Google is nonplussed about Google+

I read the buzzy stories and commentary about Google I/O with great interest this week, and wrote a piece about their new pricing on Google Drive and what that means (see Google releases Drive for Work: unlimited storage, $10 per month).

Some projects were conspicuously absent, notably Google+. Literally nothing was said about it in keynotes.

Google Glass and Google’s moonshot autonomous car experiments were also not discussed (indeed, none of the presenters wore Google Glass this year). However, speakers did dig into Android Wear, the smartphone version of Android. My sense is that Google is resetting the clock for Glass, and now expects that smartwatches will be the first big bang for wearables. In effect, the hype about Glass got ahead of the buying public.

But Google+ is a different story. There is no equivalent in Google’s social strategy to the Android Wear announcements. There is just radio silence.

Google+ lost its greatest advocate when Vic Gundoltra left the company earlier his year, and which I characterized as Google’s Larry Page realizes that social should be in the operating system. Gundoltra’s vision Google+ as a competitor to Facebook and Twitter has obviously failed, no matter how often the company points to meaningless numbers of users, based on trickery (like requiring a Google+ ID to comment on YouTube videos).

When asked by Farhad Manjoo about Google+ this week, Page offered rah-rah boosterism, but no real news:

Q. What’s going on with Google Plus?

A. Mr. Page: I think there’s a lot of things going on with Google Plus. I’m a very excited user of it. You saw some demos showing how it works with Chromecast — that’s one of the things I’ve been excited about. The service has been growing tremendously. People are always like, “Oh, what’s going on?” But for us, we’re superexcited about it because it’s a big service, growing continuously, since we launched it, at a high rate, and we’re making it better and better every day.

Q. Is “social” as important to you now as it was two years ago?

A. Mr. Page: Yes, if anything, probably more important. We have a very excited, dedicated community. People forget we’re able to make our services better by understanding your relationships, making sharing work and understanding identity. These are deep and important things for us as a company. When people ask about Google Plus they think about it as, “I’m going to the stream.” For us, Google Play reviews are part of Google Plus, too. We see all those things growing and being important for us.

At the time of its launch, I suggested that identity-oriented Google+ functionality should reside in a socially-smart operating system, and not in an app. However, it was packaged as an app to begin with, because they decided to try to push on both fronts at once, and see which would work: an app to compete with Facebook and Twitter, and a platform to move into a new era of social operating systems:

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.

As I put it at the time, life is a mosaic, not a monolith: people want to use dozens of social apps, for all manner of purposes, but it is convenient to have a single sign-on, in general. So, Page got rid of Gundoltra and his lieutenants, and is pushing Google+ core identity services into Chrome and Android, where they should be.

So then, why not talk about it? My bet is that there hasn’t been enough time since the reorganization of Google+ teams to actually show anything substantive arising from this rethinking. So they continue with the established company line, and will continue to do so, until they pull something else out of their hat.

I am still hoping that they will take a new pass at social calendars and social email, reimagined for a much more mobile world.

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

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

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