Google is planning to give its photo service more autonomy from its Google+ social network as the company looks to attract more users, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The move would enable the photo service to stand more independently and be accessible for consumers who aren't part of Google+, potentially spurring more growth, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren't public. The service, called Google+ Photos, would still work with the social network's users and may be rebranded as part of the move, one of the people said.
The world's largest search engine, grappling with competition from Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo, is freeing up services from Google+ after spending the past few years encouraging visitors to sign up for the social network. Google earlier this week enabled the social network's Hangouts videoconferencing feature to work for some business customers who aren't members of Google+.
Google+ is evolving after the departure earlier this year of top executive Vic Gundotra, who had led the social effort and made it a key part of getting more people to sign into the services provided by the Mountain View-based company.
"Over here in our darkroom, we're always developing new ways for people to snap, share and say cheese," Google said in an e-mailed statement without commenting specifically on any plans for separating out the photo service.
While the extent of a separation is unclear, more autonomy could give Google+ Photos more freedom to take on rivals. Facebook, which acquired mobile photo-sharing service Instagram in 2012, has given the business independence within the company.
Google's photo feature had been a key part of Gundotra's effort to get Web surfers onto Google+. In October, the company introduced new features for enhancing and editing photos and videos. Gundotra said at the event that Google was "looking at doing nothing less than revolutionizing the feel of photography."
At the time, the company said it had more than 500 million users on the social service and that more than 1.5 billion photos are uploaded to Google+ every week. Facebook continues to lead the social-networking market with more than 1 billion members.
Google+'s photo service has various features, including storing and sharing images that can be accessed whenever someone is connected to the Internet. It also automatically backs up photos and provides tools for enhancements or effects of images.