Google Plus is turning negative, but don't bet on it going away

Google Plus is turning negative, but don't bet on it going away

Summary: Vic Gundotra's resignation has cast doubt on the future of Google Plus, the social networking site he launched in 2011. But despite forecasts of doom, the survival of Orkut suggests Google won't close it down.

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TOPICS: Google
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Gundotra-GPlus
Vic Gundotra's Google Plus account

Following Vic Gundotra's resignation as Google's senior vice president of social, the TechCrunch website claimed -- and Google denied -- that Google+ Is Walking Dead. Gundotra was responsible for launching G+ in 2011, but it remains to be seen whether his departure will change anything. After all, Google first entered the social networking market with Orkut at almost exactly the same time as Facebook. While Orkut's early success was followed by a decline into irrelevance, Google still hasn't closed the service*. Unlike G+, Orkut really is an example of the "walking dead".

But there are certainly reasons for concern. Gundotra spent most of his career at Microsoft (15 years from 1991) and there's no obvious reason why he should quit Google after only seven years… or not if G+ was doing well. (If he's been headhunted to run a rival company, that would be different.) There's also the fact that G+ will now be run by David Besbris, who is currently Google's VP of engineering, not some hot-shot hired from Facebook. Whatever Besbris's merits, which are no doubt many, this sends out the message that G+ is now an engineering management problem rather than a social networking challenge.

Google co-founder Larry Page wrote on G+ that "Vic built Google+ from nothing. There are few people with the courage and ability to start something like that". However, he may have been the wrong man at the wrong time. All Gundotra's moves came straight out of the old -- very old -- Microsoft playbook.

Gundotra's G+ started out as a slow, bloated website, it attempted to gain users by compulsion -- locking G+ to YouTube comments, Gmail and other Google properties -- and it tried to enforce the use of real names. (Yes, amusingly enough, Vic's real name is Vivek.) All of these were unpopular with many users, and according to another TechCrunch post, some Googlers. Danny Crichton, a former Google intern, writes that "Due to this integration, much of it forced, the culture around social at Google had become deeply poisonous by the time I had started. I still remember talking to a member of the Picasa team who told me to 'f*** off' when I asked about integrating Google+ into the product. He was hardly the only one, as any number of company-wide emails from engineers could attest."

Facebook, the world's most successful social network, is now heading in the opposite direction by targeting mobile users with smaller, separate apps. Of course, some of these have been bought in, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, but the normally-acquisitive Google failed to buy them. With trendy apps such as Secret providing anonymity, it won't be a surprise if Facebook provides that feature, too.

As for the timing, that was in part enforced by earlier Google failures such as Orkut, Wave and Buzz. However, G+ arrived when more users were starting to worry about their privacy and about being tracked online. And it was patently obvious that G+'s main purpose was to increase the amount of personal, identifiable information it held on everybody. Perhaps Google was worried because it didn't have the vast stores of personal data that users freely provide to Facebook. However, Google was already running the web's biggest tracking system, so making it even bigger was unlikely to have much appeal.

Sensible users already spread their data around so that they have some control over what appears where and in what context: Facebook for friends and family, LinkedIn for business contacts, Flickr or 500px for photos, YouTube or Vimeo for videos, Dropbox for sharing files, OneDrive (SkyDrive) or Office 365 for office documents, Reddit for chitchat, and so on. Trying to yoke them all together through G+ created all sorts of opportunities for disaster, ranging from inappropriate YouTube comments to the inadvertent sharing of personal photos and confidential business information. (See Violet Blue's 'Google outed me' for even more unpleasant consequences.)

Putting all your eggs in one basket is as risky today as it was when IBM or Microsoft dominated IT. Google isn't significantly different from either of those, unless you count having even more grandiose plans for taking over the world (Google Glass, self-driving cars, robots etc).

One of the problems with G+ is that it's almost impossible to know how well it is succeeding, or how badly it's failing. If you make a YouTube comment, respond via a Gmail email, use a Hangout or merely click a +1 button, are you really using G+? (There's no reason why Hangouts should be bundled in with G+.) It's far from being a ghost town, but it's nowhere near Facebook's "1.28 billion monthly active users as of March 31, 2014", with 76 percent checking in at least once per day.

Insofar as G+ has a reason to exist, it's an "anti-Facebook". But this doesn't represent much of a market outside the USA in general, and Silicon Valley in particular. For whatever reason, G+ has also attracted a somewhat toxic user base, with levels of abuse more typical of web comments than genuinely social sites. This also limits its appeal as a sort of long-form version of Twitter, though G+'s interface is too slow and clunky to provide serious competition.

As for competing with Facebook as a social network, that was never a likely prospect. Your friends and family are already on Facebook and they're not on G+, and even if you get the odd one to join, they probably won't use it. (Yes, I have tried.) Like it or not, Facebook has more global reach than Google Search or Gmail, Amazon, eBay or Wikipedia. It's not going away in a hurry.

G+ might have done better if it hadn't been delusional about replacing Facebook, and aimed at providing something that users -- rather than Google -- actually needed. What that might be is probably as much of a mystery to Vic Gundotra as it is to me.

* Footnote: If you are logged in to a Google account and visit Orkut, Google apparently creates an Orkut account for you, without asking. Further, "if you also have a Google+ account, Google will take the data from it (your name and avatar) to auto-populate your new Orkut account," according to Matt McGee, Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. What sort of company does that kind of thing?

Topic: Google

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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24 comments
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  • The name sucks

    The biggest problem with Google + is the name. Who the hell came out with that? It's just a stupid as "hangouts". A name defines the service, Google + tells me nothing. It's as stupid as the service itself.
    DarthRidiculous
    • NO, the biggest problems with Google Plus:

      1. Google Plus is FORCED. That drove me away from Youtube and into vimeo. I do heavy, geeky Bible research in Youtube. I did some simple videos in the beginning, but now am focused on how Hebrew meter (which is still used even in the Greek NT) proves all kinds of important things about how to tell WHEN Scripture was written, and WHAT the authors intend you to learn. So imagine all the missed ad revenue, when I have about 900 subscribers in Youtube, who now have to go to vimeo to get the latest stuff I'm learning and posting.

      Granted, that audience will be small, not 'mass', but they have money. You don't get into Scripture deeply if you don't have money, because it's time-consuming.

      2. Google Plus is CONVOLUTED. I can't justify erasing my Youtube videos due to #1 explained above. So I just stopped adding new ones, and they go to vimeo instead. To keep the Youtube account, I had to set up a Google Plus account, but did NOT link it to Youtube. I can't even begin to understand how Google Plus works, even though obviously as a Bible Geek I have a lot of sophisticated understanding (God-given, of course). So how much harder is it on the average person?

      Give us freedom, make the thing easy to use, and you can call it what you want. Google always fails with BOTH things, constantly changing the interface in unintuitive ways: they RUINED Youtube. And frankly, their search engine is bad, too.

      I wouldn't join Facebook (what aq demeaning name) if you paid me. They sell your EMAIL ADDRESSES even after you leave, writing your contacts in your name, to join Facebook! So why would Google want to compete, there? Then they get the same reputation.

      Someone will pick up the slack, here. Google will go down, if it doesn't revise Google Plus to STOP being so hitlerian and convoluted. The poison they cause, is fatal.
      brainout
      • youtube

        Unless you are a flaming troll on youtube, why don't you want to post videos and comment with your real name?

        I think it's a good thing that many people were pissed with the G+ integration. Those trolls can leave, I won't miss them.
        Jean-Pierre-
        • don't agree with Jean-Pierre

          Before G+, I posted comments and avoided any bad/negative language. I have a good reason for not using my real name. The company I work for does not want to see its employees make comments without authorizing those comments first--even if those comments are made during non-business hours. Google knows who I really am and what my alias is. If I violate rules using my alias, they can punish me because they can easily identify me.

          I've been a Google fan since day one and I use most of their services--with the exception of Google+. I also don't use Facebook (or Twitter). I have yet to identify any value in these "services." I guess I'm not that social.
          TroutHound
        • Not everyone is a troll.

          Even if they were, the Google+ integration wouldn't have stopped them anyways.

          If Jose D. Trow decides that he wants to be a flamethrower, he'll be a flamethrower.

          Unless it's for a good or personal cause, I don't want my name being thrown around the internet.

          Even without integration, a good number of anonymous people acted properly.
          ForeverCookie
      • Crybaby

        bawwww someone call the waaaaahmbulance on this guy.
        zaiger
    • Google+ sucks? It's still better than G+, which both are better than

      G-Spot, which I'm sure was a contender for the name of the service.

      Imagine someone saying "you can reach me on the G-Spot".

      So, the "only" choice left for the name was "Google +", or G+. ;)
      adornoe@...
    • Nope

      Google+ being forced and centrally cataloging all of you web interaction is the real problem!

      I used Android exclusively and swore by it but, the Google+ thing has me using an iPad Mini and a Nokia Lumia 928 and that's how it will stay until Google smartness up!
      slickjim
  • A Techie friend of mine ....

    said in conversation the other day, "I wish people would start using G+ instead of Facebook, it's much better!" and it is, but therein lies the problem.

    It doesn't matter how good G+ is, if your family and friends aren't using it.

    (For the record, I use G+ and love it. But my family don't even understand what it is.)
    5haggi
    • not facebook

      I use G+ but not as another facebook, but mostly to follow people :tech journalists, googlers, photographers, a few bloggers. I also use hangouts when playing online games (it replaced ventrilo when playing with friends). The community section is interresting too.

      I like that on youtube I see the comments of the people I follow at the top of the comment section. And the other day I was trying to find an app that a friend had showed me and when I checked one of them I saw that 2 of my friends had given it a +1, so I knew this was the right app and not a clone.

      The one thing I'm not using it for is trying to use it as facebook, that would not work.
      Jean-Pierre-
  • More global reach than Google search?

    "Like it or not, Facebook has more global reach than Google Search or Gmail, Amazon, eBay or Wikipedia. It's not going away in a hurry."

    Really not sure about that. What metrics are used? Alexa has Google.com as the most visited website in the world. And considering google.com competes with local variants (in Germany, google.de is #1, google.com #3, for example), it's hard to see how facebook has "more reach". But really, when talking about the big juggernauts like google, facebook, wikipedia, youtube... They're all impossibly massively big.
    Dear Holy Stasis
  • I think they were hoping that the net's crankiest comment section

    aka Youtube, might calm down a bit with real names. It didn't.

    Meanwhile they made the service (i.e. uploading your own videos) complicated and hard. 3rd party uploaders don't work half the time, as they don't know anything about any of the G+ crap.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • Seperation

    I don't use G+, Facebook, MySpace, HangOuts, Twitter, Instagram, etc. BECAUSE I want to keep my BUSINESS and PERSONAL life separated.

    I also don't want to have to wade through all the lingerie and underwear selfies, the grand kid pics, the vacation photos, the boy/girl friend pics, cat pics, stupid dog pics, political rants and other NON-BUSINESS stuff to find the BUSINESS stuff my clients might try to communicate to me. To be fair to Google, G+ and Hangouts are not the problem. The problem is that too many people simply have no since of propriety. Just because I +'ed you or "liked" you doesn't mean I want to see pictures of you in you underwear or sleeping attire.

    So, I pay for separate domains and web hosting for my BUSINESS, my PERSONAL, and my POLITICAL.

    I regularly use Google Voice, Calendar and Docs for my business. GMail ONLY to send BUSINESS photos to people I cannot send MMS via Voice to. Hangouts or G+ could be an alternative for the MMS, but, then I have to wade through the garbage to find the reply.

    I currently do my web hosting and business email through Yahoo, but that is going to change since Yahoo has made it essentially impossible for me to reliably get my PAID BUSINESS email on a touch screen device and their Yahoo Site Builder software requires a badly out of date version of JAVA that will only run on WIN XP for me to maintain my websites.
    CutRightSharpening
  • No, they could have buried Facebook...

    "G+ might have done better if it hadn't been delusional about replacing Facebook, and aimed at providing something that users -- rather than Google -- actually needed."

    I don't believe that Facebook is untouchable; there have been many recent articles documenting the migration away from it. Google simply did everything utterly wrong, as the article describes. People are fed up with social sites that don't respect privacy, that don't understand the need for anonymity, that appropriate and sell personal data without permission, and which are more and more becoming tools for surveillance. Google could have started a mass exodus from Facebook if only it had honored its 'Don't be evil' motto and respected its user base. Alas, they tried to out-Zucker Zuckerman, and the result is history.
    Jjules
    • Google would never create G+ with privacy protection.

      The whole point of G+ is to allow Google to better track your activities and interests that you already do on their other services like YouTube, Drive, Search, etc.

      It's Not necessarily made to be better than Facebook. In fact, G+ feels more like Twitter than FB because all I used it for is to follow certain companies and people. Not really for social interaction with people you already know in real life.
      Zig1994
    • Google would never create G+ with privacy protection.

      The whole point of G+ is to allow Google to better track your activities and interests that you already do on their other services like YouTube, Drive, Search, etc.

      It's Not necessarily made to be better than Facebook. In fact, G+ feels more like Twitter than FB because all I used it for is to follow certain companies and people. Not really for social interaction with people you already know in real life.
      Zig1994
    • I disagree. Google+ never had a chance

      as it didn't do anything better, in fact it did the things not as well.

      If it couldn't offer the same or, better experience then what Facebook offered, why would anyone switch? It's not like Google's a "want to/must have" brand name in terms of social networking, which I believe they actually thought of themselves as, so no chance of them starting any mass exodus, IMO.
      William.Farrel
  • Google -

    Well, minus Vic Gundotra....
    William.Farrel
  • Google plus can win

    Google plus should run a campaign and ask it user what they need. I use Google plus and its communities, Google hangout ....etc. on daily bases, There are issues and features that can be addressed that can make the Gooogle + extremely popular.

    Google plus has limitation on adding people and circles and they should stop that and allow people to make the decision .

    I love my Google +
    dkhorram1
    • Spoken like a true Google fanboy

      Too bad the rest of the world doesn't think like you.
      Zig1994