Ever since it launched, Google+ has struggled to lure users, and then keep them engaged. It’s been three years since its release, but most people — including several Googlers — don’t know the point of its existence. This list includes ex-Googler Chris Messina, who worked in the development of Google+ until last year.
Messina may not be a household name, but he is credited with having invented hashtag, and also worked as a designer for Google+ until August 2013, when he left the company to pursue other projects. In a scathing blogpost on Medium, Messina says how he is hugely disappointed with seeing what Google+ has grown out to become. “Lately, I just feel like Google+ is confused and adrift at sea,” he wrote. “It’s so far behind, how can it possibly catch up?”
A lot of things have been said about Google+, mostly for its notorious features and the company’s unwelcoming approach toward pushing it among users. Most people didn’t like the fact that a Google+ account was mandatory for them to have if they wanted to continue using Gmail. The company also faced criticism for making it mandatory for users to sign in to their Google+ accounts to be able to comment on YouTube. For most part, it has felt like Google is doing all it can to make sure you don’t leave Google+. And that’s what Messina’s original contention is with the service.
“The future of digital identity should not be determined by one company (namely, Facebook),” he says. “I still believe that competition in this space is better for consumers, for startups, and for the industry. And Google still remains one of the few companies (besides Apple, perhaps) that stands a chance to take on Facebook in this arena — but Google+, as I see it, has lost its way.”
His point is that Google should have made a revolutionary product, instead of trying to catch up with Facebook. The service should have tried to “re-invent” how people do social networking, instead of giving them another Facebook.
“Why did the world need another Facebook, unless to benefit Google by making their ad targeting more effective?” he writes. “Why wasn’t Google+ one of Google’s famous moonshots, intended to improve personal social networking by 10x? Why did they take a conventional approach to social networking rather than think about what controls people might need in the next 5–10 years in their digital lives?”
Messina’s problem with Google+ can be summed up in this simple sentence — he doesn’t understand why it exists, and who exactly is the service is for. “The fundamental problem that I have with Google+ is that I just don’t understand it,” he writes. “And what I don’t understand makes me nervous — and should make you nervous too.”
The service’s future doesn’t seem so bright. Many of its leaders, including Vic Gundotra, have left the company. That, and there also have been several significant reorganizations inside the core Google+ team that fueled the speculation in the past about the company’s likeliness to shut its social network. Additionally, Google hasn’t introduced any major features to its social networking site either. In fact, compared to Facebook, Twitter and other popular services, the Google+ app hasn’t been upgraded that often in the past few months, giving us a picture of how serious Google is toward the service.