— PCMag (@PCMag) September 22, 2014
The next time you create a new Gmail account, you’ll notice a slight change: you won’t be forced to set up a Google+ account with it.
This is a big change. Almost since it was first launched, Google+ has been baked into Gmail and other Google accounts. In other words, if you created a Google account of any kind, you were automatically added to the social network whether you liked it or not. A lot of people didn’t like it.
Now, after almost three years, Google has finally made it optional. Users signing up for a Google account are given a “No thanks” choice. It’s hard to say why this change was made, but it does correspond to changes in how Google runs its social network overall. G+ has been de-emphasized over the past year and had some key functionality yanked, like Google Authorship.
Some tech pundits wonder if this is a prelude to eventually axing Google+ altogether. That shouldn’t be ruled out, since Google is known for being unpredictable and for killing products that aren’t living up to its hopes. But Plus occupies a unique position in the Google landscape, and wouldn’t be easy to drop.
That’s because Google+ is more than just a social network. Thanks to three years of mandatory sign-ups, Plus has become the unifying account across all Google services. Someone with a YouTube account, for example, may not have a Gmail account, but they’re both tied to Google+.
This unifying aspect is extremely valuable to Google. It pulls together all the user data from different services into a single place. Given that data is Google’s business, eliminating Google+ would mean replacing it with some other unifying product—one which could be just as unpopular as Plus and face the same growing pains.
Instead, Google has opted—so far—to stick with Plus and just make it less obtrusive. It never took off as a social network, and now it’s likely to be folded more and more into the background and perhaps eventually rebranded as something else altogether.
But just because there’s a “No thanks” button doesn’t mean the service has truly become optional. Users who pass on Plus will find that they can’t fully use some Google products: no uploading videos to YouTube, no leaving restaurant reviews, and the list goes on. For now, Google+ remains central to most Google services and only if we see it being unhitched from those individual products should we start to plan its funeral.
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— SearchEngine Journal (@sejournal) September 22, 2014