If Google doesn’t care about Google+, then why should we?

Google hardly acknowledged Google+ at all this week at its I/O developer conference, and it was a gaping omission from its three-hour keynote. If the lack of enthusiasm proves anything, it’s that even Google doesn’t know what it wants to do with its social network. And maybe, it never did.

Google+ has never had a distinct purpose or mission. And yet, onward it marches, the playground of thought leaders and marketers with Google circles aplenty, unmoored from the potential of the social network it was never really given the chance to be.

That’s because, almost from the beginning, even the so-called “father” of Google Plus Vic Gundotra couldn’t explain what it was. In a 2012 interview with me, he seemed to regard it as Google’s all-encompassing “social spine.” In the same conversation, though, Gundotra also painted Google+ as a social network in competition with Facebook. Google+, he told me, was the social network you never knew you needed, but would love.

It’s almost as if Google never could figure out what the plus sign in the service’s name stands for.

Turns out, most people haven’t loved it.

Two years later, and we’re still “liking” friends on Facebook and retweeting absolutely everything, but when’s the last time someone or some business encouraged you to “circle” them?

It’s almost as if Google never could figure out what the plus sign in the service’s name stands for.

For the record, a Google spokesperson told Digital Trends that “social is an important part of services across Google, and it is still a key area of focus for us.” Google also explained in an email that a discussion of Google+ didn’t fit into the broad themes of I/O this year, which were “design, develop and distribute.”

“To that end, our content and sessions (weren’t) necessarily focused around specific products but more generally about how Google can help you as a developer enrich the experience for your users and grow your audience, with tools at every step of the development process,” the email reads.

“Topics and sessions touched on multiple products and gave developers a more holistic overview. Google+ is of course an important component to that.”

And some folks agree with that. Hunter Walk, a former Googler and now partner at VC fund Homebrew, tweeted, following the 2014 I/O event, that Google+ wasn’t “missing from I/O” but baked more deeply into the company than ever before.

But if the service is supposed to be some kind of Googley connective tissue, why has Google always bragged about its incremental gains in Plus users, as if positioning it as a social network that’s still trying to compete?

Some reports have suggested recently, in the wake of Gundotra’s departure from the company, that everything from Google+ is poised to be broken up into pieces. The notion implies that Google now cares more about Plus not as a social network but as the glue that ties all of Google together.

Even when I spoke with Gundotra two years ago, he and Google didn’t seem particularly eager to praise the thing. He kept referring to the social network as Google’s “social spine” that links different Google services. That notion has come back into some of the reporting again as if it’s a new thing, but it seems to have been there, if not from the beginning, then at least for a good while now.

When’s the last time someone or some business encouraged you to “circle” them?

But he also couldn’t help comparing it to Facebook. Gundotra conceded right off the bat, with no prompting, that Google had been “late to market” and proceeded to spend most of the interview explaining how the service is better because it’s not Facebook (without mentioning Facebook).

“We hadn’t done a good job on social before,” Gundotra told me. “We didn’t apply our success at organizing things to the world’s people. And nobody likes to be late to market.”

When laying the foundation for Google, he explained, the company had asked people what they loved most about social networking – but “love was not a word we heard.”

“So we dug into it. We asked, ‘Why aren’t you satisfied?’ People said it just felt awkward. They felt their privacy was violated. And we don’t think ads should be injected into intimate social moments.”

Gundotra has now left Google, and the question now is what’s next for the service. If Google doesn’t love Google+ enough to make it a showpiece product or even figure out what it’s supposed to be, why should you and I?

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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