Google+, Google’s attempt at a social network site, was launched four years ago with the hopes of rivalling Facebook and allowing Google users the chance to create a unifying profile across all services. One of the original motivations behind the social network was reportedly to gather information about users that could be used to target ads and personalise other products by creating an identity layer for all services. Google+ was originally met with enthusiasm, unlike other similar attempts such as Aardvark, Orkut and Google Buzz, and after it’s invite-only launch the service was set to become big news.
However, even after several designs and the inclusion of new features, Google+ never caught on, with prospective users branding it complicated and unnecessary. The network remains today with a core group of users such as bloggers, tech workers and specialist enthusiasts.
The demise of Google+ has been foretold for a while, as Google removed the compulsory signup when accessing other products and withdrew Authorship just as quickly as it had been implemented. The network has seemed fragmented at times, but Google has seen potential in the most used parts of the site- Hangouts became a standalone app recently and this is where the new Streams and Photos apps come in.
In a Google+ post two weeks ago, Google VP Bradley Horowitz announced that he would be running the Streams and Photos products, but with no mention of Google+ as a whole. Senior VP Sundar Pichai weighed in during an interview at MWC saying that the product is now a stream first and foremost, but areas such as photos and communications will continue to be evolved too. Although rumors of large user-facing changes have been dismissed by Google employees, a split into three separate areas may come as welcome news to some who found Google+ intimidating, cluttered or just downright useless. But it may be a while until we see any big user-end service changes as Google’s hope of catch-all ‘universal identity layer’ lives on.
As it stands now, Google+ looks much the same with the stream being an area to catch up on posts from those in your circles and photos being a part of the site where images can be stored, viewed and edited. But, as with Hangouts, it may soon be necessary to have to sign in separately or download an app for both of these services and we may see currently under-used Google+ areas such as Events and Pages being phased out. There have been rumors that images in the Photos service will now be backed up to Google Drive, a welcome move to make uploads and integration more seamless.
Google+ currently has influence over services such as search, YouTube, Gmail and Blogger, and it isn’t clear to how see how a split will play into this as one of Google+’s biggest draws for users like website owners and bloggers is to increase SEO efforts. It seems that by separating its products, the company is hoping to move forward through new frameworks that will allow it to work on specific editing, sharing and communication features rather than focusing on an all-in-one product that, at times, may have spread itself too thin.
While the split into Streams and Photos does not yet mark the end for Google+, both users and critics of the network hope that it will spell bigger and better things for usability and engagement as Google works to improve on the best parts of the site.