Hangouts requires a Google+ account

Jon Russell:

I’m really impressed with the Hangouts messenger service. Web client is a good addition IMO, but mandatory G+ account is a big frustration.

Benedict Evans had a brilliant post a month ago about why consolidation may not be the endgame for mobile chat:

On mobile the social graph comes ready-made in your address book and the accompanying PSTN numbering system. Your phone already knows who your friends are – you don’t have to enter them into each new social network. Both Whatsapp and Viber leverage this: they look at your phone book and tell you who’s already using it.

This is a much simpler global identity system than Facebook Connect: phone numbers (and the address book) are themselves a single global social network that any app can use, bypassing Facebook’s biggest protective ‘moat’ and removing a lot of the problems of fragmentation. Such apps ride on mobile and mobile numbers just as Facebook apps ride on Facebook and websites ride on the web. There are lots of social apps on mobile, just as there are lots of apps on Facebook or lots of sites on the web: this is not necessarily a problem.

Hangouts ignores this ready-made network in favor of Google+.1 uses this network, but puts it behind Google+; unlike other services, a Google+ account is mandatory and the first screen you see.

Not that Google had any choice in the matter: Google+ is the entire point. As I wrote yesterday:

The solution to no cookies is identity; this is what Google+ is all about. Google builds best-in-class mobile apps that work significantly better when you log in with the Google+ account you didn’t even know you had [in order to gather data]…tracks you across the web, and then monetizes you on their search engine, YouTube, Gmail and AdSense. Everything is connected; it’s either signal or ads.

Google+ is the key to Google’s strategy, yet Google+ will make it much more difficult for Hangouts to succeed broadly.

This is the definition of a strategy tax.2

  1. I was sloppy on this point, and regret it. Thanks to Satish Varma for the correction. []
  2. To be clear, I’m not saying it’s bad (or good; you’ll note I rarely make such judgments on this blog). A strategy tax is anything that makes a product less likely to succeed, yet is included to further larger corporate goals []