Google recently announced it will be shutting down it’s fledgling social network in the coming months after an internal probe revealed a vulnerability exposing the personal data of 500,000 user accounts. To most people this news fell somewhere on a scale ranging between “shocking” and “so what’s for lunch?” Regardless of where you personally fall on this (completely made up) spectrum there are a few takeaways we can learn from the news:
Obviously, the inherent suggestion in the question: “is Google+ is still a thing,” is the idea that at one time it was, in fact, something. The social network launched amid much fanfare back in only 2011, as Google’s answer to Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. You may remember the private invitations to join, or an app that allowed you transfer over your Facebook data. At one point the network even boasted 500 million users…
As Dan Seitz aptly put it for Uproxx.com, the problem with Google+ was that: “It’s [was] a concept driven by a corporate board, not one that grows organically out of how people communicate”.
Mr. Seitz continues:
“With Google, the fundamental problem is always that Google designs products for Googlers first and human beings second… Google Plus was essentially Facebook, but more efficient. Everything you did and said was neatly filed and arranged, easily searchable, easily accessible. That sounds great, until you started getting added to events because you mentioned a topic once, or found a month-old status popping out among total strangers who wanted to throw a hissy fit about your opinions.”
The biggest problem with Google+ was that it was designed by designers to facilitate further designing, instead of enabling meaningful interactions, which is the current mantra of their arch-rival Facebook.
There were definitely still passionate advocates for the platform, but without a large and engaged user base, Google+ wasn’t even a loss-leader for the company.
(By the way, the piece we just quoted from Mr. Seitz was from an article titled: Why Google+ Failed And What We Can Learn From It, it was published over a year ago in 2017, with many like it. Indeed there’s a whole cottage-industry or subculture online dedicated to declaring Google+ either dead or alive, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.)
Equally obvious, since that’s what all good businesses do to survive, but slightly more interesting to unpack:
After accusations of outside interference in the 2016 American Presidential campaign, Facebook and it’s founder Mr. Zuckerberg announced a change to the Facebook algorithm that would change the way information was displayed in the average users news feed. Facebook would now emphasise more meaningful, personal interactions, and subsequently was more apt to display “friends” content in user social feeds.
Fast forward a few months and Facebook doubled down on the same strategy in the face of the Cambridge Analytica situation: Yes, user data was compromised, but the solution wasn’t regulation, it was more algorithm adjustments. According to Zuckerberg it wasn’t just enough to give people a voice:
“It’s not enough to just give people a voice. We need to make sure that people aren’t using it to harm other people or spread misinformation and not enough to give people control over their information, we need to make sure that the developers they share it with protect their information, too.”
The end result? Continued decline in both organic and viral reach for brands and business pages with increased ad scrutiny from Facebook, resulting in a better user experience… Oh, and a 42.3% increase in advertising revenue for its second quarter of 2018, despite a slowdown in user growth rate. The jump is largely attributed to an increase in mobile device ads, but the unabated trend towards limited unpaid reach for business pages continues on Facebook.
Depending on which reports you read Google+ was either doing well, or completely falling apart for years. Google was content to allow this to continue in perpetuity, until their own data breach was made public, at which point they deemed it best to simply shutdown the network entirely, rather than face public scrutiny over the way it functioned.
Hard truth: Google+ was probably going to have to stop at some point, and this story gave the company an opportunity to act like a noble steward of private data, rather than face the ignominious fate of having to admit that their grand social network experiment had simply failed.
People, and technological adopters in particular, will always be searching for the next big thing. So, this headline is (admittedly) overstating and oversimplifying things. Still, there seems to be a paradigm shift in the social media landscape. Since Instagram “adopted” the story concept pioneered by Snapchat in 2016, a sense of constant innovation has given way to one of constant consolidation. With the sun setting on Google+, the rate of change between social media networks seems to have slowed, because every platform must now do all things in order to survive.
But does this mean that consumers are really ready to settle into a range of major social networks using Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter? Or will users follow recent trends seen in other media like television and radio, and continue to splinter further and further into hyper-specialized, niche social networks — into whatever the future versions of networks like Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit or Musical.ly may look like?
No one knows for certain, but it’s nice to take a moment to slow down, and remember Google+… it will not be missed.
Are you one other dedicated users who will miss Google+, or are you happy to dance on it’s grave? Email us, [email protected], or follow us on whichever social platform still exists when you read this: We are @MayeCreate (now and forever).
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