Despite Google Photos' arrival, Google+ still lives

SAN FRANCISCO -- The fact that Google launched a new photo sharing and storage service this week isn't ringing the death knell of Google+.

At least that's what Google executives are saying.

"I can commit to ... Google+," said Bradley Horowitz, vice president of photos and streams, during a press briefing at Google I/O on Thursday. "It has an excellent team behind it. Some new blood has been brought in. There's been a renaissance in thinking of Google+. It's working really well in connecting people with shared interests."

There was a lot of talk at Google I/O, the company's major annual developer conference in San Francisco, about what the launch of Google Photos means to Google+. The talk didn't hold out much hope for the social network , which has failed to make a big footprint in a market so dominated by Twitter and Facebook.

Google Photos has been a service inside Google+, allowing users to store and share their images and videos.

On Thursday, Google announced that Google Photos will be a free, stand-alone service for storing unlimited photos and video. It's available now on Android, iOS and the web.

What some suspected was that Google is getting ready to scrap Google+, peeling off its best features like taking the good tires and parts off a dying car.

Google execs said that's not true. They didn't peel Photos off Google+. The new service was built from the ground up, according to Horowitz.

He added that Google Photos is meant for organizing, editing and storing your photos, whereas Google+ is all about sharing. The two services weren't syncing, so it was decided to separate them.

"It's not clear that personal photo management is aligned with the mission we share for Google+," Horowitz said. "The concept of managing all my photos is really different than photo sharing. We understood that space required a cognitive distance from a sharing product. Google Photos is that private, sacred, secure, safe space where all of my memories can live without a compromised agenda. We wanted it to have its own separate brand and app."

That makes sense, according to Brian Blau, an analyst with market research firm Gartner.

"I don't doubt that they wanted to build a new experience for photos and make a clean break from Google+ as they really want Photos to be a new platform for engagement," Blau said. "Photos has been a favorite part of Google+, and users have gravitated to that as one of their most popular features. It'll be interesting now."

Both Blau and Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, were a skeptical about Google+ going into what Horowitz called a renaissance.

"If by renaissance he means adding features and stuff in an effort to attract someone to Google+, then I'd agree it's undergoing a renaissance," Olds said. "I don't see Google+ as completely dead, but it is pretty damned sick. Right now, I think the majority of active users are those who are forced to log into it in order to use their YouTube accounts or other Google services."

The company hadn't come out with new features or redesigns to excite the Google+ user base or attract new users until recently. On May 4, the company announced Collections, a feature designed to help users group their posts by topic.

"Our happiest Google+ users are those who connect with others around shared interests and passions," the company said in a Google+ post. "So we set out to give people a place to express the things they love... Every collection is a focused set of posts on a particular topic, providing an easy way for you to organize all the things you're into."

Users are looking for more than that new feature to put some shine back on Google's social network.

"Well, we just haven't seen Google come out with much in the way of advancements on Google+," said Blau. "They certainly haven't been doing any marketing or real improvements. We certainly we haven't seen much in the way of viral growth. It appears to me that Google+ has been left to the side."

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, called Google+ a "dud" but he believes Google can turn it around. Maybe the changes that Horowitz mentioned will make a difference in the network's growth, he said.

"I think Google+ has been a pretty big disappointment to date," Kagan said. "However, I don't see Google walking away. I do see them making changes and hopefully improvements. So far, Google+ is pretty much a dud but that's not to say it will always be that way."


Sharon Gaudin

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