Much in the same way you might gradually stop replying to text messages from a “meh” OkCupid date, Google is gradually putting the brakes on its floundering social network, Google+.
The company seems to be rebranding the forlorn Facebook impersonator into two new products: Google Photos, for all your pictures, and Google Streams, for your Facebook-esque updates. As The Verge notes, neither of these references the product known as Google+.
Ironically, this news comes from a Google+ post by Bradley Horowitz, a longtime Google+ product VP. After TechCrunch reported that Horowitz’s boss, David Besbris, left his role as head of Google’s social identity and product, Horowitz took to the social network Sunday night to announce his new position, tumbleweeds rolling by his words:
“Just wanted to confirm that the rumors are true — I’m excited to be running Google’s Photos and Streams products! It’s important to me that these changes are properly understood to be positive improvements to both our products and how they reach users.”
The social network, which launched as an invitation-only program in June 2011, has endured a turbulent history. Originally lauded as a “Facebook killer,” with many scrambling for the limited invites available at launch, the network tumbled in popularity shortly after its unveiling. It soon forced all people with a Google email address to create a profile, drawing the ire of those who preferred to simply use Gmail without a networking element. Privacy concerns surfaced, and the initial enthusiasm died down, leaving something akin to a digital wasteland. Last April, Vic Gundotra, who ran Google+ for several years and had worked at Google for eight years, suddenly left the company.
Executive musical chairs aside, the social network’s numbers have not been great, either. In October 2013, Google reported that the network saw about 300 million monthly active users. A study by Forrester later found that 22 percent of adults in America with access to the Internet visited Google+ every month. Those numbers were likely goosed by the fact that everyone with a Gmail address and YouTube account was once forced to sign up for the network. Its utterly boring "Tree Tuesday" posts probably didn’t help much either, nor did its widespread perception as a barren social networking landscape.
The declining traffic and negative product associations (similar to those that plagued Google Glass) may have been a signal to the company that it’s time to gently sunset the network. Whatever the cause, this may mean fewer annoying notifications about who has joined your “Circle” in the near future.