Google’s Larry Page realizes that social should be in the operating system

Alexia Tsotsis has a gift for attention-grabbing headlines, and today’s piece on Vic Gundoltra’s hasty departure from Google after leading the push on Google+ since 2011 is no exception. She titles it Google+ Is Walking Dead, which I think is not quite right, although the service is being scaled down dramatically, according to her and Matthew Panzarino’s sources:

According to two sources, Google has apparently been reshuffling the teams that used to form the core of Google+, a group numbering between 1,000 and 1,200 employees. We hear that there’s a new building on campus, so many of those people are getting moved physically, as well — not necessarily due to Gundotra’s departure.

As part of these staff changes, the Google Hangouts team will be moving to the Android team, and it’s likely that the photos team will follow, these people said. Basically, talent will be shifting away from the Google+ kingdom and towards Android as a platform, we’re hearing.

[...]

Taking Gundotra’s place inside Google will be David Besbris, though we hear that parts of Google+ are under “the person responsible for Chrome,” according to one source. It’s not clear if this is Sundar Pichai, Google’s head of Chrome and Android, or why this would happen. “It’s complicated,” our source said. Google PR denies this account.

Google always had a straddle going with Google+, and this is the point at which they are falling back to the best side of the bet. I wrote back in 2011, right after the launch in Life As A Mosaic, Not A Monolith: What Google+ Means:

My natural drift — and I think other people’s too, in time — will be away from massive all-in-one tools, and toward a mosaic of highly specialized apps. Behind this are a pair of twinned trends, major threads in the liquid media theme I have been developing over the past months.

The first is the transition toward connected apps, courtesy of the rise of genius mobile devices (genius = way beyond smart) [...].

The flipside of the rise of apps is the fall of the browser. The browser is a kludge, a way to shoehorn the web onto PCs, made necessary because the operating systems around when the web was invented were inward focused: they were all about applications, files and folders on the hard drive. But we have gone far enough toward always-on that we will have dozens of web-aware and web-dependent apps on our genius devices, and only occasionally open the browser for old-time website browsing.

Apps are the tiles of the new mosaic, our composite life online.

And Google+ is a deft straddle, with one foot in the old world and the other in the new. Google+ is currently a browser based system, but it is relatively easy to imagine the core functionality implemented in a next generation Android, and all the tools — like Circles and Hangouts — accessed as complementary apps, along with dozens or hundreds of others built by Google or a growing ecology of developers.

Of course, Apple will respond in kind, and is perhaps a step or two ahead with its Twitter partnership, and its plan to integrate Twitter into iOS 5. So we can expect a similar flowering of iOS 5 apps that build on a core of social capabilities, and that will allow app developers to leverage profiles, following, streams, and other foundational social componentry at the OS level.

By lowering the core elements of sociality into the infrastructure, Google and Apple will be setting the stage for a new generation of app development, and therefore, user experience. Which will mean an acceleration of the transition for us, as users, from monolith to mosaic.

Google+ shows that Google is going to make that transition, and it will be Apple and Google that will be defining the next ten years of the social revolution, as a result.

I admit that I was optimistic about Apple’s ability to shift into the social web — but Steve Jobs illness and later death was a major distraction for the firm. And in 2011 I thought Google would have made the move that Page is apparently now getting around to, after kicking out Gundoltra — and presumably his protegé, Bradley Horowitz, soon — the faction that wanted the monolithic Google+ to ‘win’ the war against the monolithic Facebook.

But that is the last war, a war clearly lost. And Facebook has moved to the app era, with acquisitions like Instagram, Whatsapp, and Moves, and new in house projects like Paper. Page has decided to embed the social infrastructure of Google+ into the operating system — in Android and Chrome — where it always belonged. Then we can finally have the next social era, which we won’t call social anymore, because it will be ubiquitous. Just like we don’t generally think about the air we are moving around in, and the fish doesn’t see the water.

Microsoft fumbled its chance to acquire the teeny-weeny Facebook and build that into Windows. Apple missed its chance with Twitter — although perhaps that could still be turned around — despite giving Twitter a special status in iOS (see Twitter: The Social Kernel For iOS 5).

So Google has a chance with Google+, or better said, with Page’s decision to scrap the monolith and convert Google+ into componentry to support more apps like Hangouts. Maybe they’ll finally get around to creating a social calendar and social email, at long, long last.

 

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Lead analyst, future of work Gigaom Research and stoweboyd.com

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