Google+ One Month Later: What’s Next?

google-plus-iconsIt’s been exactly one month since Google+ made its debut. The social network was designed to be more than just Google’s response to Facebook; it’s “an extension of Google itself,” as Google SVP Vic Gundotra told us before launch. After the failure of Google Wave and Google Buzz, Google+ is the search giant’s last best chance to grab a piece of the social-networking pie.

So one month in, how’s it doing?

Pretty well, by most accounts. Google+ has become the fastest-growing social network in history. Thanks to a fair number of positive reviews, it has acquired more than 20 million users — a phenomenal accomplishment by any standard.

At the same time, there are signs that Google+ is losing steam, and that it could have an early adopter problem.hangouts

When Google+ first launched, Mashable readers had a largely positive reaction to it. Nearly 50% of respondents in our poll said they loved it, even before they played with it.

The love affair didn’t stop there, though. There was high demand for Google+ invites during the social network’s first week of existence. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, far from shunning the rival service, quickly became Google+’s most popular user. Many of our readers even said they planned to defect from Facebook in favor of Google+.

Google+ continued to gain steam andhit 10 million users sometime around July 12. Celebrities and public figures such as William Shatner, Paris Hilton and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have embraced the service, although tech celebs like Leo Laporte and Robert Scoble remain the social network’s dominant figures.

Google+ had 20 million unique visitors on June 22, according to comScore.

Growing Pains

Google+’s ascension to the upper echelons of social networking hasn’t been entirely smooth. Its first major issue: poor handling of Google+ profiles for businesses and brands.

When the service first launched, many companies (including Mashable) rushed to create profiles. But it soon emerged that Google didn’t intend businesses to use the platform, and it asked companies to hold off on creating profiles.

Google suspended some business profiles and left others open. This inconsistent approach resulted in a firestorm of criticism from some quarters. The search giant has since accelerated the launch of Google+ business profiles, though this clearly should have been a priority from the start.

The search giant has also received some flak for a wave of suspensions last weekend surrounding the company’s “common name” policy. It suspended profiles with uncommon names in an attempt to fight spam and fake profiles. In doing so, it suspended several legitimate accounts and pseudonyms. Google has since said it is evaluating its suspension practices.

The social network’s biggest problem isn’t this kind of controversy, however; it’s finding ways to sustain growth. Traffic has dipped in the past week. Anecdotal evidence also suggests the big rush to join Google+ has passed. It’s filled with early adopters, but still lacks the mainstream audience that keeps a social network relevant.

What’s Next?

When we first reviewed Google+, we had a positive but cautious assessment of the social network. A month later, that assessment remains unchanged.

Google+ is a solid product, but that’s to be expected from this company. The real challenge is attracting the mainstream users beyond early adopters. Getting to 20 million users might sound impressive, but it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to Facebook’s 750 million users.

That said, Google+ hasn’t even launched publicly. The tech titan hasn’t spent any time marketing Google+ to its mainstream users. Once it opens the doors, millions of people will see notifications in their Google navigation bar and be reminded that people are talking to them on Google+. And all it takes for Mom and Dad to learn about Google+ is one little link on the homepage they already visit.

Google+ is a long-term play and cannot be measured in short-term gains or losses. It’s going to be many more months until we know what place, if any, Google+ has in the social media universe.

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