Google Plus and the Puck at Their Feet

So Google+ may or may not be dead. Either way, Vic Gundotra moving on can't be anything other than a huge blow to the social networking also ran. Now we'll just have to wait patiently to find out if his departure was a fatal blow or not. I really liked this Danny Crichton's piece on the early days of Google+:

"In many key ways, Google+ was ahead of its time. Its internal product focus was on choice and privacy, which Google felt was the competitive advantage needed to beat the incumbents. It was reaching out to a demographic of users who had been turned off by the news about personal information leaking on Facebook, yet who were still interested in engaging socially online.”

His whole piece was a great look at the internal politics of launching Google+, but while Google+ was a lot of things, it was never ahead of its time. Sure, it had some novel video and grouping features, but they felt more like Google's take on similar solutions from other companies, rather than any real envelope pushing innovation in the social networking space. In fact, its launch in 2011, really made me think of this famous quote from Wayne Gretzky:

I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.

Google+ was, without a doubt, what Mark Suster calls a "puck at your feet" response to Facebook's meteoric rise to prominence. A Facebook clone that wasn't nearly as good or useful as Facebook itself. In many ways, it reminded me of a less successful version of Microsoft's late nineties attack on Netscape Navigator1 with the launch of Internet Explorer. Microsoft correctly identified the future was the internet, and they definitely identified that you got to the internet through a browser, but they incorrectly focused on the puck at their feet (the browser) and missed the direction the puck was moving (the cloud).

What if Microsoft didn't bother with a web browser, but instead moved to own the internet outside of the browser? Imagine if Microsoft focused all its energy on the kind of collaboration the internet makes possible, if multiple Windows computers could easily sync their folders and files together (a la Dropbox) and if multiple people could easily edit shared Microsoft office documents simultaneously (a la Google Docs), all outside of a web browser. It would've been a much different decade for Microsoft if they had started it with easy syncing and collaboration throughout their entire Windows and office products, that would've been skating to where the puck is going to be.

Google reacted in the same way Microsoft did, just less successfully, they both thought they saw the future, but what they really saw was the present. Kudos to Google for recognizing it faster.

The predicted unbundling of Google+'s best features, like Hangouts and photos, follows Facebook's continued unbundling strategy. Both companies are now skating in the same direction to a mobile future of small focused apps that are loosely connected on the backend. It should be fun to watch the rest of this game play out.

  1. And Opera, don't forget about Opera