Claire Cain Miller has filed a great article that’s worth everyone’s time:
Google Plus, the company’s social network, is like a ghost town. Want to see your old roommate’s baby or post your vacation status? Chances are, you’ll use Facebook instead.
But Google isn’t worried. Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet. Some analysts even say that Google understands more about people’s social activity than Facebook does.
The reason is that once you sign up for Plus, it becomes your account for all Google products, from Gmail to YouTube to maps, so Google sees who you are and what you do across its services, even if you never once return to the social network itself.
Ding ding ding! Let the winner’s bell sound… Miller has just hit the nail squarely on the head.
Almost everything Google does these days is connected to its never-ending war on user privacy, and Google+ is by far the best example. With Google+, Google can assign you a single profile that works across all of its offerings. That way, Google can connect your browsing history (yes, Google can track what you browse, thanks to its search engine and two scripts that are embedded into millions of websites… Google Analytics, and Google AdSense) with your video-watching history on YouTube, your purchases through Google Wallet, and your data on Google Drive, Docs, and Gmail. Not to mention any data you store on Google’s servers through your use of Android, if you’re an Android user.
Google+ is merely the means to achieve a longstanding end of Google: Ensure that the data flowing into Mountain View and the company’s other data centers around the world can be extremely well organized, so that Google knows as much as possible about its users. That makes each of them more valuable. The name of the game is monetization: Google is a for-profit company and none of its products are free.
Claire’s article is one of the best we’ve ever seen about Google and is a must-read.