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Google+ officially splits into Photos and Streams

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Hangouts will be treated as an individual communications product

Google is splitting Google+ apart, breaking the social network's photo element away from what it's now calling "Streams." Bradley Horowitz, a longtime Google VP of product, announced that he had become the new lead for both new products, Google Photos and Streams, in a post on Google+ today. Horowitz steps into the role vacated by David Besbris, who took over the top job at Google+ less than a year ago.

Hangouts will continue on as a standalone product

Horowitz says that he's now running Google's Photos and Streams products — two new names for existing elements of Google+ that conspicuously don't reference the social network. The name changes could possibly suggest that Google is planning to kill or significantly alter the brand, but the company has yet to make an announcement to confirm or deny this.

The future of Hangouts is less clear as rival communications services such as Snapchat and What'sApp have seen their stock rise. In December, Horowitz said that Hangouts had a particularly broad scope. "It's texting, it's telephony, it's one-to-one, it's many-to-many, it's consumer, it's enterprise," he said at the time. "We're trying to do something broader that helps people communicate wherever they are using whatever products they prefer."

During an interview session at MWC today, Google's Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of products, confirmed that Hangouts will live on as a standalone product as the company reorganizes around photos and communications. "For us Google+ was always two big things: one was building a stream, the second was a social layer, a common layer of identity; how sharing works across our products and services." said Pichai. "The stream has a passionate community of users. But the second goal was in some ways an even more important goal for us. We've done both, but I think we're at a stage where use cases like photos and communications are big standalone use cases so we're going to think of this as a stream first, and then photos and communications as big new areas. So internally we're organizing ourselves to support that. You'll see us evolve all these three areas."

"We're going to think of this as a stream first, and then photos and communications as big new areas."

Session moderator Brad Stone, then asked point blank: "What's the future of Hangouts? Does it exist as an individual product?" To which Pichai responded, "That's right. And we're going to put more energy into it. We're seeing good traction there and so we'll work hard to get to the next stage."

Pichai first suggested that Google was planning to split Google+ into pieces in an interview given to Forbes last week. "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.

Details will likely be announced at Google I/O in May.

Update Mar 2nd, 11:07AM ET: Added detailed quotes from Sundar Pichai.

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