So, now I'm curious as to everyone's thoughts as to "What Went Wrong??"
Google really kind of fucked it up and everything went away. That was a real bummer, because they had something great going, as everyone can see from the great posts above. After Vic Gundotra left (I really liked him and Bradley Horowitz and so many other people on the team), the writing was on the wall and Google sent it out to pasture for five years until they finally announced they were shutting it down.
I agree with @thomashawk above that they should have spent another $500mil (sounds like a lot to us mere mortals, but it is not much to them) to continue the effort and try new things.
I have a pretty good theory on why they shut it down. I also have a logical argument against this reason.
10+ years ago when I used to work in big corporations (like Andersen Consulting / Accenture) before I became a full-time artist I came to understand organizational dynamics. Sometimes, great plans go astray in execution, and it’s never exactly one person’s fault. Such is the nature of corporations.
I firmly believe was hesitation about whether or not Google wanted to play the “social” game or not. Google’s mission has always been to organize the world’s information on the way to building the ultimate AI. So, “social” was sort of a sub-business or experiment. They have many experiments going on at Google. They kill them quite a bit. I remember them asking me to help out with "Google Schemer" and asked me to promote their physical "Pinman" at SXSW (who was their Google Maps mascot) and all this other stupid shit... they never paid me or anything, but they were never shy to ask for favors. Most of these ideas they killed after they didn't work, just like Google+.
And here’s my logical argument against their decision to get out of social. I do not agree that building a “social network” is not congruent with the ultimate task of building the ultimate AI. That was a double-negative, so let me be clear: I believe that investing in a social network is congruent with building the ultimate AI.
I believe that observing social behavior would feed important human cultural data into that AI. Right now the AI is being fed data by looking at Google searches, seeing where mobile phones go, which ads to people click on in YouTube, what are people Google-translating, how are people responding in emails, android photos, etc. There are thousands of data-inputs that are feeding this ultimate AI. I believe that observing hundreds of millions of people interacting on a social network would have provided additional invaluable behavioral and cultural data to that construct.
I know Sergey Brin, and note I’m not his best friend or anything, but we have talked on many occasions at Google X, at conferences, at Google Zeitgeist, etc. It started about eight years ago when he invited me to spend the day with him at Google X and present something to his team. I can't really talk about that because I signed a lot of forms, but that was the beginning of a nice and casual friendship. Sergey is also quite the hobbyist photographer! I know he’s a very nice and kind gentleman. I totally trust him. And I believe that he would want an AI to be very helpful to humanity. It can help solve so many problems that humanity is having on the meta level. Even though he probably played a role in shuttling Google+, maybe they have another social experiment up their sleeves. I have some ideas for that I can talk about in a future post!
I'll end with a positive note, a photo of some of the amazing people I met during the San Francisco photo walk because of Google+! :) Hi y'all!