Releasing Google+ is inherently a defensive move. Whereas Apple has completely changed the nature of their business in just five years—they re-positioned themselves for the next decade—Google is re-thinking their entire business just to survive.
I don’t think that’s true, that “Google is re-thinking their entire business just to survive.” It’s definitely a shift, but I think it fits with their core mission: to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Here’s former Google employee Douglas Edwards, explaining why he thinks Google+ is necessary:
My sense of it is, it’s not because they enjoy warm and fuzzy social interaction and they think oh, this would be a really wonderful way to bring our friends together and build a social circle. They look at it and say, “the information created in social networks is extremely important and valuable. If we don’t have access to that information, Google will be less valuable as an information source.” So, I think they take a much more calculated view of the value of the data they cannot get if they do not have a social network that is widely used. I think that scares them. I think it scares Larry – this is not based on any conversation I’ve had with him, I just want to be clear this is my interpretation — I would guess, knowing what I do about him, that the notion that a large body of very useful information would be unavailable to Google to search, to present to the world and to use for improving its own products, that I think is something that he would find unacceptable.
I think that sounds about right. Google can certainly survive without a social network, but they would be missing or at least restricted from accessing a large amount of valuable content and data. It’s the same motivation behind many other (often less successful) attempts by Google to control the content: Knol, Buzz, Sidewiki, Orkut, YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, Google Sites, etc. There has been a shift, which has been going on for quite some time, from merely organizing the world’s information to hosting and actively encouraging its creation.