The war of words between Google and Microsoft has gotten personal.
While the two companies have recently been trading shots via ad campaigns and blog posts, today a former Googler — and current Microsoftie — jumped into the fray, calling Google+ a “state-owned, corporate mandate” and saying that any “ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction” during his time there.
His name is James Whittaker, and his 33-month tenure at Google from May 2009 to February 2012 includes time before and after Larry Page became CEO. Whittaker says that “Google was run like an innovation factory” while Eric Schmidt was CEO, but the threat of Facebook’s dominance in social changed the company when Page replaced him.
Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction.
Whittaker says he worked on Google+ and has harsh words for Google’s young social network (or “layer,” as Google would prefer everyone call it). He references the Google+ announcement, in which the company says “online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it.”
As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it. People were sharing all around us and seemed quite happy. A user exodus from Facebook never materialized. I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, “social isn’t a product,” she told me after I gave her a demo, “social is people and the people are on Facebook.” Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.
He’s referring to what’s generally considered to be very minimal adoption of Google+ among the general public. ComScore recently reported that Google+ users spend only three minutes per month using the service, compared to more than 400 minutes per month that Facebook users spend there. There are reports that brands using Google+ are gaining substantial amounts of followers, but there are also questions about whether those followers are real people. (To be fair, there are also questions about spam accounts as subscribers on Facebook.)
In its defense, Google has said that Google+ is not a destination site like Facebook is, but a “social layer” that impacts users across all multiple Google properties. Google even refuses to say how many people actually use Google+, instead preferring to talk about how many Google+ account holders use any Google product.
Whittaker’s claims are somewhat reminiscent of those made in October by Google employee Steve Yegge, who called Google+ a “knee-jerk reaction” to Facebook and “a study in short-term thinking.” But there’s one important difference: Yegge’s post was published accidentally and not meant for wide reading.
You can be sure that’s not the case with Whittaker’s article.