Google has not, and probably will never, announce that Google+ will be "sunsetted" (the company's favorite euphemism for killed off). But the Internet giant might as well have this week when the guy who has been running Google+ since day one said he's leaving.
On Thursday, Vic Gundotra announced that he'd be moving on from Google after eight years with the company. "[I'm] forever in debt to the Google+ team," he wrote in a farewell note on Google+. "This is a group of people who built social at Google against the skepticism of so many."
"There are few people with the courage and ability to start something like that and I am very grateful for all your hard work and passion," CEO Larry Page followed up in his own message on Gundotra's efforts with Google+. He added that the company will continue to invest in growing Google+.
But beyond pleasantries, evidence is piling up outside Mountain View that while Google+ isn't going to die, the idea that it will ever be a peer to Facebook (or even to Twitter and Instagram) is dead. Dust off your Google+ page and you'll see there's a small but passionate contingent of people using the social network, which appeals to them with some buttons and doodads (especially for photos) that Facebook just doesn't have.
But following Gundotra's departure, TechCrunch has a report that reveals two other potential death blows dealt to Google+, which seem to suggest that Google will stop trying to make the social network happen.
First, the employees who built the core of Google+ will be reassigned to different teams. The Google Hangouts engineers will go to Android, and many of the rest will likely be assigned to mobile efforts, according to TechCrunch. It's hard to imagine Google+ ever rivaling Facebook with that many fewer people working on and thinking about Google+ daily.
Second, everyone's least favorite part of Google+ -- the requirement that your Google+ profile be integrated into all other things Google -- will reportedly be scaled back. The policy was a necessary evil of making Google+ work, quietly nudging people to "join" the social network all while annoying the hell out of them, most notably by requiring a Google+ account to comment on YouTube. It allowed Google+ to juice its user numbers and announce a bewildering 58 percent jump in active users over five months. But forcing people to join is no way to build a social network that people will voluntarily use.
For its part, Google is denying Google+'s death. "Today's announcement 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," a spokesperson told HuffPost. Google+ employees publicly pushed back against the article, too. "Let me simply say that this entire TechCrunch article is bollocks," Google+ chief architect Yonatan Zunger wrote on Google+.
Theres's nothing wrong with a deep-pocketed tech company throwing products and services up against the wall to see what sticks. But that strategy, which is also deployed by Facebook, Twitter and Amazon with success, only works when companies are willing to cut their losses and kill products that need to be killed.
Google+ was different. It was conceived as a so-called "social layer" (Google's words) to all other things Google, rather than a standalone project that could just be shuttered. Google actually is good at trimming the fat, like it did with Google Reader, Google Buzz or other products that the company realized over the years weren't popular. But ironically, Google has dropped several projects recently to protect Google+.
The Google+ profile you haven't looked at in months isn't going away anytime soon. The difference is that Google is going to start paying a lot less attention to it, too.