Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rumours fly after Google+ chief Vic Gundotra quits

There has been wild rumours and speculation after Vic Gundotra announced he was to step down and leave Google for pastures new [BBC].

Gundotra was the main driving force behind Google's social network Google+, and his leaving the company has driven speculation that the search giant may consign the platform to the scrap heap.

The main source for such rumours came from the website TechCrunch which described Google+ as the "Walking Dead" and suggested it would "no longer be considered a product, but a platform" and thus "ending its competition with other social networks like Facebook and Twitter."

Despite the article being widely quoted and shared on social networks, many have dismissed the suggestions.

One prominent voice was Yonatan Zunger, Google+'s Chief Architect, who said the information contained in the TechCrunch article was "BS" [bullshit].

"The TechCrunch article is BS," Zunger said, "Google+ isn't going anywhere, I can promise you."

Killing redundant products

Of course, anyone using Google+ may well have been justifiably concerned that their favourite social network might be consigned to history. Google has "retired" many of its products that it has deemed "redundant".

In the past few years Google has closed countless services which it said had lacked take-up. In 2011 Google dropped property search within its Maps citing lack of use. Google Desktop was also retired the same year and Google Health was shutdown in early 2012. Google Wave's retirement became one of the most talked about closure, especially given the huge publicity surrounding its launch.

Google Wave which started life in 2009 was hung out to dry within 3 months of its public release in May 2010 and by 2012 had been closed down altogether.

Google+ launch

Launched in 2011 Google+ provides a stream of content such as photos and status updates that its users post for their friends. Its original selling points included a way to create groups of contacts, or "circles," to share more specific types of information. Another is Hangouts, a popular messaging tool that enables group video chat.

The sharing of photos is a key part of the platform. Video & pictures may be set to automatically upload from a user's mobile device or even added to Google+ photos from Google Drive. Thereafter a user may select these to share with individuals, circles or even to an email address of a person not yet on Google+. And in recent months Google has added what it calls Google Awesome where automated algorithms put together movies or animated Gifs which may be shared.

Google+ has also been integrated into the sign-in procedure of Google's various services, including Gmail, YouTube and Google Play. Using a single login and password users are obliged to use their real name which also appears on any reviews or comments they post on Google platforms, an effort to reduce spamming and abusive behaviour.

While Google has received some criticism for some of its changes in log-in procedures and real name policies, the social network has grown significantly with a supposed 540 million active users, though remains far smaller than Facebook which claims more than 802 million [WSJ / The Register].


Killing the social network could prove to be suicidal for Google. While not as popular as Facebook and Twitter, Google+ has gained a large number of loyal users who would be disappointed and angry should the search giant decide to shut the service down.

Its closure would also reduce trust in the company. People would justifiably be concerned about the safety of other services such as Google Drive or GMail.

Certainly Google+ might change from its form, but it is unlikely to be killed off. It must also be noted that one of the authors of the TechCrunch article, Alexia Tsotsis, owns shares in Facebook, Yahoo!, and Twitter, while the other, Matthew Panzarino, is described in his TechCrunch bio as "relentlessly covering Apple and Twitter." Of course this does not explain their information or sources, but it could be partly why they closed the article by comparing Google+ to an "unwelcome hairy spider" whose integration is a form of "grating party crashing." And according to one blog it draws their credibility into question.

TechCrunch has based much of its assertions on anonymous sources which say that staff are being reshuffled. But reassignment is hardly proof of anything in a company which is in constant flux and redevelopment.

Angry beehive

While not completely dismissing the TechCrunch article other tech websites have asserted that Google+ still has a place, providing a particular niche for certain individuals.    

Mashable describes the social network as an "angry beehive" of enthusiastic users. The types of user also tend to be different, often more involved in technology and specialised interests, and according to Mashable's Chris Taylor, a little bit "weird". Indeed there has been an angry response from many users at the suggestion that Google+ could shut shop.

For its part Google has denied the rumours and meanwhile stated that Google+ Vice President of Engineering David Besbris will take command of Google+ [CNET]. The speculation may well continue, but for now the safety and future of the social network is assured.

As for Vic Gundotra, he has only praise for the company he is leaving but left no clue as to where he is heading next, something that is also open to speculation.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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