For better or worse, Google's Vic Gundotra was entirely responsible for Google+, the company's struggling social network. When Gundotra announced Thursday that he is leaving the company, the G+ obituaries began pouring in. After all, how can Google+ make it without Gundotra's constant hype?
TechCrunch called Google+ "the walking dead," a product that would stick around in some zombie-like form but no longer given the resources needed to compete with Facebook. The blog's sources said Google Hangouts employees will move over to the Android team, and staffers who work on photos could soon follow. Hangouts and photos are two essential parts of the G+ experience — separating them would gut the network entirely. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google+ employees have moved buildings at the Mountain View, Calif. campus so they are now further away from CEO Larry Page's office.
Gundotra's departure and the sudden employee reshuffling indicate that the future of Google+ is up in the air. But Google is denying that it plans to change its approach to the network. A company spokesperson told the WSJ that Gundotra's decision to leave "has no impact on our Google+ strategy — we have an incredibly talented team that will continue to build great user experiences across Google+, Hangouts, and Photos."
So how can Google+ survive without its champion? First, it's time for the network to get real.
Focus on actual Google+ users, not accidental ones
Google has a strange way of counting its active users. If you signed up for Google+ — even on accident, which I'm pretty sure is how my account came to be — and click on the red notification bell that appears in Gmail when someone adds you to one of their G+ circles, you're considered one of the network's 300 million active users.
But inflating those numbers doesn't help anyone. It doesn't make Google+ look like a real Facebook rival. Google should stop trying to onboard users by accident and instead cater to its (surprisingly) devoted community. A core group of people really love Google+ and use it to share articles, pen lengthy blog posts, and chat about everything from politics to photography. Google should give those people what they want and stop trying to compete with Facebook.
Enough with the forced integration
One way Google+ has grown its user base is by requiring the use of a G+ login for services like YouTube. That transition continues to be incredibly unpopular, though outrage has died down since the change took place. If Google+ is going to grow into a full-fledged network with hundreds of millions of users, it will have to get there organically. After all, how many social products have successfully scaled by growth-hacking? Very few. (Remember Path? I rest my case.)
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