Google executive Vic Gundotra is leaving the company, sparking speculation that the Google+ social network he headed will soon undergo major changes.
Anonymous sources speaking to TechCrunch suggested that “Google+ will no longer be considered a product, but a platform—essentially ending its competition with other social networks like Facebook and Twitter.” Google has reportedly begun shuffling around employees assigned to Google+, sending many of them to mobile-centric teams. For its part, Google has (perhaps predictably) denied that the state of Google+ is anything other than strong.
Even if Gundotra’s departure is the beginning of the end for Google+ as a full-fledged social network, it’s likely that features such as Hangouts will continue as modules embedded in other products such as Gmail. In fact, Google has spent the past year positioning Google+ as a decentralized collection of services spread across its various properties, rather than a distinct social hub in the mode of Facebook—a consequence, some cynics claimed, of the network’s inability to overtake its rival in number of active users. (In a December 2012 blog posting, Gundotra claimed that Google+ was the “fastest-growing network thingy ever,” and that hundreds of millions of people used Google+ features within other Google products, even if they weren’t active on Google+ itself.)
In mid-2013, Google announced that it would revamp Google+ with a new multi-column layout, animations, dynamic hashtags, and a bevvy of new photo options. But social networks as a whole might be drifting away from the “hub” model that defined the market’s early years: With Facebook breaking its functionality into standalone apps such as Paper and Messenger, the emphasis now might be on mobile-centric, single-function modules rather than all-inclusive websites. So when TechCrunch suggests that Google+ employees are headed over to Google’s Android division to build widgets, that certainly makes sense.
Google will probably announce any Google+ shift (or shutdown) during its annual I/O conference, scheduled to take place June 25-26 in San Francisco. Until then, any engineer, developer, or startup owner who uses Google+ as a promotional engine—and there are a few of you out there—should prepare for possible changes.
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