It's no secret that Google desperately wants Google+ to be the cornerstone of how you use the internet. The problem? No one's taking the bait. It might be time for something drastic. Something like backing up several truckloads of cash to buy Pinterest, a social network crammed full of 10 million people who actually want to be there.
Yes, Google+ has 170 million users. But how many of them actually use it is another matter entirely. The social network's Circle-centric design works too well for its own good; it's easy to keep private stuff private on Google+, which makes everyone act like information hermits, leaving newcomers with a ghost town. Pinterest could solve that. It could make Google+ fun.
The problem with Google+ has never been design. Selective sharing actually makes for a very smart floorplan, made all the prettier by this week's overhaul. But Google+ is like a house with a bunch of rooms and ample wall space but no one around to decorate. And what furnishings are there — the links that get shared — made the rounds on Twitter twenty minutes ago.
Pinterest, though? Pinterest is full of decorators, and man do they like to decorate. The length of the average Pinterest visit is north of 14 minutes, which is phenomenally high. You don't stick around for that long on a social network page, or any page, really, if there's nothing to look at — or share. Contrast those 14 minutes to the last time you popped open Google+, dodged a tumbleweed, and closed the tab. Pinterest users would fill up Google+ with things worth sharing.
And these aren't just teens and tweens taking duck-faced mirror shots. They're spread across a broad range of demographics. Pinterest is like Instapaper, but for everything. Weddings, recipes, shopping, decorations dominate today, along with just cat photos, or inspirational quotes. But there are also Pinterest boards for cars and guns and old timey radios and anything else you can find on the Internet. Which — hey! — sounds very similar to what Google envisioned for Google+. And a far cry from the hyper-techy echo chamber it is today.
That's a big deal. A huge chunk of Facebook's ubiquity rests on its ability to reach your mum, your uncle, your year five teacher. So far, Google+ hasn't been that. It's been a thing Google nagged you into signing up for that's been easy to ignore ever since. Today, it's mostly populated by enthusiasts and tech geeks. If it's going to succeed, it's in desperate need of some diversity.
So what's Google+ mixed with Pinterest for you? An extremely logical, selective sharing service, filled with a healthy mix of quick news and life updates and everything beautiful on the internet. Circles filled with boats, or muffins, or dogs, or whatever you enjoy, shared with thousands of people or just your closest friends. And — not unimportantly — the first viable alternative to Facebook since MySpace turned into a shitty band listserve warehouse.
Sounds good to me.
It makes even more sense for Google, a company that desperately needs your social information. Craves it, but doesn't have much to offer in return. Not really, not yet. But making Google+ a place that's worth hanging out in gives you much more reason to feed the beast with all your juicy, marketable data points.
Pinterest also brings in a more diverse demographic to the male-dominated (around 70 per cent of users) Google+. As of last year, Pinterest's user base was about 54 per cent female. By late January, that number shot up to something like 80 or 87 or 97 per cent, depending on who you ask. The broader the range of active users Google gets under its tent, the more highly targeted its ads can be.
Also? Pinterest has shown it can build an iPad app worth a damn. Looking to you, Google+ web applet.
The fact is, Google needs Google+ to thrive, especially since it's staked so much of its search prowess on it — so far, with dismal results. The company made social networking its bed. Now it's time to make it worth laying in.
And the thing is, it's entirely reasonable. It's not like it would break the bank. As of its 2011 filings in January, Google's got $44 billion (£28 billion) in cash and cash equivalents. That's massive compared to an estimated £1 billion in cash Facebook had when it spent a billion on Instagram — and Pinterest wouldn't come with nearly that high a price tag. Even accounting for a possibly inflated valuation after the gigantic Instagram deal, Pinterest only has about 10 million users, to Instagram's 30. And while there were some hypotheticals last week about it running up a billion dollar price tag, its growth has slowed enough for that to go back to being crazy talk.
The reasons it wouldn't work? The same ones that have Instagram snobs quaking in their cardigans: startups being swallowed by behemoth corporations rarely ends well. Ditto small, targeted networks being assimilated into massive ones. But Google has at least some history of being able to get something out of its acquisitions until it makes sense to integrate them. YouTube, for instance. It was admittedly many times huger than Pinterest is now when it was acquired, but it remained mostly its own thing for years. Now it plugs seamlessly into Google+. Same thing could work for Pinterest.
Google could always just stay its course. Keep shuffling the all new and beautifully designed 3D chairs on the Titanic. Keep inundating us with prompts to join a ghost town network where most of us have already decided we're not going to settle down.
But fill Google+ with people who want to be there and things that are worth looking at? That's how you make a house a home.