Google+ divided into Photos and Streams, with new boss

Google's social network gets a new leader in Brad Horowitz, and likely will see the Hangouts communication service stand alone, too.

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Bradley Horowitz touts Google's Hangouts communication app at the LeWeb conference in December 2014.
Bradley Horowitz touts Google's Hangouts communication app at the LeWeb conference in December 2014. Stephen Shankland/CNET

BARCELONA -- Google is taking another pass at energizing its Google+ social networking service, splitting its photo-based aspects off from what's now called "Streams" and putting Product Vice President Bradley Horowitz in charge.

"Just wanted to confirm that the rumors are true -- I'm excited to be running Google's Photos and Streams products!" Horowitz said in a post Sunday. "It's important to me that these changes are properly understood to be positive improvements to both our products and how they reach users."

Horowitz replaces David Besbris, who took over Google+ leadership in April 2014 after the departure of Vic Gundotra.

The reorganization marks a new chapter for a social network that's come under criticism for failing to attain the popularity of other services like Gmail, Maps, Chrome and Search. It also formalizes what Sundar Pichai -- the executive who rose last year to lead all those products and more -- suggested last week in a Fortune interview.

"I think increasingly you'll see us focus on communications, photos and the Google+ Stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area," Pichai said.

Don't be surprised to hear Pichai reveal more details during a speech today at the Mobile World Congress show here.

Google+ has taken a lot of criticism -- notably the infamous "ghost town" knock that it's devoid of users and concerns about Google's attempts to force its relevance by tying it in with functions like search results and YouTube comments. But Google executives have denied the "ghost town" criticism over and over. In part that's because the company used Google+ to describe more than just its Facebook-esque service for posting and commenting -- the part now called Streams. For Google, Google+ also has been the "social spine" that unifies Google users' activities under a single unified identity.

It's not yet clear what will happen to Hangouts, the communications feature of Google+. In a December talk, Horowitz said Hangouts is designed as an all-purpose communication tool, marrying video, audio, and text messaging. That means it's carrying a lot of importance for Google.

"It's texting, it's telephony, it's one-to-one, it's many-to-many, it's consumer, it's enterprise... We're trying to do something broader that helps people communicate wherever they are using whatever products they prefer," Horowitz said of the app's scope. "It's not like throwing a dart and hitting one app like ephemeral imaging" -- the core value of one messaging rival, Snapchat.

It's also not clear what will happen to Besbris. Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Making Photos a standalone product could help elevate its profile, too, making it a better match for the Photos app on Android. A higher profile could also let Google concentrate more on archiving memories, exposing editing features like the "auto-awesome" effects and perhaps competing better with online photo-sharing services like Flickr and 500px.

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