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Google Separates YouTube from Google+, Refocuses Social Network

Google took a first step toward a major shift in its social strategy Monday by separating YouTube from Google+. The changes were announced on both the official YouTube and Google+ blogs, with the latter putting it this way:

“In the coming months, a Google Account will be all you’ll need to share content, communicate with contacts, create a YouTube channel and more, all across Google. YouTube will be one of the first products to make this change.”

Google directly tied YouTube to Google+ in September 2013, at the time requiring users to activate Google+ for their Google account and using their Google+ real names in comments. Starting a new channel also required a Google+ profile.

These requirements were meant to improve comment quality on YouTube, and promote Google+ itself, but were met by resistance by many of the site’s users. YouTube announced Monday that it will de-couple the two services in the coming months, while at the same time adding further tweaks to improve comments on YouTube.

Separating YouTube from Google+ seems to be just one step toward a bigger attempt to refocus the social-media network. Last month, Google launched Google Photos as a stand-alone product to replace the Google+ photos section.

Google+ VP Bradley Horowitz wrote Monday that the company will spin out other features, including location sharing, in the near future. “We think changes like these will lead to a more focused, more useful, more engaging Google+,” he said.

This is a remarkable turnabout for the company, which long envisioned Google+ as a social layer across all of its products. However, that approach also made it a lot harder to understand what Google+ actually was about. What’s more, Google’s requirement to register for Google+ accounts led to many users signing up for it, but never actually using any of its features.

Horowitz acknowledged as much Monday. “For people who already created Google+ profiles but don’t plan to use Google+ itself, we’ll offer better options for managing and removing those public profiles,” he said.

Google’s attempt at building a social network to compete with Facebook and Twitter have long been ridiculed by critics, with some calling Google+ a “ghost town.” However, while Google+ is clearly not as popular as Facebook, it did manage to attract a number of very engaged communities. Horowitz promised these users Monday that Google is not giving up on them: “We’re continuing to add new features” to Google+, he said.

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