Google Plus Launched Ten Years Ago This Week

Steven Levy, writing for Wired in 2011 about the launch of Google Plus, code-named “Emerald Sea”:

The massive wave symbolizes the ways Google views the increasingly prominent social aspect of the web — as a possible tsunami poised to engulf it, or a maverick surge that it will ride to glory. Beirstadt’s turbulent vision is the perfect illustration. “We needed a code name that captured the fact that either there was a great opportunity to sail to new horizons and new things, or that we were going to drown by this wave,” [Vic Gundotra] said last August, when Google first showed me a prototype.

Did he say drown? It almost beggars belief that the king of the search — the most successful internet business ever, with $30 billion in yearly revenue — would be running scared by the social networking trend led by Facebook, a company that barely rakes in a few billion. Nonetheless, people at Google feel that retooling to integrate the social element isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. As early as last August, I asked Gundotra whether he felt Emerald Sea was a bet-the-company project.

“I think so,” he replied. “I don’t know how you can look at it any other way.”

It is hilarious in hindsight to look back at the fanfare afforded to the launch of Google Plus. Just two years into the experiment, I felt confident enough to call Google Plus a ghost town; it took the New York Times another year to do the same.

But was it really a “bet the company project”? Google’s then-CEO Larry Page thought it was worth tying part of employees’ bonuses to the success of Google Plus, so the product got integrated into most of Google’s user-facing products, only for that to be unwound just a year after Gundotra left the company. Everything has worked out fine without Google growth-hacking its way into popularizing its miserable Facebook knock-off; if anything, keeping it around would have been a mistake.