Google+ turns one — but is there much to celebrate?

Google+ is hitting a major milestone this week. Google’s fledgling social networking has hit its first birthday.

That’s right. Google launched its own social network ayear ago onThursday. And while it’s a distant competitor to the world’s top socialnetwork, Facebook, Google+ is finding its own niche – it’s becoming thehub for all things Google.

“Google+ is at the heart of our efforts to create a simpler, moreintuitive experience for all Google users,” said Vic Gundotra, Google’ssenior vice president of engineering, during the morning keynote at theGoogle I/O developer conference on Wednesday. “We want to present youwith one seamless experience and not a bunch of disconnected products.”

While Google+ hits its birthday on Thursday, there was very littlemention of the social network and not one single mention of itsmilestone during the morning keynote at Google I/O that day.

However, on Wednesday, the first day of Google I/O, which is thecompany’s largest conference of the year, the company announced aGoogle+ version for Android tablets and one coming for the Apple iPad,as well. Google+ also got an Events feature, which is tied into Googlecalendar.

And Gundotra told the Google I/O conference audience that the socialnetwork now has 150 million active monthly users and about 75 milliondaily users.

A year after being launched, those numbers still leave Google+ wellbehind its main rival Facebook, which has approximately 800millionusers worldwide.

But that’s not the whole story for Google+, according to PatrickMoorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.

“As a standalone social network, Google+ isn’t close to comparing toFacebook or Twitter, but that’s not necessarily the point of it,” saidMoorhead.

“Google+ is the home base for all things that connect Google. It’s theglue that holds it together. But for numbers, it is more like RC Cola,not Pepsi, as it relates to competing with Coke.”

And that fits in with what Larry Page, Google co-founder andCEO, saidlast October.

Page, speaking during the company’s third-quarter earnings call, saidhe plans to use Google+ to transform the entire Google experience.

“Our ultimate ambition is to transform the overall Google experience,making it beautifully simple, almost automagical, because we understandwhat you want and can deliver it instantly,” Page said last fall. “Thismeans baking identity and sharing into all of our products so that webuild a real relationship with our users. Sharing on the Web will belike sharing in real life across all your stuff.”

One-year anniversary downplayed
And the company quickly began moving in that direction. Last fall,Google began integrating Google+ with Google Apps, the company’scloud-based office suite. A spokesman said at the time that Googleengineers were “working fast and furiously” to bring features inGoogle+ to Google Apps.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, noted thatGoogle does seem to be looking to weave Google+ social andcollaborative features through its product line but he’s not sure thesocial network is living up to the company’s own expectations.

And that, he added, could be why there wasn’t more excited talk aroundGoogle+ this week — despite its big anniversary.

“They could be aware that they don’t have a lot to brag about,” saidOlds. “Their baby isn’t walking or talking yet and, really, notcrawling so much either. [Google+] hasn’t seen anything near themeteoric growth they expected or hoped for. But this would have beenthe perfect time to make some Google+ announcements and maybe rekindlesome buzz.”

Moorhead, however, said Google+ has made strides and is on a good path.

“What they need to show is just how far they have come in one yearcomparatively,” he noted. “When you compare Facebook and Twitter oneyear into their development, Google+ looks great comparatively. Google+needs to show how… integration improves the experience.”

Sharon Gaudin covers theInternet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptopchips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon’sRSS feed. Heremail address is [email protected].

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