Google+ unwinds: What did we learn about Google?

Google's alleged Facebook killer is being downgraded, but there were multiple lessons learned. We'll see what the search giant does with the takeaways.

Google has ended the practice of force feeding Google+ to its customers and has downgraded it to a platform of sorts.

The news is welcome in many corners--especially places like YouTube where Google+ was required to comment--but it's worth pondering Google's social network effort and the legacy left behind.

Here's a look at the lessons learned:

It's hard to force feed a product on the Web. Google tried to push Google+ profiles to its customers by making it an identity service. Wanted to comment on YouTube? Well you needed a Google+ account. Gmail came with a Google+ profile. Google even dangled SEO perks to Google+ users. These moves did wonders for bulking up Google+ numbers, but the engagement wasn't there. Google+ became a tax to be admitted to other services.

Previously: Google moves to decouple Google+ and YouTube | New Google patent wants to store and search your life experiences | Google Plus: three years old and still failing as a social network

A product has to stand on its own. Google tried to give Google+ a leg up, but couldn't. One outcome is that Google+ could find a new future. The odds are long and I'd bet Google+ ultimately dies, but Google's Bradley Horowitz noted:

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.

Google is similar to what Microsoft used to be. Years ago, every category Microsoft entered was deemed a killer to some other focused player. Google+ was supposed to be a Facebook killer. It wasn't because Facebook had scale, usage, engagement and ultimately focus. Google+ was never going to be the search giant's go-to service because ads and search pay the bills. Google+ just solidifies that Google launches products in perpetual beta.

A few features don't make a social offering. Google+ had a bevy of interesting features, but if your friends aren't using it you can't share much. Photos were the headliner for Google+, but the approach was easily replicated by Facebook. Google+ turned out to be a starter set for Google Photos.

Google+ is a win for Google. Google+ didn't kill Facebook or any other social network, but it did do the one thing Google needed in a big way. Google+ mandated that customers gave more complete profiles to the search giant. Via linking Google services, Google+ and identities, the search giant's database on you is more complete than it would have been otherwise. Does Google know you socially as well as Facebook? Probably not, but the search giant closed some serious gaps.

Google doesn't do people well. For Google+ to be a social platform, Google had to listen to users, adapt, integrate feedback and ultimately think about people. The catch is Google doesn't do people all that well. Google is about algorithms, robotic cars, automation and doing things more efficiently. Google was getting YouTube integration complaints about Google+ in 2013. If anything, Google is about replacing people. That reality is why Amazon, Apple and Facebook all have a built-in advantage over Google and its DNA when it comes to delighting customers.

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