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On Google +’s winding road

The much maligned social network Google + has a new leader and early signs point to a separation of its core products, photos, streams, and hangouts, into separate products.

Google + might have been doomed from the start. Crashing into the beach post-Google Wave, it was another example for critics who claimed Google’s rigorous adherence to data-in-a-vacuum and insular thinking insulated themselves and their products from what consumers really wanted.

And it was so complicated. If you look at all major social networks that exist today, the ones with multiple “features” unveiled them over time – they all started out doing one very specific thing. Google +, however, intended to be big from the start, unveiling Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, and other forgotten features.

It was the sign of a company who saw the danger in Facebook and went all-in as the chips were dwindling.

While Google did not have a runaway success as a product, it did have one thing that no other social network could claim – the highway to content through search. While Google + was a barren village, posts and profiles began popping up in search results, famously showing Mark Zuckerberg’s and Facebook’s Google + pages before showing their respective locations on the more-popular Facebook. Thus began the artificial life support of Google +, whereby consultants told clients that G+ could be huge for search results, never mind the fact that all content placed on the social network died unappreciated.

At some point, it must have been apparent that by focusing so much effort on promotion Google +, a service that never quite got off the ground as a whole, Google was diminishing its brand equity as a search engine. Which is, of course, the main revenue driver for the company. So it began promoting other social networks profiles in search results and publically abandoned the idea that Google + would have a significant impact on search results. And now we’re here.

What should have Google done with its + product? It either should have launched as one singularly focused product, e.g. “Hangouts”, a place where you could have one-on-one conversations or group chats with friends, customers, colleagues, or as the public profile for individuals and brands.

It should have followed the smaller paths it has with other “content” plays, like movie times and airline flights. In those product categories, Google has extended the actions they enable users to take on its Google.com property. You can now sort through show times and search airlines before going to the actual site to make a purchase.

While companies like About.Me and Flavors.me popularized the “identity management” space, Google, with control of the super-highway, could have been the default individual and company profile provider. You would only share the contact information and “updates” that you wanted the world to be able to access and be indexed for all time.

Those are just some examples of what Google + could have done instead of thrown the kitchen sink at a marketplace that already had a perfectly working sink in Facebook and smaller, smarter utilities like Twitter and LinkedIn.

Here’s hoping that Google gets it right this time.

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