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Why Google+ failed, according to Google insiders

Vic Gundotra Google+APFormer Google+ boss Vic Gundotra

Last month, Google announced that it’s changing its strategy with Google+.

In a sense, it’s giving up on pitching Google+ as a social network aimed at competing with Facebook. Instead, Google+ will become two separate pieces: Photos and Streams.

This didn’t come as a surprise — Google+ never really caught on the same way social networks like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn did.

Technically, tons of people use Google+, since logging into it gives you access to Gmail, Google Drive, and all of Google’s other apps.

But people aren’t actively using the social network aspect of it.

Here’s a chart made by blogger Kevin Anderson, which is based on data compiled by researcher Edward Morbis. His research estimates active Google+ users defined as those that have made a post to Google+ in January 2015. He pulled Google’s on Profile sitemaps and sample profile pages based on them.

Google+Kevin Anderson/Edward Morbius

Rumours have been swirling for months that Google would change its direction with Google+. Business Insider spoke with a few insiders about what happened to the network that Google believed would change the way people share their lives online. Google+ was really important to Larry Page, too — one person said he was personally involved and wanted to get the whole company behind it.

The main problem with Google+, one former Googler says, is the company tried to make it too much like Facebook. Another former Googler agrees, saying the company was “late to market” and motivated from “a competitive standpoint.”

There may have been some paranoia — Facebook was actively poaching Googlers at a certain point, one source said. Google+ employees within Google were sectioned off, this person said, possibly to prevent gossip about the product from spreading. Google+ employees had their own secret cafeteria called “Cloud,” for example, and others on the Mountain View campus weren’t permitted.

“There was definitely an aura of fear for a time,” this person said.

Another former Googler, however, said the secret cafeteria was just a standard security measure; there are multiple places on Google’s campus where only particular employees’ security cards can be swiped. This person also said he or she didn’t experience any paranoia about Googlers being actively poached by Facebook.

Here are some other things we heard from former Google employees:

  • Google+ was designed to solve the company’s own problems, rather than making a product that made it easy for its users to connect with others. Google doesn’t have to manage a ton of user profiles for its various apps and services. Logging into Google+ connects you to all of Google’s products, which is useful. But it didn’t yield a social experience that was as simple as those like Facebook or LinkedIn. People had to think about who they wanted to add to circles rather than simply adding someone as a friend on Facebook or adding someone to their network on LinkedIn.
  • One person also said Google didn’t move into mobile fast enough with Google+. Facebook, however, realised it was slow to move into mobile and made up for lost time — now most of Facebook’s revenue comes from mobile and it owns a bunch of apps. Instead, Google+ focused on high-resolution photos, which were great for desktop experiences and the Chromebook, but took a while to load on mobile.
  • Google+ was a “controversial” product inside Google, according to this person. But that’s not too uncommon within Google, since it’s a large company with many employees. People have opinions on everything.
  • When Vic Gundotra, who lead Google+ and played a big role in creating it, left the company about a year ago, it came as a complete surprise. There was no succession plan, one former Googler said. It was like “here one day and gone the next.”

Although Google+ didn’t boom into a massively successful social network, that doesn’t mean it completely failed. Google made a solid platform that makes it easy for the millions of people that use its products to seamlessly log in to all of the company’s apps. It made a really useful tool for organising your photos online.

But it’s not a mainstream social network, and it never caught up to giants like Facebook and Twitter in that regard.

Google declined to provide comment for this story.

Have anything interesting to share about Google+ or any of Google’s other products? Email [email protected]

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