Is the future of Google+ in jeopardy? We don't know for sure, but Google says no. TechCrunch says it is, and it also shares this quote from Google:
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.
But that's not what TechCunch says it's hearing from multiple anonymous sources. What it's hearing is that Google+ won't be considered a product, but a platform, that its team is being reshuffled, that the Google Hangouts team (and probably its photos team) will be moving to the Android team. Teams, it says, would be building "widgets" that utilize Google+ as a platform, but wouldn't focus on Google+ as its own product. There would no longer be "required" Google+ integrations for Google products, it says.
Danny Sullivan speculates that if Google is indeed turning its focus away from the Google+ social destination, it could follow a similar path to what Facebook is doing, in breaking out is various features into their own apps, as it is already doing to some extent with Hangouts. We could get more of these standalone apps, he hypothesizes. He even goes so far as to imagine Google bringing back Google Reader in some Google Plusified way.
We recently interviewed Amanda Blain, the 20th most popular person on Google+, about what it takes to succeed on the platform. She had a lot of helpful things to say about getting more out of Google+. She's very passionate about the platform, so naturally, she had some things to say about the "news".
Asked about what she thought of the things being reported by TechCrunch. She thinks Gundotra left because it was time for him to try other roles, and that there wasn't much room for him to move up the chain any further. "Much like Marissa," she says.
The TechCrunch report seems to imply that he left because of Google's alleged decreasing interest in Google+.
Google did just launch a new ad product based on Google+, so if Google really is moving away from it, that seems like odd timing.
"More of the same 'G+ is dead' in a new flavor," Blain tells us of the reports currently circulating. "Vic was head of G+ yes, but him leaving means little. The new head is a guy I know and have met. He's an active user of Plus. So is his family...I mean like a REAL user...posts all the time, regularly, stuff he's watching, his thoughts etc. Him coming into head is a very, very, very good thing for Plus. He's a smart product engineering guy."
She wrote her own "open letter" to reporters signaling Google+'s demise.
"As i wrote in my post, G+ is the backbone," she told us in an email. "That won't change. Hangouts, photos, the sign in for Youtube, the sign in for Post Ads (with insane CTR)...Why on earth would they close the product out at this point? I'm not debating that they will focus more [on] Android, Hangouts specifically or photos, but they already do do that. Very little G+ marketing is done. Very little G+ social stream 'use me now' has EVER been done."
She doesn't believe the part about Google not requiring Google+ integrations into other products.
"I don't see this happening," she says. "This comes again from people who think that G+ is trying to be a Facebook killer. Never ever, ever. Google made you have a login for all its services. It gives them better advertising results ($$) period. This has nothing to do with G+ the social stream. I've always been of the mindset that Google doesn't care if you use G+ the 'social' stream or not. If you do, they know more about you. If you don't, you likely will start using it at some point because so many Google services tie into it."
Google has indeed put a lot of effort and resources in to Google+, and made it such a big part of so many of its offerings, it's very unlikely the company will let that go to waste. Even the TechCrunch report indicates that it won't even if the stream part dies. Blain is right in that it's not the ghost town everyone makes it out to be (read our recent interview with her for more about why this classification is misleading). If Google were to shut that part down, it would upset a lot of people.
Unfortunately, Google has not been afraid to shut down popular products and upset a lot of people in the past. Like with Google Reader, there aren't any ads in the Google+ stream, so they wouldn't be eliminating any revenue generator there, but again, the +Post ads are new, so getting rid of the Google+ stream would be a weird move in light of that. But on the other hand, who knows? Google could have a way around that or simply kill the format if it doesn't prove successful. It's really too early to tell on that.
Google has shut down previous social media efforts in the past. Google Buzz and Google Wave (even if that one was more based on collaboration, there were social elements) were both shut down by Google without looking back. In the case of Google Wave, Google found ways to not completely waste the time and resources they put into it, by adding some of its functionalities in other places. They also open sourced it.
Google also has a history of "Spring Cleaning" announcements, which list products that are being shut down, and it has been a while since they did that.
At this point, we just don't have any proof that Google is doing anything different with Google+. It's all rumor to those without direct knowledge of the matter. What we do have is Google publicly saying that it's not changing its Google+ strategy, an active user base, and a replacement for Gundotra. Anything else is wait and see.
Update: Now someone what used to work on Google+ appears to also think it is dying.