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Former Google designer blasts Google+, says the initiative was a mess from the start

Published Oct 16th, 2018 6:04PM EDT
Google Plus

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When Google last week announced that it was axing Google+ for consumers, my first reaction was utter shock and disbelief — mostly because I had completely forgotten that Google’s ill-fated attempt at a Facebook clone was even still around. Originally launched in 2011, Google+ was essentially Google’s effort to wade into social networking waters and geniunely compete with Facebook.

Despite Google’s vast amount of resources and engineering talent, Google+ was something of a joke right from the start. And though the search giant did all sorts of crafty things to boost the cumulative number of Google+ users, user engagement on the site never even came close to matching what Facebook managed to achieve. With Google+ now nothing more than a footnote in tech history, Morgan Knutson — a former designer on the Google+ team — published a wild and completely enthralling recap of his time working on the site. Put simply, Knutson explains why Google+ was a mess — bureaucratic and otherwise — from the start.

Knutson’s lengthy thread was first published on Twitter and was compiled into a single entry on Threader. The entire thing is captivating and well worth reading in its entirety, but we’ve selected a few notable excerpts below.

Interestingly, Knutson details how Google+ was given exceptionally favorable treatement because it was under purview of Vic Gundotra, a former Google executive with quite a bit of power and influence.

Google+ was situated in THE main building. 1900. A floor away from Larry’s office (CEO). If you were one of the 12,000+ people at google in MV who didn’t work on Plus, then you didn’t have access to these floors.

The CEO didn’t just have an office. The entire floor was his. We all had access to it and were encouraged to use it sparingly. A “war room” here and there.

We had access to “his” cafe too. A super fancy vegan cafe called “cloud” that wouldn’t be sustainable in the real world.

Why this exclusivity? What made this project so special? Why was it held so closely to Google’s chest? I’d find out later that the SVP of Plus used his clout to swing all of this.

His name was Vic Gundotra.

He was relatively charismatic. I remember him frequently flirting with the women on the team. Gave me a compounded horrible impression of him.

What’s more, Knutson relays how other teams at Google were incentivized to incorporate Google+ into their own services.

If your team, say on Gmail or Android, was to integrate Google+’s features then your team would be awarded a 1.5-3x multiplier on top of your yearly bonus. Your bonus was already something like 15% of your salary.

You read that correctly. A fuck ton of money to ruin the product you were building with bloated garbage that no one wanted 😂 No one really liked this. People drank the kool-aid though, but mostly because it was green and made of paper.

While you might think that a core initiative like Google+ coming from a company with as many resources as Google would be well managed and efficiently run, Knutson describes a working environment that is as chaotic as it is seemingly random and one where problems were seemingly solved by reflexively adding more and more engineers.

If you’re curious as to what it’s like to work on a monumental initiative at a huge tech company, you’ll definitely want to read Knutson’s full story.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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