Why Google Plus Failed, According to Google Insiders

Google Chief Economist Hal Varian Speaks To The Media
Adam Berry/Getty Images
By Lisa Eadiciccio

Google is changing its strategy with Google Plus. In a sense, it's giving up on pitching Google Plus as a social network aimed at competing with Facebook. Instead, Google Plus will become two separate pieces: Photos and Streams.

This didn't come as a surprise -- Google Plus never really caught on the same way social networks like Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), or LinkedIn (LNKD) did.

Technically, tons of people use Google Plus, since logging into it gives you access to Gmail, Google Drive and all of Google's other apps. But people aren't actively using the social network aspect of it.

What Larry Page Wanted

Rumors have been swirling for months that Google would change its direction with Google Plus. Business Insider spoke with a few insiders about what happened to the network that Google believed in 2011 would change the way people share their lives online. Google Plus was really important to Larry Page, too -- one person said he was personally involved and wanted to get the whole company behind it.

The main problem with Google Plus, one former Googler says, is the company tried to make it too much like Facebook. Another former Googler agrees, saying the company was "late to market" and motivated from "a competitive standpoint." Google declined to provide comment for this story.

There may have been some paranoia -- Facebook was actively poaching Googlers at a certain point, one source said. Google Plus employees within Google were sectioned off, this person said, possibly to prevent gossip about the product from spreading. Google Plus employees had their own secret cafeteria called "Cloud," for example, and others on the Mountain View campus weren't permitted. "There was definitely an aura of fear for a time," this person said.

Anatomy of What Happened (and Didn't)

Another former Googler, however, said the secret cafeteria was just a standard security measure; there are multiple places on Google's campus where only particular employees' security cards can be swiped. This person also said he or she didn't experience any paranoia about Googlers being actively poached by Facebook. Here are some other things we heard from former Google employees:
  • Google Plus was designed to solve the company's own problems, rather than making a product that made it easy for its users to connect with others. Google doesn't have to manage a ton of user profiles for its various apps and services. Logging into Google Plus connects you to all of Google's products, which is useful. But it didn't yield a social experience that was as simple as those like Facebook or LinkedIn. People had to think about who they wanted to add to circles rather than simply adding someone as a friend on Facebook or adding someone to their network on LinkedIn.
  • One person also said Google didn't move into mobile fast enough with Google Plus. Facebook, however, realized it was slow to move into mobile and made up for lost time -- now most of Facebook's revenue comes from mobile and it owns a bunch of apps. Instead, Google Plus focused on high-resolution photos, which were great for desktop experiences and the Chromebook but took a while to load on mobile.
  • When Vic Gundotra, who led Google Plus and played a big role in creating it, left the company about a year ago, it came as a complete surprise. There was no succession plan, one former Googler said. It was like "here one day and gone the next."
Although Google Plus didn't boom into a massively successful social network, that doesn't mean it completely failed. Google (GOOGL) made a solid platform that makes it easy for the millions of people that use its products to seamlessly log in to all of the company's apps. It made a really useful tool for organizing your photos online. But it's not a mainstream social network, and it never caught up to giants Facebook and Twitter in that regard.
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