Bill Gross is the founder of prolific business incubator Idealab and its Twitter app builder and buyer Ubermedia; he’s wrangled with Twitter headquarters over access to the Twitter API and reportedly tried (unsuccessfully) to outbid Twitter to acquire leading desktop Twitter client Tweetdeck.
But can you guess what Gross is hot on now? Google Plus – the new Google social network launched late last month that’s been stealing the hearts, minds and time of many Twitter power players. Today Gross wrote that he believes Plus may be the fastest social network in history to hit 1 million users and he predicts it will become the fastest network ever to hit 100 million. That’s a bold prediction that if accurate could point to some serious social networking disruption.
Gross’s prediction also makes me wonder what he’s going to do about it. What kind of apps is he going to build on top of the Google Plus platform once its API is made available? It’s been widely predicted that Gross was planning on building his own rival to Twitter itself. Perhaps now that he’s found Plus, he won’t.
How to Make Friends & Influence People
There are currently 15 social networks around the world that have more than 100 million users. Could Plus join the club faster than anyone else ever has?
Facebook 750 million
Tencent QQ 636 million
Qzone 480 million
Netease 360 million
Windows Live Messenger 330+ million
Habbo 203 million
Twitter 200 million
Gmail 193.3 million
Skype 145 million
Sina Weibo 140+ million
Vkontakte 135+ million
Orkut 120+ million
Bebo 117 million
Badoo 113+ million
LinkedIn 100+ million
One question this list begs, though, is why another 100 million member network would disrupt Facebook when these other 14 haven’t. The answer, perhaps, is that Plus may not stop at 100 million. According to ComScore, Google became the first company to ever see 1 billion visitors in a month, across all its properties, in May.
“I predict that Google Plus will go from 0 to 100,000,000 users faster than any other service in history,” Gross
. (Text may not be readable in full for those without Google Plus accounts yet.)
“The service is great. It is timely. People are engaging with it like crazy. There are rumors that there are already 4.5m people. That might be high. It might be as low as 1m, or even lower, but my guess is that it’s more than 1m people already. That already is probably the fastest growing service (0 to 1m) ever. Now it’s not completely fair, since when Facebook started, and when Twitter started, etc. those were tiny companies, and Google is huge. However, the product is extremely well executed, and a lot of people are smitten.
“The next year will tell. Will there be bumps in the road? Sure. Will Facebook and Twitter fight back with more innovation? Of course! But I’m saying that Google Plus is already good enough, and the team on Google Plus is being so responsive in a way that makes me believe they have a real winner here.”
Fast Growth Could Crack Open the Networks
That is a bold prediction from Gross, but it’s one that inspires hope. It’s important to recognized that Plus doesn’t have to beat Facebook or Twitter in order to be a winner, too. As I wrote this weekend, I think that at least some Google leaders working on Plus aren’t aiming to get more users than Facebook has. They are just aiming to make it just enough of a threat that Facebook has to open up its communication platform, to make it interoperable for families and social circles currently spread across multiple networks. (Google Plus’s Real Goal is Not to Kill Facebook but to Force it to Open)
Right now the vast majority of social networking goes on inside Facebook’s walled garden and it’s in Google’s interest to get those users back out onto the open Web. If Google can secure enough consumer uptake, then those hundred million users may well insist that they be allowed to read from and write to any social network their families are on from any interface they choose. Back in the bad old days, you couldn’t call customers of one telephone network if you were a customer of another phone network. That’s where we are on social networking today, but if Google Plus can capture enough users then it could disrupt that whole economy.
That is, of course, a big “if.” While many people who have been able to test Google Plus find it absolutely enthralling (myself included); that’s not the case for everyone. Likewise, many early adopters question whether there will be enough value and ease of use for mass market users to come and stay on Plus.
Seeing the former king MySpace get dumped in a fire sale the same week that Google’s big new play in this space launches certainly helps create a mood of anticipation and hopefulness that anything can change.
“I can’t wait to see how this next year in Social Networking plays out,” Bill Gross writes. That’s one thing I know I can agree with.