Google+ Won (Or Why Google Never Needed A Social Network)

google+Since the news that Google+ chief Vic Gundotra has abruptly left the company, the common wisdom holds that Google’s oft-derided Facebook clone will not be long for this world. But whether or not Google+ continues as a standalone  product isn’t the question. Google likely never cared if Google+ “won” as a competitor to Facebook (though if it did, that would have been a nice bonus). All that mattered, in the end, was whether Plus became the connective tissue between all of Google’s formerly scattered services. And in a few short years, it’s fair to say it has.

As I wrote three years ago , the rise of social and mobile created a major problem for Google – all of a sudden, people were not navigating their digital lives through web-based search alone, they were also using social services like Facebook – gifting that company a honeypot of personal information along the way – as well as mobile platforms and apps, which existed mainly outside the reach of web-based search.

If Google was going to compete, it had to find a way to tie the identity of its users across all of its major platforms, building robust profiles of their usage habits and the like along the way. Google countered with Android and Google+, but of the two, only Android really had to win. Google+ was, to my mind, all about creating a first-party data connection between Google most important services – search, mail, YouTube, Android/Play, and apps.

Think about your relationship to Google five years ago – you most likely weren’t “logged in,” unless you were using a silo’d service like mail. Now think about it today – you most likely are. We have Google+ to thank for that. It’s done its job, and it’ll keep doing it, whether or not you ever use its social bells and whistles as a primary social network.

Google still has a lot of work to do on identity – anyone who has more than one login can attest to that. But Google+ has won – it’s forced the majority of Google users onto a single, signed in state across devices and applications. That protects and extends Google’s core advertising business, and opens up the ability to ladder new services – like Nest – into Google’s platform.


21 thoughts on “Google+ Won (Or Why Google Never Needed A Social Network)”

  1. The services I use my Google sign on for is Google based services like G+, Gmail etc. I still use individual passwords for other services.

  2. It is amazing that the vast majority of the ‘tech media’ still has no understanding of Google+ AT ALL. Of all the articles out this week, this is the ONLY one I have seen where the writer comprehends what Google+ >is<. The 'social layer' Google has been describing it as all along… rather than the 'social network' people continue to insist on seeing instead. The social layer has succeeded beyond anything Google could have hoped for. The social network was never more than window dressing… but has in fact grown to the point that it is now more active than Twitter, Pinterest, and all the others EXCEPT Facebook.

    1. So essentially, Google+ is not a social network in itself, but is the social layer (or social identity) that connects all of their services…?

      1. Yes. That what Google always wanted the service to be. Through it have taken a long time to get there and actually still got a pretty long way to go. It actually make sense that Hangouts and Photos move away from Google+ nest and become more independence products. Why Google + focus on being the connective tissue linking these services together.

  3. Google+ has huge potential but it’s not a business triumph, yet. Clearly, they need a mechanism to string/identify users data across platforms to link their future S-Curve but there’s a real delicate balance at play here. Google+ doesn’t quite hit the same beauty marks as google search – user simplicity and operating excellence. I’ve always respected Google for generally avoiding the one-size fits all strategy but there’s still plenty to learn in omni-data connecting, like how to avoid negative implications on the other well-designed services.

  4. You’re exactly right here John, but you really aren’t even scraping the surface…I wonder if you’re saving it for another blog post… 😉

    1. Funny – say more. Yes, I have a lot more to say, but this was written quickly before I headed out for a ride…

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