Head of social at Google and Google+ creator Vic Gundotra has announced that it’s “time for a new journey” and that he is leaving the company.
Gundotra has been with Google for nearly eight years and has driven the company’s social network, Google+, since its inception in 2011. In addition to “Circles” and photo-sharing options, Gundotra implemented unpopular social integrations such as forcing YouTube users to sign up to Google+.
According to TechCrunch, “One former Google+ team member told The Verge that Gundotra was a polarizing figure within the company, and that he had friction with other members of the so-called L Team — CEO Larry Page’s inner circle of advisers.”
Publicly, Larry Page congratulated Gundotra for his time at Google, saying “You built Google+ from nothing.”
So where will Gundotra’s departure leave Google+? Two sources told TechCrunch that Google+ will start functioning like a product, not a platform, and as such will no longer compete with social networks like Facebook and Twitter. But a Google representative “vehemently denied these claims.”
“But if major changes to the Google+ strategy are afoot, that’s a good thing. The Google+ project has long been a muddled mess of conflicting strategies, and the site itself has buckled under the weight of too many superfluous features,” reports Time.
The addition of interactive features like hashtags and Hangouts did not save the network from being widely perceived as irrelevant. Google+ has been criticized for not more aggressively competing with Facebook, however, the company maintains that Google+ goes beyond social. According to Page, Google+ was developed to transform the entire Google experience.
Associate product manager intern Danny Crichton worked on developing the search feature of Google+ between June and August of 2011. In “A Personal Reflection On Google+,” Crichton speaks about the social network’s early days and the challenges Gundotra faced.
People’s fears about data collection by large Internet companies was already palpable in 2011, and would become widespread over the last year with the disclosures around the NSA leaks. Google needed data from its social network at the precise time there was a real strategic opportunity from a social network that saved no data. Snapchat, Whisper and Secret hit that moment right in the center.
Google+ failed as a social network, to be sure. But the competitive threat of social and the resulting focus around Google+ finally forced the company to change its product culture, results that continue to benefit the company to this day.
The Time report notes that the “current trend in social networking is toward unbundling, so instead of going to one site or app for all your social needs, you might split it up among several ones, each of which do one thing and do it well.” Google, on the other hand, continued in the opposite direction.
Already, there are signs that Google is on the right track, and that the unwinding of Google+ has begun. Just last week, Google started letting Gmail users share photos that they’ve automatically backed up from their phones. Technically, it’s an expansion of a Google+ feature, but it’s actually a way of liberating your photos from Google’s social network. This little Gmail feature will likely do more for photo sharing through Google services than Google+ ever did, and I suspect we’ll see more examples like it as Google+ is de-emphasized.
Gundotra’s assertion last year that Google+ has 300 million active users was met with skepticism by some in the industry who claim that by simply clicking on the notifications icon — rather than navigating to the Google+ website — a user is added to the ‘active’ category. According to TechCrunch:
We’ve heard that there were tensions between Gundotra and others inside the company, especially surrounding the “forced” integrations of Google+ into products like YouTube and Gmail. Apparently, once each of those integrations was made, they were initially being claimed as “active user” wins until Page stepped in and made a distinction.
Regarding Gundotra’s successor, Crichton added, “Google has promoted David Besbris to succeed Gundotra as head of Google+. This is striking, since he was selected over the head of product, Bradley Horowitz. This decision should make it clear to everyone that Google+’s time as a user-centric social network is over.