Google missed a major opportunity to rewrite the story of Google+ yesterday and every indication suggests that was exactly the point.
The company barely mentioned Google+ at all over the span of a two-and-a-half-hour keynote at its annual I/O conference for developers. When it did roll off the tongue of a presenter, it was only in passing.
If there was ever a time to provide an update on Google’s much-maligned social platform, this was it. The almost-complete absence of any mention at all speaks volumes about Google’s shifting strategy and priorities. Instead of celebrating Google+’s upcoming third birthday with some some new features or upgrades, executives said nothing at all.
This marks a dramatic reversal from years past. Google+ comprised a major portion of last year’s presentation and was high on the minds of practically every Googler on stage the year prior. There wasn’t a single mention of Google+ in this year’s schedule for Google I/O, but it made an appearance 20 times last year.
At a time when the future of Google+ is more uncertain than ever, this year’s event left industry watchers confounded. Google isn’t just ignoring its social network at its developer conference; it’s acting as if it doesn’t exist at all.
Why is Google letting Google+ wither on the vine? Was this a thinly veiled death by omission? Or is this simply a rebuilding year in which Google+ gets unraveled from Google’s core platforms and services?
What Goes Up Must Come Down
Google may never completely put its foothold in social media out to pasture, but that’s only because it was never a standalone platform to begin with. A dismantling of Google+ would most likely look like the ascension of the platform in reverse.
After weaving and bundling all of its services together under the Google+ umbrella, it could just as easily remove that social layer and relegate it to an online identity. Recent press reports imply that plan is already in motion with hundreds of employees being re-transferred to Google’s core product teams.
Google also declined to provide any updates on Google+ usage. Its last reported numbers peg monthly active users at 540 million, but almost half of those being counted never actually visit the social network. They’re just logged in while using other Google services like Gmail and YouTube.
If Google had better numbers to share, there’s no reason to think it would have missed the chance to say so now. The company is changing the way it reports active users on other services though, opting for a 30-day window instead of cumulative activations.
With Google boasting more than 1 billion 30-day active users on Android and 300 million on the mobile version of its Chrome browser, it’s no wonder Google+ didn’t make the cut. Near the end of 2013, there were only 20 million unique monthly users for Google+.
That just pales in comparison to the 93 million selfies taken on Android devices every day, as was reported this week by Sundar Pichai, Google’s SVP in charge of Android, Chrome and Google Apps. “We estimate Android users take around 1.5 trillion steps per day and they take out their phones over 100 billion times each day,” he adds.
Google+ isn’t even on the radar. Its lack of usage could not have been more apparent as Google used Twitter data on stage to demonstrate new analytics tools, implying that there simply isn’t enough posts on Google+ to analyze in a big data world.
With so many questions left unanswered one thing is clear: Google+’s absence at I/O was by design. Don’t be surprised if Google+ becomes a Google Identity platform by summer’s end.
Things seem to be moving quickly in that direction. Just two months after its leader and most public champion, Vic Gundotra, left the company, Google+ as we know it may be coming to an end.
Matt Kapko has been writing about technology since before the dawn of the iPhone, and covering media well before it was social. Matt lives with his wife in a nearly century-old craftsman in Long Beach, Calif. He can be reached on Twitter: @mattkapko or by email: email@example.com.