even view Google Plus as a social network because it isn’t social.”
Again, that’s tough and far too logical to argue with.
So, how can Google fix this problem?
The question is, of course, how can Google get enough people from my generation interested in the site? If enough young people become active on Google Plus, the rest will inevitably follow, right? That’s how social media works. That’s how it thrives.
Until a decent number plunge headfirst into the site and make full use of its features, no one else has any reason to. How can Google inspire people to take the jump and faithfully use Google Plus?
Maybe Google can push Hangouts as an important and underappreciated function. Maybe Google can simplify the site and improve its looks. Or maybe Google can just keep forcing users to make accounts until finally they have to choice but to start embracing them. I’m not sure if that’s how things will work out, but hey, there’s always a chance.
Honestly, I have no definite ideas for success. I don’t know if there’s an easy fix. Luckily, it isn’t my job to know. If it were my job, I would advise Google Plus to launch a new campaign that explains that anyone can use the site. Maybe that could clear up a lot of the confusion. Or maybe I would tell Google to let people know that the site does in fact offer a new service that feels unique and necessary.
I think one of the biggest things Google needs to do is admit there’s something wrong with Google Plus. The site is young. It isn’t perfect. As the old saying goes, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. This is what Google should do first.
Perhaps the best bet is for Google Plus not to change at all, and wait for more and more people to begin trying it out. Eventually the site could attract younger users naturally.
Hey, maybe none of this will happen and Google Plus will fade away after a few years, a long-forgotten failed attempt to consolidate social media.
It’s like I said early in this article, I am young and ignorant about many things. I think most people my age probably are. That’s how it goes. Maybe our youth and ignorance are the reasons that we can’t seem to give Google Plus a chance. Or maybe, with all of our experience on the Internet, we’re able to see that it doesn’t deserve a chance. We might be on to something here.
Is Google Plus ugly, cluttered, and pointless, or are young people just reluctant to change what they know? Will this site catch on and be a social media hit? There are already articles floating around that claim that Facebook is being taken over my old people and Twitter is slowly but surely dying. Maybe Google Plus will rise to power as these old sites fall.
I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.