Google, proving it still hasn’t figured out social, will strip Google+ for parts

Sundar Pichai, Google’s Android head, says Google+ is splitting up.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s Android head, says Google+ is splitting up.
Image: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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This post has been corrected. 

Google+ is a social graveyard. It’s reported to have more than 2 billion profiles, but fewer than 7 million public posts were made in the first two weeks of January. While Google isn’t yet admitting defeat, it will be carving out the most popular parts of Google+ into separate services—as sure a sign as any that the comprehensive approach to social media isn’t working out.

Bradley Horowitz, a seven-year veteran of Google products, including Google+, announced on the social network this morning that he will be heading up two new products, “Photos” and “Streams.” He didn’t mention Google+ by name, but at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier today, Android head Sundar Pichai put Horowitz’s announcement in context:

For us, Google+ was always two things, a stream and a social layer. The stream has a passionate community of users, but the second goal was larger for us. We’re at a point where things like photos and communications are very important, we’re reorganizing around that. Hangouts will still exist.

Google had no shortage of aspirations for Google+, which launched in 2011. It wanted to be Yelp, with its acquisition of Zagat; it wanted to be Flickr with its photos; it wanted to be WhatsApp with Hangouts, and Facebook with stream of user status updates. Despite all of its features, Google+ was unable to uproot any of the existing social networks. For a while, Google was counting activity on any Google service as Google+ use—as all the services were interconnected—essentially overstating its popularity. And now the product appears likely to land on the list of other social endeavors that Google has pulled the plug on, such as Google Wave, Google Buzz and Orkut.

Facebook, meanwhile, has managed to figure out the patchwork of social networks that Google+ attempted to become. It now touts more than 1.3 billion monthly active users, as well as 3 billion daily video plays. (Granted, Facebook’s video figure is bolstered by the fact that Facebook autoplays videos on users’ news feeds, but that just reinforces the continuing popularity of its social stream. For reference, YouTube says “billions of views” take place on its site daily; a more specific estimate was reported to be about 4 billion in 2012.)

Facebook also has 300 million monthly active users sharing photos on Instagram, and 700 million users messaging on WhatsApp. (Its Facebook Messenger service is no slouch, either. And all these services are connected to the backbone of Facebook itself.

When Google Wave was shut down in 2010, the company scrapped it for code. A Google spokesperson tells Quartz that the company has “no specific product details” to share at this point regarding Google+, but with Horowitz and Pichai’s statements today, it’s likely its fate will be similar.

Correction (Mar 10): A previous version of this post said Google+ had fewer than 6 million active users. In fact, it had fewer than 7 million public posts made in Jan. 1-18 2015.