Google Plus is awesome. I'm already a huge, huge fan. I like the clean layout. I like the ability to place all my contacts into various circles and send updates only to certain types of people. And best of all, I love the Hangouts video chat service, which works extremely well even with large groups. But none of it's going to matter if Google keeps Plus under wraps for too long.
I understand why Google is keeping Plus exclusive for now. There are several possible reasons for that strategy. Most notably, it gives them time to notice and fix bugs in the system before the entire world sees them. It also helps keep the server workload down as Google tests Plus' capabilities.
And finally, it helps build buzz on the product by keeping the supply low and the demand skyrocketing. I've seen countless comments on Facebook and Twitter by people wishing they could get into Google Plus because they're hearing so much cool stuff about it.
But the strategy's going to backfire if Google isn't careful, and it may already be happening.
Why Google Plus Should Open The Doors Now
Do you know what happens when I post something to Google Plus? This is what happens:
Tumbleweeds. Crickets. Because there's no one else on it!
Google Plus is basically useless as long as it's in a closed beta test. Access is so limited, that I have exactly four friends on it. Why is that a problem? Because I don't have anyone to be social with on Google Plus. What's the point in posting photos, comments, videos, and other notes when no one is going to see them, let alone have a conversation with me about them?
And one of the biggest selling points of Google Plus, in my opinion, is the group video chat service called Hangouts, which allows up to 10 people to chat by video simultaneously. And it's completely neutered by the overall lack of users. I basically can't make use of it at all.
I've found in the last couple days, I do more talking about Google Plus on Facebook, because that's where all my friends are. Many of them want to be on Plus, and ask how they can join, but I'm left shrugging my shoulders at them because Google's not giving us any information on the roll-out plan.
And isn't this the same problem some of Google's previous social products have had, like Google Buzz? Not enough users adopting the service. Only in this case... millions of users want to join Google Plus, but they can't. They're locked out. And I worry that by the time they're let in, all the early adopters like myself will have gotten tired of talking to ourselves and moved back to Facebook.
A social network is supposed to be social. By limiting Google Plus to such a small initial user base, Google has removed the very thing that makes social networks cool: other people.
Don't get me wrong: I think Google Plus rocks. It has huge potential to rock the social networking boat quite a bit, particularly with the integration it offers into Gmail and other Google products. But until the walls come down, and more people from my network are allowed in, it's a ghost town. Which doesn't give me much motivation to keep going back.