Google's social network updates seem mostly like efforts to catch up to what Facebook has.
NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Google(:GOOG) is trying to help its social network end the year on a positive note by introducing several significant updates to Google+, but it still may not be enough to boost user engagement.
The changes include much-needed tweaks to the network including a better filter for the posts that show up in your feed and the option to have multiple administrators for company accounts. Yet these changes arguably fall more into the category of no-brainers than game changers.
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Take the filter modifications, for example: With the changes, Google+ users have the option to adjust the number of updates that appear in the news feed from each circle with a sliding scale at the top of the page. This way, you can customize the page to focus more on updates from friends rather than co-workers, or another group of accounts you may follow. The feature is certainly useful, but it's also strikingly similar to a customization tool Facebook already offers, which lets users select whether they'd like to get all, most or only important updates from each of their contacts.
With its other major update, Google fixed not allowing multiple administrators to manage business and brand pages, but this too has been available on Facebook for some time. In fact, even with the changes, Facebook is still ahead of the game. Google will let up to 50 people manage a brand page and promises to show an "aggregated count" of the number of users who have engaged with that page. Facebook, by comparison, lets an unlimited number of people manage the page and recently implemented a comprehensive set of analytics to help businesses monitor user engagement.
To be fair, some of Google's other tweaks do go above and beyond what other social networks offer -- most notably a redesigned full-screen photo display feature. For the most part, though, most of the changes -- and indeed most of the changes Google has implemented since launching Google+ in June -- seem more focused on catching up to Facebook than getting out ahead of it.
There's little doubt these changes will improve the user experience, but none tackle the social network's larger problem: There need to be more active users who experience it. After an initial rush of interest, traffic to the site dipped as many users began to ignore it in favor of tried and tested networks such as Facebook and Twitter. For that to change, Google will need to do more than tweak the way pictures and updates look on the site; it will also need to get people to post in the first place by raising more awareness of activity taking place on Google+.
That may mean coaxing more celebrities to post on the site and talk about it offline (which helped Twitter), or it may just mean finding creative ways to highlight recent posts from Google+ in Gmail and even Google News to remind people that it's not dead yet.
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