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Anyone want a Google+ invite? Sorry ...

John D. Sutter
Accessible now by invite only, Google+ is the search engine's answer to Facebook.
Accessible now by invite only, Google+ is the search engine's answer to Facebook.
  • Google pulled back invites late Wednesday for its new online social network
  • The network, called Google+, is seen by some as a Facebook knock-off
  • Tech companies sometimes use invite-only launches to generate buzz about their products
  • It also is technically safer to not have the entire Internet join your site at once
  • Google Inc.
  • Internet
  • Technology

(CNN) -- Want to come to the Google+ party?

Well, sorry, you'll need an invite.

It's the tech world's version of the velvet rope. Companies such as Google hope that by limiting the number of people who can join their services -- like Google+, which is seen as Google's answer to Facebook -- they will be able drive up the buzz for those new sites.

A theory of human behavior is at work here: People want what they can't have. It's hard not to at least be curious what the new Google social network is like when every tech blogger on the Internet is writing about it.

There's ostensibly a technical component, too. If not everyone can join at once, there's less chance the site will crash.

But there's a quiet backlash brewing against this cool-kids method to website launches. Not only do people feel left out, but this exclusivity-builds-interest model also has a track record that's far from perfect.

(Remember Google Wave?)

Before we get into all that, the logistical stuff:

For those of you who are still hankering for a Google+ invite, you may be out of luck for the moment.

On Tuesday, when Google announced Plus, the company invited only a handful of chosen tech insiders. Then on Wednesday night, the company said that every one of those people could invite whomever he or she wanted. Google's exclusive soiree was suddenly on its way to becoming a free-for-all kegger.

But soon afterwards, Google VP Vic Gundotra said the company had shut down this invite-whomever-you'd-like system because of "insane demand."

That could mean that the number of new users was overwhelming Google's servers. Or, given the fact that Google has a heck of a lot of servers, it also could mean that Google just wanted its party to seem more fun than it is.

Here's Gundotra's full statement, as posted late Wednesday on Plus:

"We've shut down invite mechanism for the night. Insane demand. We need to do this carefully, and in a controlled way. Thank you all for your interest!"

The discussion happening beneath that post is Facebooky in its enthusiasm and downright Bieberian in its must-see-this-pop-star desperation.

"Thanks for letting us add folks so soon!!! More tomorrow please? ;-)"

"this is crazy in an amazing way, i can see the live streams unfolding in front of my eyes. Google, I approve of ur technical wizardry (is that even a word????)"

"come on google, add those servers quick!"

"Oh no! I guess my European friends will have to wait?"

So, mission accomplished?

Maybe, maybe not.

If you want to get on a waiting list, you can go to this Google page and sign up. A statement on that page says the reason for the delay is technical:

"We're still ironing out a few kinks in Google+, so it's not quite ready for everyone to climb aboard. But, if you want, we'll let you know the minute the doors are open for real. Cool? Cool."

Google has a mixed record, at best, of using the velvet-rope technique to drum up excitement about its products. One thing is clear: The invite-only technique does not guarantee a new website's success.

Take Google Wave. The company generated tons of talk around this service in 2009, and when it launched for a certain in-crowd of testers, there was an online frenzy of people trying to get in. Some people, figuring they could cash in on this hysteria, actually were selling Wave invites on auction sites like eBay, according to Mashable, a blog that covers social media.

I was one of the lucky chosen ones to have an early invite to Wave -- mostly because I wrote a profile of its founders.

But, as Duncan Geere notes over at, being early to a party isn't always great. There were so few people on Wave when I started that it was pretty much impossible to tell how that service would work in real life. I chatted on that service with the site's founders more than any actual "friends."

Geere puts this simply: "A social site becomes increasingly useful as more of your friends join up to it," he writes.

Chances are, you haven't thought about Wave in a while.

That's because Google pulled the plug on this ambitious project -- brought to you by none other than the brothers who invented Google Maps.

On the other end of the spectrum, Google might also have reason to worry about opening a new service to everyone online all at once.

It did that with Google Buzz, another attempt at online social networking, and people flipped out -- but for all the wrong reasons. Buzz is widely seen as a privacy nightmare, since people were automatically signed up to share bits of their online life with friends, whether they were aware of that fact or not. The privacy-related controversy that followed landed Google in legal trouble, as the blog ReadWriteWeb notes.

Conversely, Google launched Gmail on April Fool's Day 2004 using the invite-only approach, and the technique worked then. Gmail, which is believed to have about 200 million users, is still one of the Internet's most well-regarded e-mail services.

What do you think of these methods? Are you dying to get a Google+ invite? Or do you think these tricks are getting stale? Let us know in the comments section.


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