With Gundotra out, changes likely for Google+

Google's social network will have to move on without its champion

Now that Google's Vic Gundotra, a senior vice president and the head of Google+, is leaving the company, changes are likely afoot at the social network he championed since its inception, industry analysts said.

Senior Vice President of Engineering at Google Vic Gundotra speaks about updates to Google Plus during a Google event in San Francisco, on Oct. 29, 2013. ({Photo: Beck Diefenbach/Reuters)

"Gundotra was certainly the public face of Google+," said Brian Blau, an analyst with research firm Gartner. "It was his creation, his group and he was the spokesperson for it. They often reveal what's going on at Google I/O. It's only eight weeks away so we may find out what could happen with Google+ soon enough."

Google+ usually get quite a bit of attention, along with updates about the Android platform and search, at Google I/O, the company's annual developer conference, which is being held June 25 and 26 in San Francisco.

Gundotra, who was a general manager at Microsoft before joining Google in 2007, led the effort to create Google+, which launched on June 28, 2011 as a social networking competitor to Facebook, as well as the social glue that the company plans to use to connect its different services.

He also was a popular public face for Google+, which had about 300 million active monthly users in October 2013. Gundotra took the stage at major conferences, speaking passionately about Google+, and garnered more than 6.5 million followers on his Google+ page.

On Thursday, Gundotra announced, fittingly, in a Google+ post that after starting the Google I/O conference, leading the company's mobile efforts and creating Google+, he is leaving the company.

He did not explain why he is leaving or what he will do next.

"But, now is the time for a new journey," he wrote. "A continuation... I am excited about what's next. But this isn't the day to talk about that. This is a day to celebrate the past eight years. To cry. And smile. And to look forward to the journey yet to come."

Blau noted that any conjecture about why Gundotra is leaving is just that -- conjecture. Whether he was asked to leave, left because he wanted a break or found an offer he couldn't refuse, it still means that Google+ has been left without a champion.

"I don't think this is good news for Google," Blau said. "Vic seemed to be someone people really resonated with and liked... But Google+ is more than Vic. Google+ is a central part of the Google ecosystem strategy. I have a hard time seeing it going away. It could morph but it won't go away."

Critics have bashed Google+ for not competing more aggressively with Facebook, which has more than 1.3 billion monthly users. However, Google CEO Larry Page said a few months after the company launched its social network that Google+ was more than another social player.

Google+, according to Page, was developed to transform the entire Google experience.

Integrating Google+, or pieces of it, into other Google services should embed identity and sharing into all of the company's products, helping to understand what its users want, when they want it.

That hasn't been a pie-in-the-sky vision. Company execs have put that plan into action, integrating Google+ with the Google Apps cloud-based office suite, while also adding the Google+ Hangout feature to Gmail, the company's popular cloud-based email service.

That overall vision is expected to continue.

"Fundamentally, there's a vision for what Google+ is and how it connects a lot of their properties," said Scott Strawn, an analyst with IDC. "It's an important part of their strategy. I don't think that strategy goes away because Vic has."

Google+ may not be going away, but that doesn't mean changes aren't coming, either, he added. "I would be very surprised if there weren't changes."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Gundotra's departure was a blow to the company.

"Gundotra was able to do what few people at Google have been able to do, and that's connect externally with people," Moorhead said. "His passion was evident and will be hard to replace. I can't characterize this as nothing other than bad news for Google."

He added that he expects changes at Google+, if, for no other reason, than because incoming executives like to leave their mark. That doesn't mean they have to be negative changes, either.

"I think it's premature for users to be worried," said Moorhead. "There just is no need to think it's in trouble."

This article, With Gundotra out, changes likely for Google+, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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