Is Google's big bet on Google+ too risky?

Google is aggressively integrating Google+ across its products, but the social networking site's success is far from assured

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However, there is a risk involved in being too pushy with the Google+ links.

"By pushing the Google+ integrations so aggressively, Google could be forcing certain things that don't work out so well, or that people reject because they perceive it thrust upon them. It could backfire," Sterling said.

Page seems convinced that the Google+ Circles mechanism for managing how users share content is simple enough for everyone to grasp, so that they will always share what they post only with their intended audience.

But there are already some signs that Circles might not be as intuitive as Page thinks. None other than a Google engineer accidentally posted a public rant criticizing, ironically, Google+, on his Google+ profile. His intention was to share it with only a limited group of contacts.

How much of an issue this will become is unclear, because, based on anecdotal evidence and market research reports, it seems Google+ is currently being used mostly by tech-savvy people.

"The level of adoption right now is questionable. I see a lot of early adopter technologists and media folks, but I don't see the mainstream there yet," said Jeremiah Owyang, an Altimeter Group analyst.

In other words, Google+ still hasn't experienced the massive, intense usage of a site like Facebook from hundreds of millions of people with more limited knowledge of how Web applications work. It remains to be seen whether privacy complaints will erupt if Google+ reaches that level of usage.

Page is also pushing his troops to mesh products with Google+ at a time when key questions regarding Google+ remain unanswered. Already there have been a number of loud controversies associated with Google+, including some mistakes Google has acknowledged.

Open questions include whether external developers will embrace Google+, which at this point doesn't offer much in the way of APIs (application programming interfaces) for them to create tools and applications for the site, a key element in the success of services like Facebook and Twitter.

On the enterprise side, Google is using internally a workplace version of Google+, but it remains to be seen whether Google Apps customers will like it and find it useful. Another pending promise is letting people use pseudonyms.

Page's urgency isn't altogether surprising. When he took over as CEO in April, he made it clear that upgrading Google's position in social networking would be a priority. He clearly sensed that Facebook had become a very dangerous rival on various fronts, not just social networking.

Facebook has become a leading online ad seller. It has become the world's preferred online meeting place and playground. It has struck partnerships with players big and small, including Microsoft, Amazon, eBay and Netflix. It holds troves of knowledge about its users, most of whom use their real names on the site.

"It's all about identity because whoever controls identity controls ads. Whoever can figure out who likes what, who responds to what, then can serve more targeted ads," Owyang said.

Clearly, Page feels Google has no time to waste in recovering lost ground. The Facebook threat is too real. Is he overdoing it? Is it too risky giving such an important role to a new product? The answers to those questions will become clearer next year. Stay tuned.

Juan Carlos Perez covers search, social media, online advertising, e-commerce, web application development, enterprise cloud collaboration suites and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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