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Web Analytics: Google+ Isn’t Adding Up

Big Changes Afoot at Google+ (Google Plus)

Vic Gundotra, head of Google Plus’s social efforts, has left the company. His departure has stirred much speculation as to the future of the social network.

“Today I’m announcing my departure from Google after almost 8 years”, Gundotra wrote on his Google+ profile. He thanked “the amazing people of Google”, saying “I’m forever in debt to the Google+ team. This is a group of people who built social at Google against the skepticism of so many”.

Larry Page, Google’s CEO, responded by thanking Gundotra for his valiant efforts, wished him well in his future endeavors and ended by emphasizing that Google will “continue working hard to build great new experiences for the ever increasing number of Google+ fans”.

Google denies reports it is planning to dismantle the network. A Google representative told technology news site CNET: “Today’s news has no impact on our Google+ strategy — we have an incredibly talented team that will continue to build great user experiences across Google+, Hangouts and Photos.”

The blogosphere, however, thinks otherwise. TechCrunch cites “multiple sources” saying that the departure of Gundotra means that “Google+ will no longer be considered a product, but a platform – essentially ending its competition with other social networks like Facebook and Twitter”.

The bloggers and technology community at large appear to be correct, Google’s denials notwithstanding. The word on the street is that Google is already re-assigning the 1,000 – 1,200 employees that used to form the core of Google+ to other parts of the company.

Mandatory Google+ integrations with its other products are also being scrapped and/or scaled-back, according to TechCrunch: “There will no longer be a policy of ‘required’ Google+ integrations for Google products, something that has become de rigueur for most product updates”. 

On paper, the forced integration of Google+ into other Google services, especially Gmail and YouTube, seemed like a sound strategy. It spurred numerous reports about Google+’s healthy growth and competitive standing vis-à-vis its main rivals, Facebook and Twitter.

YouTube’s integration with Google+ didn’t go down well with the public and was also seen inside the company as a rocky move. Some YouTube users, for example, complained bitterly last year when the video-streaming service began requiring them to have a Google+ account to leave comments next to video clips.

And for many in the blogosphere and business press, forced integration was a way to inflate the numbers.

In fact, while Google reported in October 2013 that Plus had exceeded 300 million active users, independent measurements suggest that much of that activity is simply people using Google’s other services, especially Gmail.

Even current and former Google employees say the 300 million figure grossly distorts usage of the core social-network elements of the site, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Evidently, Google+ is facing significant changes. It’s being forced to accept that it can’t compete with Facebook in the social arena. It never reached (let alone challenged) Facebook’s popularity – in part because it was too late to the Social Web. Despite the company’s best efforts, the social network never really captured the public’s imagination.

And with Google being tight lipped about the ‘great new experiences’ they are working on ‘for the ever increasing number of Google+ fans’ (see the above quote from Larry Page), we’re none the wiser regarding what’s in store for the platform.