The executive who launched Google+ acknowledged that the company’s approach to social networking and sharing was confusing and that one of the key features of Google+ is being retired.
“I’ve concluded that it’s time for a ‘pivot’… or more precisely time to talk more openly about a pivot that’s been underway for some time,” Google executive Bradley Horowitz explained in a post on Google+ on Monday.
The pivot essentially means that Google is official giving up on a controversial multi-year effort to force people to create Google+ profiles that served as their common identity across Google’s broader family of products — YouTube, Search, Maps, etc.
Instead, Google+ will be a place where “users around the world connect around the interests they love.”
The Google+ profile requirement was a way for Google to create a more complete picture of its hundreds of millions of users, a major shortcoming that it lacked compared to its rival Facebook, the top social network. By giving anonymous Google users a logged-in profile, Google believed it could deliver more personalised products and ads to its users.
But users did not appreciate being forced to create profiles to use various Google products, particularly on YouTube, the company’s popular video website. Google seems to have realised that the policy may have been doing more harm than good.
“This was a well-intentioned goal, but as realised it led to some product experiences that users sometimes found confusing,” Horowitz explained.
“We want to formally retire the notion that a Google+ membership is required for anything at Google… other than using Google+ itself,” he said.
The comments represent a striking admission of defeat for Google+, a social network that Google launched with much fanfare four years ago. The site was quickly lambasted for being a “ghost town” that lacked the buzz and the quantity of content shared by users on rival sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Google countered the criticism at the time by insisting that Google+ was not just a social “destination” like Facebook, but a “social spine” that would connect all of Google’s products.
With today’s announcement, Google seems to be saying that Google+ is actually just a social destination after all. And given all the criticism about that destination being a ghost town, it will be interesting to see how long Google+ continues to exist in its current form.
Here are Horowitz’ full comments:
Everything in Its Right Place
It’s been a little more than a quarter since I took on leadership of a newly formed team, which we’ve christened SPS: Streams, Photos, and Sharing.
In that short time, I’ve had some time to reflect on the products we’ve built over the last few years, and also the opportunity to oversee the launch of our new Google Photos product. I’ve concluded that it’s time for a “pivot”… or more precisely time to talk more openly about a pivot that’s been underway for some time (and in fact is reflected in the name of the new team). We’re going to continue focusing Google+ on helping users connect around the interest they love, and retire it as the mechanism by which people share and engage within other Google products.
Four years ago when we conceived of the “Google+ Project”, we made it clear that our goals were always two-fold: Google+ aspired to be both a “platform layer that unified Google’s sharing models”, and a product / stream / app in its own right.
This was a well-intentioned goal, but as realised it led to some product experiences that users sometimes found confusing. For instance, and perhaps most controversially, integration with YouTube implied that leaving a comment on YouTube (something users had obviously been doing successfully for years) suddenly and unexpectedly required “joining Google+.”
We decided it’s time to fix this, not only in YouTube, but across a user’s entire experience at Google. We want to formally retire the notion that a Google+ membership is required for anything at Google… other than using Google+ itself.
Some of the consequences of this shift in thinking have already been deployed. Others we’re rolling out as fast as possible (e.g. the changes to YouTube we referenced today). And many more will roll out over the rest of the year.
What does this mean for Google+ the product? Relieved of the notion of integrating with every other product at Google, Google+ can now focus on doing what it’s already doing quite well: helping millions of users around the world connect around the interest they love. Aspects of the product that don’t serve this agenda have been, or will be, retired. But you’ll also see a slew of improvements that make this use case shine (like the recent launch of Collections –https://plus.google.com/collections/featured).
It’s been incredibly gratifying to see how this strategy has played out as realised in the recent Google Photos launch, a product which in many ways embodies and telegraphs the changes discussed above. Google Photos not only doesn’t require a Google+ account, but as much of the functionality as possible doesn’t even require an account at all. It was important to me that when we launched Google Photos, we stressed the product implements sharing by any means a user prefers… without compromise or agenda. This is the right thing for users and the feedback and usage has been extremely validating.
I’m excited to share this strategy with the world, excited about what it means for Google+, and most of all for all of Google’s users.