The honeymoon's over for Google+

After a meteoric launch, Google's social network has started to stumble -- due, in no small part, to self-inflicted wounds

I'm not a Google+ fanboy any more.

I've been using Google+ for almost a month, and the bloom is definitely off the rose. It looks like I'm not alone. Online analysis firm Experian Hitwise has tracked visits to Google+ since it went live in June, showing a tiny 3 percent decline in the total number of visits to Google+ from the United States during the week of July 16 to July 23. I wouldn't lose any sleep over it, but hyperexponential growth no longer seems to be in the cards.

Some of the slowing is certainly due to relationship rebound -- Google+ isn't as shiny and new as it was two weeks ago. But some of it, I believe, has to do with people turning sour on the "real name only" policy.

Google has made it quite clear that Google+ participants are expected to use their real names -- no handles, no pseudonyms, no group names, not even a nom de guerre. Google's stated aim is to make it easier for friends and family members to find you on G+. Others theorize that Google's trying to create a more genteel site, with less trolling, disruptions, spam, and abusive behavior.

I think there's more to it.

At its heart, Google wants to set up G+ as a commercial hub. Sure, G+'s handlers want you to stick pics of the kids up there, tweet your status, play games, and ogle at hangout cams. But as Google knows well, there's money to be made acting as the glue that binds commercial activities. Requiring some sort of authentication at this point sets a small hurdle that raises G+ above the level of other social networks.

Google's reaction to apparently invalid names, shutting down user accounts that appear to be in violation of the rule, has brought a hail of criticism -- for good reason. Some of the shutdowns were draconian or worse, removing access to all data without notification or explanation. Bill Noble's G+ entries describe many of them. Shutting down, then restoring, William Shatner's account was a PR nightmare.

To make the situation even murkier, Robert Scoble quotes Google VP Vic Gundotra as saying Google doesn't intend to require full legal names; the company just wants to delete obviously fake and offensive names, set some standards, "Like when a restaurant doesn't allow people who aren't wearing shirts to enter."

Of course, that isn't at all what the Google policy says.

Regardless of where you stand on the subject of anonymity and pseudonym use in a business context, this much is clear: The controversy has taken the steam out of several Google+ diehards and brought a rift in the early-adopter community. It remains to be seen if this, and other privacy concerns, will significantly slow down the G+ juggernaut.

This article, "The honeymoon's over for Google+," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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