The end is coming for Google Plus. It held promise when it launched in 2011, and I know several people who immediately jumped on board – including some who are still not on Facebook. But instead of being a big player in social media, Google Plus is shutting down for good in April. There are reasons it failed.
The “Circles” system made the barrier of entry too high. Facebook connects you via “friends” and you can follow pages and some profiles. Twitter is more simple than that: You follow and are followed. The “Circles” was way too convoluted and difficult to understand. I am a pretty tech-savvy person, but it took me a while to understand what Google was doing here. The average user most likely just gave up. Google Plus later changed to “followers” and “following” like Twitter, but that change was too little, too late.
Plus, it took Google way too long to open their API. Allowing people to schedule and more easily share from things like Hootsuite and Buffer would have driven more people to the platform, not away from it. The comment system for blogs was flawed and too ambitious. I like the fact that you had to use your real name on Google Plus, but for many people that was a deal breaker.
I believe Google Plus could have challenged Facebook for social network supremacy, but it was totally bungled. That is unfortunate. I imagine the internet would look very different today if Google Plus had succeeded. It is not like Google is incapable managing a social network. They have been running YouTube since 2006, and that is doing well. In fact, YouTube is quickly becoming a destination for video sharing, YouTube TV is competing with cable, and YouTube is integrated with Google Movies.
At this point, if someone is going to challenge Facebook it may need to be an existing tech giant. Whatever sites like MeWe might offer, people on those sites will quickly realize all their friends are elsewhere. That was the advantage Google Plus had: A large existing user base. Starting from scratch to build a large user base (especially one that will challenge a network with a billion users) will be much more difficult.
Can someone challenge Facebook? I see no reason why that cannot happen, especially as more people become dissatisfied with privacy and data collection, and others are unhappy with political bias in content moderation. Remember, Facebook has only really been open to the public for twelve years. Before that, MySpace ran social media and Facebook was far behind. Nothing is forever.