This image demonstrates the added information in search results with Google Authorship.
A little over three years ago, Google began incorporating authorship into search results. This meant that the author of a certain article, blog entry or website could have their name, photo and Google+ profile directly embedded into Google's search results. This came with the added benefit of Google's announcement that such results will rank higher than results without authorship, similar to what Google announced it would do earlier this year with encrypted websites.
Initially, Google developed this as a novel method of encouraging their users to follow their favorite authors on the Google+ social network. However, with some irony, John Mueller announced on his Google+ profile that they have killed off the feature as the authorship turned out to not be very useful and was even distracting Google users. What was a standard requirement on the checklist of every SEO-guru has faded into the abyss overnight.
Matt Cutts and Othar Hansson discuss authorship markup in 2011.
Authorship was a fairly interesting way of making search results more personal. Unfortunately for Google, however, the application method and implementation of the authorship was tediously difficult. The requirements involved having a personal Google+ account, a headshot for a profile photo, linking back to the website via the Google+ account, verification of an email linked to the website, and it also involved embedding a certain script that specifies who the author is on every page. Even after doing all this, the prospective applicant would have had to wait an indefinite time-- sometimes even months-- in order for the authorship to start appearing in Google's searches.
Needless to say, it wasn't as popular as Google hoped it would be. Coupled with what appears to be Google losing faith in Google+ and Google's data that it was distracting users, it is unsurprising that this has been killed off. Just one year ago, Matt Cutts was discussing Google's prospective expansion of Google Authorship towards all aspects of the web, including businesses and even discussion forums.
One question that arises from all of this is is the question of what does Google see for the future of the Google+ social network? Forcing users onto the platform by integrating services like YouTube and Gmail have been largely unsuccesful, and removing things like authorship leaves many users with no significant incentive to begin using the social network at all.
Source: Google+ | Image via SEO Review Tools