Former Employee Shares Story Of 'Awful' Google+ Project

In short: Morgan Knutson, a former Googler that made a significant contribution to the firm's Google+ network, blasted some of his former supervisors and the company as a whole over the weekend, resolving to share his story on Twitter shortly after Alphabet's subsidiary announced it's pulling the plug on the social media platform following a major privacy scandal that left private information of some 500,000 users potentially exposed to hundreds of developers. The veteran designer described the project and its executive team as "awful," adding that the entire endeavor was led by "fear" instead of a desire to innovate or create something actually worth using.

Mr. Knutson said the main purpose of Google+ was to help fulfill the tech giant's vision of indexing all of the world's data, which is something that Facebook was largely preventing by dominating the social media game. All non-Google+ teams at the Internet juggernaut were aggressively incentivized to integrate Google+ features such as +1 buttons and other functionalities powered by the platform into their own products like Gmail or Android; the source claims Google gave as much as a 50-percent increase to one's yearly bonus for such integrations, with the base bonus itself already amounting to around 15-percent of one's annual salary. Mr. Knutson described that incentive policy as a "ton of money [meant] to ruin the product you were building with bloated garbage that no one wanted."

The former Googler also said he was surprised about the lack of experience he encountered at his new workplace, describing several encounters with fellow designers who never designed anything and were fresh out of college. The project lacked a larger vision, with most designers working on "inconsequential" features and elements without a clear idea of what exactly they're trying to build, Mr. Knutson said, adding that no one at that level cared about the customer experience and was just building a "rip-off" of Facebook.

The different design teams within Google had little interactions with one another and it was never clear who was supposed to be collaborating on what, the insider recalled. He took the initiative that led to the 2012 redesign of Google+ despite facing a lot of pushback, mostly from the people who designed the previous look that he described as plainly bad, adding that the project itself was extremely mismanaged to the point that an infrastructure engineer was once tasked with building a Google' share box.

Background: Mr. Knutson spent eight months at Google as a Level II UI Designer in charge of the social media platform's first major redesign that rolled out in April of 2012. He left the company only a month after seeing his work come to fruition, having left the company in much the same way he joined it - befuddled. After not hearing back from Google for over three months following his interview, Mr. Knutson was brought into the company under the pretext of being hired to work on Chrome, only to find out he's been assigned to the Google+ project. This was in 2011 while Google+ was still a new thing, having just replaced Google Buzz. Some 12,000 employees were on the project which was led from Google's main building in Mountain View, with people working on Google+ being the only "regular" employees that had access to the office floor of CEO Larry Page (now CEO of Alphabet) as the project was managed close to the heart of the company following lobbying efforts from Vic Gundotra, former Social SVP who left Google in mid-2014.

Mr. Knutson described Mr. Gundotra as detached and occasionally unprofessional, claiming he frequently flirted with female employees. Despite ending up at the helm of the 2012 redesign of Google+ and working immediately next to Mr. Gundotra's office, the industry veteran had no direct interactions with the project lead during his eight months at the firm and many late hours. The executive was said to have pushed for a Google+ redesign every once in a while, with Mr. Knutson speculating he may have ended up leaving the conglomerate due to his sexual harassment tendencies. In early 2015, Business Insider reported several complaints about suggestive comments Mr. Gundotra made to and about female coworkers. Mr. Knutson eventually moved to Dropbox, describing his next employer as stellar, especially in comparison to the disjointed corporate structure he experienced at Google. "I hate this company so much," he recalls thinking near the end of his time at the Mountain View, California-based juggernaut.

Impact: Mr. Knutson's story was given more credence by some other ex-Googlers who revealed similar experiences in response to his criticism that he's been sharing on Twitter over the last several days. The development sheds more light on how Google+ was managed even in its early days when it actually had a significant user base. Right now, the app has fewer than 2.5 million daily active users on mobile devices, AndroidHeadlines discovered last week. Google itself said more than 90-percent of all Google+ user sessions are shorter than five seconds, so combined with the privacy gaffe that the firm has been hiding for over half a year, the management decided pulling the plug is the right course of action as the project otherwise isn't worth maintaining.

The cover-up is presently the subject of significant public scrutiny and may end up influencing data privacy regulations that lawmakers have been pondering for some time now. Google rarely comments on public criticism from former employees and isn't likely to go against its practices on this occasion. Privacy advocates, consumer protection groups, and lawmakers have all already taken aim at the company over the Google+ fiasco and it remains to be seen how the product will be received moving forward; despite planning to discontinue the consumer version of Google+ by August of 2019, the Alphabet-owned firm is still looking to continue maintaining the product as an enterprise service. While that may suggest Google is looking to introduce another social media network in the future, any subsequent platform seeking to rival Facebook is likely to have a difficult time generating momentum, especially seeing how the company itself is presently facing criticism and pressure from a wide variety of directions, meaning it will likely proceed with caution.

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About the Author

Dominik Bosnjak

Senior Writer
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]