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Does Google think that Google+ is the only path to social?

Google has bet heavily on Google+. Not just the money that is being poured into its development and marketing, but the company’s credibility is on the line after a long series of social missteps, like Orkut and Wave. Yes, they continue to trumpet big numbers, but people suspect their counting is skewed so they have to be interpreted carefully, to say the least.

Several news stories suggest that Google might be walking away from great opportunities as it focuses relentlessly on Google+. For example, millions of businesses and individuals depend on Google Apps, but Google is making some big changes there that might drive folks away. Or maybe, intentionally pushing many individuals to personal Google Accounts, where they will be counted at Google+ users.

Clay Bavor, Changes to Google Apps for businesses

When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well. Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn’t quite right for either group. Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes. Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready.

With this in mind, we’ve decided to make things very straightforward. Starting today for all new customers:

  • Individuals wishing to use Google’s web apps like Gmail and Google Drive should create a free personal Google Account, which provides a seamless experience across all of our web services on any device.
  • For Businesses, instead of two versions, there will be one. Companies of all sizes will sign up for our premium version, Google Apps for Business, which includes 24/7 phone support for any issue, a 25GB inbox, and a 99.9% uptime guarantee with no scheduled downtime. Pricing is still $50 per user, per year.

So, yes, existing free accounts can continue, but no new ones. Businesses are now going to pay, and individuals are being herded toward Google+.

This pales in comparison to Google outright slap in the face to ardent Google Reader users who howled when Google yanked out various features that had created an almost inadvertent social network, or as Erik Kain styled it, an unsocial network.

I wonder that in their march to total Google+ victory they are missing opportunities to grow more natural and human scale social communities. Why not build on the near ubiquity of Google calendar to create true social calendaring, for individuals and business? Why has Google done some a terrible job with task management when it is a critical need for team and business coordination? Why can’t Google build something a step at a time — by evolution — from our cc lists, instead of forcing us to choose Google+ over Twitter and Facebook?

I think Google is missing its best opportunities in areas where people are already using their software a dozen times a day. But we’ll soon be moving to other alternatives if Google continues to tear out or forgoes the sociality we’re looking for.