You have a Google + account. You may not know it, but you do. Everyone who has a Gmail or YouTube account has one. Everyone who uses Google’s cloud productivity and storage suite has one. And everyone who has an Android phone has one. But the number of active users has always trailed far behind the number of accounts, drawing attention to the fact that Google’s venture into social hasn't actually been very successful.
On Monday, April 27 this year, Google announced that it would be splitting its social network into two. Surrendering to the facts - Google + is a competitor for Facebook the way Bob’s Truck Shop is a competitor for General Motors - Google has broken the channel in two.
Speaking on April 28, Sundar Pichai, Google’s VP of products, told MWC that: ‘For us Google+ was always two big things: one was building a stream, the second was a social layer, a common layer of identity; how sharing works across our products and services.’ That mirrors criticism leveled at Google for inventing Google+ to solve the company’s own internal problems, meaning users of Google products needed only a single login, allowing Google + to function like a foyer. No-one wants to hang out in a waiting room,though, so while Mr Pichai points to ‘a passionate community of users’ for the social side of +, it was never a contender when ranked against Facebook and Twitter.
Clarifying the future of Google+’s component services, Mr Pichai said: ’we're at a stage where use cases like photos and communications are big standalone use cases.’ The future of Google+’s services will be in three parts: Streams, Photos and Hangouts.
Photos will focus on Google +’s image service. Photos on Google + have always been far better quality than those on other social channels, but in some ways that’s been part of the problem: while Facebook and Twitter moved onto mobile right along with their customers, Google + was held back by file sizes so large they took forever to load on mobile devices. The service gets good usage but cutting it loose from the social network will probably make Streams easier to access.
Streams will be the social element of Google +, separated from the photos service and providing faster (and more mobile-friendly) access for that passionate community who really do prefer Google + to other social networks.
Finally, there’s the future of Hangouts. Hangouts has lost ground to other communications services, but Google’s VP of product Bradley Horowitz argued in December that ‘It's texting, it's telephony, it's one-to-one, it's many-to-many, it's consumer, it's enterprise,’ and stated that its comprehensiveness made it unique. Hangouts does have some great features - but all this was being said a year ago about Google +.