Google quietly revealed last week that its unpopular Google+ social networking service is going to be split into multiple separate services, including Google Streams, Google Photos and Google Hangouts. The move follows a difficult few years for Google+, which was once seen as a connective layer across many of Google’s services for individuals.
“The rumors are true,” longtime Google vice president Bradley Horowitz announced in a blog post that never mentions the term Google+. “I’m excited to be running Google’s Photos and Streams products! It’s important to me that these changes are properly understood to be positive improvements to both our products and how they reach users.”
Horowitz is replacing David Bresbis, who oversaw Google+ for just 11 months, following Google+ founder (and former Microsoftie) Vic Gundotra, who left Google last April.
The change had been rumored for months, and Google senior vice president of products Sundar Pichai essentially admitted that Google+ might be split into separate services in a recent interview with Forbes.
“Increasingly you’ll see us focus on communications, photos and the Google+ stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area,” he told Forbes. “Google+ has always meant two things for us. There’s the stream in the product that you see … [and] a common identity across our products. The second part was in many ways even more important than the first part. That part has worked really well for us.”
Parallel to that statement is that the “stream” aspect of Google+–that is, the social networking part of the social networking service—has not been successful at all. So while Google claims over 500 million active users of Google+, very few of those users are actively engaging in social networking tasks. Instead, they’re using the Google+ services related to photo sharing, video chat, and identity. And most are only on Google+ because Google forces it on them by requiring its use for YouTube and other popular services.
Techcrunch reports that fully half of the estimated 1,100 people who were working on Google+ “are gone,” and that the exits were involuntary and “few (if anyone) were given incentives to stick around.”
Google launched Google+ in 2011 as a successor to previous and failed social services like Orkut, Google Friend Connect and Google Buzz, and to counter the success of rival services, primarily Facebook. It was spearheaded and then led by Mr. Gundotra, who worried that Facebook would “kill” Google. But where the New York Times just likened Google+ to “a ghost town”—admittedly a common comparison—Facebook is now closing in on one billion daily active users. And unlike those on Google+, Facebook’s users are in fact actively socializing and sharing with others.
Social is obviously a difficult nut to crack.
Facebook’s growth has been tempered by numerous privacy complaints. Twitter, which claims almost 300 million active users of its own, has had trouble monetizing its service. And Facebook, Google and Twitter have all had difficulty trying to integrate their social networking functionality into corporate environments. Here, Microsoft is strongly positioned thanks to the social networking capabilities of SharePoint, some of which were made in house and some of which came from the $1.2 billion acquisition of Yammer in 2012.