Ex-Google+ Engineer: “Sharing Was Not Broken … Google Just Wasn’t Part Of It”

microsoft-google-logosThe 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.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Features & Analysis | Google: Google+ | Social Media Marketing | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jerry.frear Jerry Frear Jr.

    Funny actually…………. I would say G+ isn’t going away……….and since its not even a year old….I think judgement must come at a later date. Angry ex-employees should always be taken with a grain of salt.

  • http://twitter.com/mattcrouch Matt Crouch

    I remember getting the invite to G+. I was enthusiastic, ready to drop facebook. A couple weeks after launch, I was bored. Google had made a second rate Facebook with its marketing around “circles”. Circles? really? I hated the circles, in the same way I didnt want to use Facebook lists. As time went on and my friends didn’t really care about it, I had no reason to use it. 

    I really wanted it to work but there just wasnt anything there that wasnt already on facebook. In fact there was less. Oh, unless you talk about “hangouts”. What seemed like a cool feature, took forever to really happen and then it just turned out to a video chat which had already been around for years. I soon proclaimed that Google Plus would be another failed Google property. I still stand by my statement.

  • http://twitter.com/josephmchambers Joseph Chambers

    Great read. 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.

    Remember google wave? it failed. Im just not so sure google will let google plus fail. They should integrate myspace, flickr, Facebook into google plus to keep people there. So it can be a hub for the social networks while still it’s own.

  • http://www.pixelrage.net Pixelrage

    I fail to see where all of this “innovation” was…looked more like races to catch up with already successful brands like Digg, Facebook & Twitter. Google Voice is a crowning achievement though, absolutely love that service.

  • Anonymous

    What about Steve Yegge, an angry current employee? He even says in a later post that Googlers are free to speak their minds internally, so it shouldn’t matter much whether he’s ex or current.

    Also, the big tech firms rarely fire people. They lose them to bigger offers at better places. So the bitterness of being fired rarely applies. If it did, I’m sure the first guy in this post wouldn’t now be working at Microsoft.

  • http://www.pixelrage.net Pixelrage

    Google Wave failed…Google Buzz failed…Google Knol just announced it’s going away…then there was that Twitter competitor “Jaiku” that Google bought out that went under. Google by its nature tries things out, and retires them when they flop — still no telling if Google+ is going to join that list. My guess — yes.

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  • fjpoblam

    It would seem, from Whittaker’s article, that Google is now “running” hobbled by a ball and chain of Plus. I agree. Until G leaves its pluzz-hobbled mindset, the creativity that is essential to a healthy enterprise must suffer. Forget creativity too long, and you’ll get like an old man’s muscles: flabby, withered, and hard to recover. Sic semper tyrannis?

  • Christopher Carr

    For one thing, you can’t search FB, and you can’t save searches. You can in G+, which makes it better than FB as a news/interest stream — an unlike Twitter, you can actually have conversations about the items of interest. 

  • http://nerdious.com benspak

    Ah, so that’s why the Google spam team took a little time off.

  • http://nerdious.com benspak

    Ah, so that’s why the Google spam team took a little time off.

  • Anonymous

    G+ isn’t a Facebook replacement; it’s a better Twitter because there’s no character limit. Sharing sucks there, but discovery on G+ is awesome. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/cromwellian Ray Cromwell

    Google has tens of thousands of employees. A big product at Google may have a team of just a few hundred people. So when people go off ranting about how G+ is suddenly consuming all of the innovation at Google, try to remember that 95% of the company doesn’t work on G+.

    This rant also has several inaccuracies. Wave was not targeted at Facebook, it wasn’t social at all, it was an attempt to reinvent Email collaboration. (It didn’t even have the concept of friends)  Orkut was not a “me too” follower for Facebook, it actually launched before Facebook did. Buzz was more a clone of FriendFeed (before Facebook bought them) then Facebook. 

    It may be that Whittaker had nothing to work on, or didn’t like working on social, but there very many other non-G+ related projects at Google and it is very inaccurate to suggest that somehow Google Labs closing represents the end of freedom for Googlers to work on 20% stuff, or that G+ is blocking innovation on search, or maps, mail, or any of Google’s other projects.

     

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  • http://khmerbird.com/ khmerbird

    To my own experience, I have more friends on Facebook and I get only few reaction in G+, even I have around 2000 people in my circle, I ask have they logged in? 

    But There’s also some interesting points in G+, because it is the No.1 search engine! 

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  • Anonymous

    Just checking how it works.

  • XXXX

    I personally do not like to mix social with search.  There is freedom in anonymity.  Relationships with people can be “complicated”.  I don’t need the extra headache of worrying about my footsteps or who I might be offending while I’m searching, readying, viewing, commenting…

  • Tracy Mallette

    I love that, so far, 44 people +1ed this. :)

  • http://stilnibijuta.com/ Todorov

    G+ is good for marketers. And it’s free…

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