Google+ Shutdown: A Case Study in Tech Product Failure


This week marks the end of a social network that was built by Google as an answer to Facebook and Twitter known as Google+. The Google social network has been struggling to get committed users however data breaches appear to have sped up the decision to shutdown. Very few people are surprised about this decision, in fact, it has been widely welcomed. In tech circles it’s normal to close down products that are not performing. Google is known for creating new products in response to competition only to shut them down when they are not producing the desired results. Acknowledging failure is something that is rare in some business and government circles.  In the tech sector, the innovation process involves trying a lot of things and adopt those that work. Google is not alone in shutting down products that don’t work.

In 2015, Apple introduced what was considered then a social network for musicians, Apple Music Connect. The Apple product was designed to link musicians and their fans. Jimmy Iovine, an American producer, had this to say about the social network, “This is going to be very powerful for musician, can you imagine being an up and coming artist and being able to share your music on the biggest platform in the world that people already have?”.

Connect never really caught momentum. A few high-profile artists posted to it in the beginning, but activity slowed down after that initial curiosity wore off. On 29th May 2018, everything related to the social network was stopped by Apple. There’s still great music products within the Apple ecosystem,however, they lack the ability to connect musicians with fans as promised.

Another lesser known social network, Path, started with fanfare. The social network was designed to bring together close friends and became a serious challenger to Facebook with 50 million users at some point. After several attempts to keep the social network afloat it closed down in October 2018.

Failure is part and parcel of the Silicon Valley model. The history of technology is filled with stories of products that failed. Governments, organisations, businesses ought to learn from this approach by tech companies. The process of creating great products that deliver exceptional services involves lots of failures. Little however is reported about products and services that failed. There’s a need to shine a spotlight on these products and services to learn what worked and what did not work. This is particularly important for technology entrepreneurs who are building new tech products and services.

The South African tech eco-system has unique set of failed tech products. Mxit is the poster child of failed social networks in the African continent. Understanding what went wrong with Mxit will be important for creators of new tech products in future. The shutdown of Google+ and some of its products should serve as a lesson to leaders that sometimes it’s fine and acceptable to shutdown a product and learn from it. The key is to keep improving based on lessons learnt from previous attempts. Google+ will never be missed but should be a case study for future technology and business leaders.

Kay Ann