Google has missed the social era, again, with Google+

It’s not likely to become headline news, although this week Amir Efrati leaked some unsurprising dirt about why Google reports such large and misleading numbers about Google+ usage. His interest is geared to ads, but mine is trying to understand where people are spending their time in the connectome. His scuttlebutt?

Amir Efrati, Why Google+ Doesn’t Need Ads

Google+’s traction with users — a big factor in whether ads there would make sense — has been notoriously difficult to gauge.

Google+ head Vic Gundotra on Tuesday said 300 million people were “active in the Google+ stream” every month, up from 190 million in May. The comments make it sound as if those people navigated to the main Google+ destination site, plus.google.com.

But according to people who have worked at Google, the reality is less impressive. The Google+ stream is broadly defined. In the past, statistics about active users in the stream included anytime a person clicked on the red Google+ notifications in the top right corner of their screen while they were using Web search, Gmail, or other Google Web services. The person didn’t actually have to visit plus.google.com to be counted as “active.”

Comparing Google+ to Facebook purely as a social destination site is difficult, but one previously undisclosed statistic might help. In the middle of last year, fewer than 10 million people visited the Google+ stream at plus.google.com every day, according to a person who had direct access to that information at the time. During that same time period, Facebook had more than 500 million daily active users, according to Facebook.

Sounds like someone who used to work at Google leaked to Efrati. But the takeaway is obvious: Google+ is not capturing any large constituency of users, and the way they report numbers is intentionally designed to conceal and inflate usage.

I am going to make a prediction: in 2014, Google will more obviously start to break out the most popular parts of Google+, like Hangouts, and start to downplay Google+ as the center of Google’s social world. They will build or acquire technology that allows Gmail and Google Calendar to be more social, building on the innovation coming from companies like Tempo, Linkedin’s Intro (not the creepy parts: see Social email ranges from cool to creepy), Asana, Rapportive, and Sunrise, or maybe just buying some of those companies.

Google+ has failed — despite hundreds of millions of dollars and years of push. But there is just no pull: there is no reason for Facebook lovers, Twitter fans, Tumblrers, the Pinterested, or Snapchatters to switch to G+. It wants to be something that can do anything in a world where people want things that are more focused.

But Google does have a huge installed base of people using Gmail and Google Calendar everyday. Someone at Google — presumably someone who has not invested years pushing G+, like someone  inside the Gmail team — should start to push on this. A bottom-up development of something bigger than the minimal tweaks we see coming from the lab experiments.

And email is still at the bedrock of enterprise operations, internally and especially with the external world. Google Apps is a major player in that space, and a socialized version could instantly become the leading player in the work media space, if it were designed in a reasonable way, and leveraging the strengths of email and social in an innovative package.

A real social email product — particularly from Google — could change the world in a way that Google+ never, ever will.