Google+ was doomed for a number of reasons, but the one that always stuck with me was when I read that Google CEO Larry Page had tied every employee's bonus to the success of the then fledgling social network. Money is a big motivator, especially in Silicon Valley, but Page's decree was representative of the naive perceptions of social media as some mystical power that could be wielded with the simple construction of a Facebook-esque sharing service.
The early landscape of social networking is littered with countless forgotten products that all seemed to have the same flimsy marketing credo about connecting and sharing with friends. While those services died a relatively quick death, Google had the luxury of being a multi-billion dollar company that just happened to be suffering from some serious Zuckerberg jealousy.
So, Google created a social product that we didn't need, want, or care about, and proceeded to shove it down our collective gullets by integrating it with the Google services that a very large number of us use every single day – namely Gmail. On paper that sounds like a brilliant product strategy: Give everyone who signs up for Gmail a Google+ account.
That allowed for those coveted bonuses to be handed out, and spurred press clippings about Google+'s very healthy growth. In reality, what Google did was accomplish the exact opposite of a social network. It created an anti-social network, whereby millions of accounts were dead on arrival because they had been forced on us. In most cases the average user probably doesn't even know they have a Google+ profile.
Now that Google+ architect Vic Gundotra is leaving the company, the social network that never was is reportedly dead. Its best team members are being moved to projects Google actually cares about, and the company's plans to transition G+ from a product to a platform is its way of saving face. Hopefully, Google+ will sink into the digital sea like an old wooden ship that can no longer sail.
The irony is that I'm actually having a love affair with Google right now. Project Ara is probably the coolest initiative on my radar, it swiped a drone company from right under Facebook, and the current game of one-upmanship with affordable flagship Android-powered phones is turning my attention away from my iPhone. I'm not saying that Google couldn't make a decent social product, but it has its fingers in far more interesting pies right now.
Facebook is doing something very smart by not turning the service into a multi-tentacled, user experience nightmare by integrating its acquisitions into the ecosystem. Instagram is a juggernaut, WhatsApp is remaining independent, Messenger is now its own product, and Oculus Rift has the potential to be Facebook's crown jewel going forward. This unbundling of products is something I hope Google adopts, because the last thing I want to see is another terrible product piggybacking on my beloved Gmail.