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Sundar Pichai on the direction — or directions — of Google+

When Vic Gundotra left Google, I started to make predictions about the demise of Google+ (see Surprise resignation of VP Vic Gundotra raises questions about the future of Google+, and Google has missed the social era, again, with Google+), and those only continued when David Besbris gave an oddly vacant interview in October (see Why I know Google+ isn’t doing well: It’s not part of Google for Work). A few days ago, Sundar Pichai, who runs Chrome, Android, search, ad tech, maps, commerce, infrastruction and social at Google, gave his first interview since being annointed product Czar and heir apparent to Larry Page.

He touched on a lot of topics in this interview by Miguel Helft, but I will winkle out just the comments on Google+, which is increasingly being divided into three parts, Hangouts, photos, and a social stream:

Q: The one thing that comes to mind is Google+. We haven’t seen a lot of new things there and many people outside of Google think it’s been a flop. What are the lessons you learned from it? What’s the future for it?

A: Google+ has always meant two things for us. There’s the stream in the product that you see. And for us, Google+ was also a way by which Google after many years, we made sure there’s common [login and] identity across our products. The second part was in many ways even more important than the first part. That part has worked really well for us. In terms of the stream itself, based on the stats we see, we have a passionate community of users. We would definitely like to see more scale at what we do. The team is working on a few next generation ideas. But to us these are two different things, and I don’t think we have always done a good job of explaining that.

Q: There are other parts of Google +, like photos, which people seem to like but seem to have been dormant because they are part of the larger product.

A: We are actively working on all of these areas. To me, photos is an important area. I see that as a specific problem space that’s different from the [Google+] stream.

Q: Should we expect Google+ to remain as one big product?

A: I think increasingly you’ll see us focus on communications [Hangouts], photos and the Google+ stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area.

I am a huge fan of Hangouts, and Google is definitely pushing that technology into the Google for Work — and now Android for Work — initiatives. What I don’t understand is why we don’t see an activity stream in Google Drive, a feature that would elevate the value of the product immensely, and would counter the advances made by Microsoft Office in recent quarters. Have they grown afraid of chat-like experiences after Google+. Wave, Orkut, and other failed social experiments?