Last updated: April 24, 2014 10:08 pm

Google+ chief quits ahead of shake-up

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The Google executive who led its attempt to challenge Facebook in social networking is leaving the company, ahead of changes to the service.

Vic Gundotra, a former Microsoft executive who has spent almost eight years at the search firm, launched Google+ in June 2011, with the stated aim to “fix” online sharing, which he described as “broken” and “awkward”.

Google+ claimed to offer better privacy controls than Facebook and introduced new features, such as free group video calling, ahead of its rivals.

While the service has grown to 300m monthly users, in large part thanks to tight integration into other Google services such as Gmail and Android, it has failed to unseat Facebook as the dominant form of online sharing, or even slow its growth.

Facebook said on Wednesday that it had 1.3bn monthly users at the end of March, up 15 per cent on the previous year, and had added the equivalent of Google+’s entire 300m active membership in just 18 months.

Nonetheless, after controversial changes to its privacy policy in early 2012, the extra data that Google has been able to collect from its social media services have helped to power continuing growth in its online advertising business.

Mr Gundotra announced his departure, fittingly, on Google+. Without explaining what new role he was moving on to, if any, he thanked the “invincible dreamers” of his Google+ colleagues.

“This is a group of people who built social at Google against the scepticism of so many. The growth of active users is staggering, and speaks to the work of this team,” he said.

Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, thanked Mr Gundotra for galvanising its mobile apps and developer relations, and building Google+ “from nothing”.

“There are few people with the courage and ability to start something like that and I am very grateful for all your hard work and passion,” Mr Page said, in his first public post to Google+ in a month.

One person familiar with Google said the company planned to refocus its social media efforts soon. Its Hangouts messaging and video-chat app will be given greater prominence, alongside photos, while the Google+ branding may take a back seat, this person said.

As people’s internet activity shifts from PCs to mobile, Facebook too has been putting greater emphasis on chat apps. It touted 200m users of its Messenger app and moved to acquire WhatsApp Messenger for a valuation at the time of up to $19bn in cash and stock, which recently reached 500m users.

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