Google+ branding disappears from Google homepage – is Google retiring its social network?

4 Jun 2015

The disappearance of Google+ from the Google homepage to within the apps section raises questions about the future of the social network.

Google is infamous for killing its young, and questions have been asked about the future of Google+ for a long time. Now, as Google+ branding disappears from Google’s homepage, is the social network marching into oblivion?

A prominent ex-Googler once described Google’s approach to product development thus: “The Roman legions would send their scouts off in a certain direction. If the scouts didn’t return from that direction the legion didn’t go that way. That’s how we approach product development at Google.”

Google has done this before. Products like Google Reader were killed off – not because they weren’t popular or brilliant – just because they didn’t afford Google a path to revenue.

Google+ was launched in 2011 as a social network to take on Facebook and Twitter. There is no doubt about it the social network has a beautiful interface and has spawned a number of standout Google products like Hangouts and Photos.

As of 2013 Google+ is understood to have amassed 540m active users – still far behind the more than 1bn that Facebook had amassed at that stage but well ahead of Twitter, which currently has 300m users.

Google+, however, was Google’s fourth foray into social following Orkut, Friend Connect and Google Buzz.

This town, is coming like a ghost town


Google has moved Google+ from its own position on the home page to within the apps section

However, Google+ has also been likened to a ghost town with low user engagement – according to ComScore, in 2012 the social network averaged just 3.3 minutes per user on the site versus 7.5 hours for Facebook. Nielsen in 2013 said user engagement increased to seven minutes but was still way behind the competition.

Google+ was also the factor that saw Vic Gundotra – founder of the social network and for a long time seen as an unstoppable rising star at the search giant – ultimately leave Google.

In recent days Google has begun removing the Google+ brand from its homepage – users can still access Google+ by tapping on the apps icon.

Does this mean Google+ is dead? Not entirely, it is being slowly killed and relegated, which is the cruellest kind of death. It appears that Google still uses the social network to incubate vital social and mobile products like Stream, Hangouts and Photos. However, the idea of the social network as a destination and not just a way of identifying users is on the way out.

Last week at I/O, Google spun out Photos as its own app and brand with unlimited storage of photos and video for users on Android, iOS and web devices.

Google+ will exist as a way of managing identities and incubating new products, but it appears Google has given up the ghost of taking on Facebook at social.

Google Plus image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years