From my Forbes blog:
Google+ has never gotten the respect its creator hoped, let alone gained much ground on its supposed target, Facebook. Now, Google’s attempt at a social network has lost its leader and chief evangelist, Vic Gundotra, who announced today that he’s leaving Google after almost eight years at the company.
Gundotra, a former Microsoft executive, gave no clue to his next steps. His own post, musing on the death of his wife’s uncle and her father’s attitude toward life, implied that he was simply ready for a new challenge after a career at Google that you’d have to consider a success. Google+ failed to make a dent in Facebook, but it’s a solid service with a loyal following and, probably most of all, a powerful source of data for Google’s advertising machine. And Gundotra’s previous work courting developers for Android obviously paid off bigtime, as the mobile software remains the only credible rival to Apple’s iOS.
Still, Gundotra’s departure, effective immediately, is rather abrupt, despite recent rumors that he was interviewing for other jobs. There is speculation that he didn’t get along with CEO Larry Page’s “L Team” of top execs and with some employees who called him the “Victator,” though Page himself provided a quick bit of praise for Gundotra today. Other sources at Google have told me that Gundotra, known for his very public profile and more charm than many Google executives, was resented by some inside Google for self-promotion and a tendency to run over other execs in his drive to get things done.
What matters more going forward is what will happen to Google+, which has suffered most of all from a confusing vision of its core purpose. Gundotra and his lieutenant, Bradley Horowitz (who mysteriously was not chosen as his successor), have taken pains to define Google+ as not a social network, but some sort of social glue for all of Google’s services. But their insistence, coupled with iffy numbers of people supposedly using it, always rang a bit hollow, so Google+ continues to be compared to Facebook. And as a place to share your life with friends as people do on Facebook, it’s clearly a failure. …
Here’s the thing: This could actually be an ideal time for Google to forge a completely new vision of social networking and communications, rather than keep trying to explain what Google+ isn’t. Indeed, at a time when even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is talking up the virtues of private communications, Google+ could position itself as already well on the way to this new world of more nuanced online communications. …
Gundotra’s departure may be a blow to Google’s social ambitions for now. But it also could be an opportunity to start anew. And it’s an opportunity Google can’t afford to waste this time.
Read the rest of the analysis.