Google+ or Google Minus? With Creator’s Departure, Questions Raised Anew

Vic Gundotra
Vic Gundotra

Vic Gundotra, the man behind Google+ and Google I/O, announced Thursday that he is leaving the search giant. In a heartfelt post on his personal Google+ page, Gundotra praised his colleagues and Google CEO Larry Page, going on to explain that "now is the time for a new journey," without going into detail about what that next venture might be.

Page also took to Google+, thanking Gundotra for his eight years of service at Google, writing, "You built 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."

Losing Gundotra is undoubtedly a major loss for the company and the social network.

With Gundotra's departure, Google loses an executive with a long history at the company that includes heading up myriad mobile initiatives including turn-by-turn directions on Google Maps. Gundotra also improved the company's relationship with developers, which Page described as "disparate efforts" before Gundotra fixed them. And he's credited with originating "Circles" in Google+, a novel idea which gives users discretion regarding whom they share certain information with.

It's no secret that Google+ has struggled to compete with more popular networks. Last year, Gundotra claimed that Google+ has over 300 million active users, which would make it bigger than both Twitter and Instagram (Facebook has 1.28 billion active users.) “The growth of active users is staggering, and speaks to the work of this team,” Gundotra said in his farewell post on Thursday.

However, many are skeptical about this estimate, as Google+ users don't even have to go to their Google+ page to be considered "active."

But the show will go on at Google+, with the VP of engineering, David Besbris, taking the helm. The social network does have some bright spots—marketers use it (mostly because of the suspicion that it positively impacts Google search rankings), it's free video networking service—Hangouts—is popular, and it has impressive video and image editing capabilities.

Still, when the head of a product—especially its creator—jumps ship, suspicions and negative press eventually follow. With Gundotra's departure, speculation about the future of the product he helped create will intensify. How will Google respond?

Follow Brian Greene: @bwilliamgreene