I don't really understand Google's strategy. They got rich by providing useful features for the web at large - walled sites like Facebook should be considered the enemy, not something to emulate. If I was Google I would be providing easy to use blogging site, blog readers and a loose social network that encouraged links to other sites (perhaps similar to HN on a larger scale) that would be easy for third-parties to integrate.
Instead they killed Google Reader and made G+ and youtube just as much as a walled garden as Facebook.
This narrative misses a lot. The most important part was the purchase of FriendFeed by Facebook and the failure of Google Buzz (the more open predecessor to Plus).
The narrative I've heard is more like this (It goes back over 10 years, so the context is much different. Google was much smaller, and there were many doubters about Facebook).
Facebook was founded in 2004
By 2007 it was clear that social networks were a thing, but there was a very strong feeling among technologists that they should be more open.
During 2007 a bunch of pretty well credentialed Googlers left to start a more open social network called FriendFeed. This aggregated open sources of content from all over the web.
This worked fairly well technically, and people at Google were generally supportive of it (there were many Googlers on the service, and they were actively working on things like PubSubHub to make open aggregation services work well.
However by 2009 it was clear it FriendFeed had product issues. It was being used just as a republishing tool (primarily from Twitter) and they ended up selling to Facebook.
This upset a number of people at Google, who were relying on it to create an open alternative. These people were involved in the creation of the (mostly forgotten) Google Buzz, which was basically a clone of FriendFeed.
Buzz failed as a consumer product, so then Google attempted the pivot to Google Plus.
So, like Google Plus. Except that an "open" publishing tool is at least more useful than an entirely proprietary one! Let's face it, Google dropped the ball here.
Google Plus never had an API for incoming content.
Buzz allowed one-click connection to Twitter. Great idea, but people would use it to publish straight from Twitter, and wouldn't engage on the Buzz platform.
This was a terrible experience - you'd miss the conversational aspect of Twitter, and be ignored if you tried to have conversations on Buzz.
Google dropped the ball here.
Maybe, but it isn't clear to me what they should have done differently.
This comes with the territory of having a fledging social network - it's not "terrible" if it's good enough for users. You grow from there by encouraging some niche communities to congregate using your system, that's how true "engagement" can start. Even Facebook itself grew from a very small community, namely students at a particular college, then college students more generally.
The problem was that the product was working as designed - it was the importing of external feed that was both the key feature and the problem.
It might have worked if two-way-comment feeds were a thing. But there is no reason why Twitter would want to implement that.
This almost became a problem on Mastodon with Twitter crossposters. Enough people pushed back hard to keep them from taking over timelines. People still use them, but they generally engage on both sides now.
Not sure what "too smart for its own good" means exactly. It was a pretty vanilla feed, with no fancy features.
It was a reference to how they seeded the network by inferring contacts.
I am pretty sure I read the demise of google reader was because it's hard to make money off of RSS/Atom and harder to bolt adtech on top of it.
Google had wave, blogger, orkut and other things. It's not like they didn't test different things or try to emulate others. They just failed edit: they failed with g+ I mean
I am more amazed at how microsoft had the messenger brand and how it's now facebook's. It's mind boggling. And ms had a blogging strategy at some point.
> Google had wave, blogger, orkut and other things. It's not like they didn't test different things or try to emulate others. They just failed.
Wave failed, but was a fantastic experiment, and the learnings went into Google Docs/Sheets for collaborative editing.
Blogger and Orkut didn't fail. They were hugely successful -- Blogger worldwide, and Orkut primarily in Brazil (and India, I think.) Both had great rides, and withered away as everything does.
I liked Wave, even if nobody knew what the actual use cases for it were.
They did. It was called OpenSocial, which originally released in late 2007, and was implemented by MySpace and others to compete against the Facebook platform (also released in 2007). I remember when I first looked at its complex XML documentation, that it was much easier just to use the Facebook API.
That was more for games than for the type of links the OP was talking about though.
OTOH Google did a lot of work around things like PubSubHubbub to get cross site links working.
Back in the heyday of blogging, there were people working on building exactly this. See for instance FOAF:
Of course, then along came the walled gardens and that was the end of that. (Sigh.)
So, Blogger? Feels kind of abandoned as a product, though.
At some point it became too ugly and too hard.
Peoples relationships and interests tend to be grouped by their circles. Whatsapp and Facebook groups seem to understand this which is why they are soo sticky.
What google missed was that nobody wants to sit down and explicitly categorize all their friends into circles. Our social circles are not hard-edged and fixed, they're fuzzy and context-dependent.
Look at Instagram. Many people have multiple accounts, which is a feature built into Instagram itself. It's easy to switch accounts. An individual might have one account (possibly private) for their personal feed meant for friends and family, another account for their instafluencer persona who travels the word taking selfies, and perhaps they have another one for their instafluencer merch shop or whatever.
For everyone using IG, these appear as distinct profiles. The consumer chooses which one to follow. Google Plus gave you one profile, and then made it so that you, the producer of content, chose which followers to target.
Obviously, the technical difference is very slim; for the "producer" there's less difference. And the circle feature isn't without merit. But Google didn't realize that just routing stuff to different places isn't what people want.
Putting a filter (which is what the circles feature could be seen as) on your own stuff is actually the last thing most people want. That's as exciting as doing laundry.
I actually found an weird satisfaction from doing this. It was beneficial for about a month until everyone I knew decided G+ was a ghost town.
I've been checking on how to simplify, gamify, or automation the categorization/labeling aspect for years. I think it would totally change the game on the flat news feed problem.
You’d decide to start following someone and you’d get a screen with checkboxes for all your friends groups, so you could add them to whichever ones you felt appropriate. It was super easy. Or do it later if your feelings on who you wanted to share particular things with changed.
Facebook is the zenith of "explicitly categorizing friends" into friend groups, and as you surmise it's a pretty bad way to go. That, and their group-visibility settings on posts is clunky enough to make me think it's designed so that people stop trying and just post everything to everybody.
I was let down when I found out that when I posted something, it would send people in that circle an e-mail notification.
I stopped posting as soon as I saw that. I'd much rather have people check on my interests at their leisure than having my content forced on them.
This isn't my use case, but a perfect example is people with kids. They're gonna share pictures and stuff of their kids, but as I'm sure you've seen, tons of people make comments like, "I wish I could just filter out pictures of babies and dogs!".
Even whatever you called it in livejournal where you had specific sharing groups of friends - that was a burden to maintain. I eventually lost track of my organization. It just wasn't worth it.
And it winds up being a better implementation of circles. The "circle" is object of interest. It's not a categorization that you put people in, it's an entity in its own right.
After messing up badly in the nymwars, forcibly joining together YouTube accounts with Gmail accounts they actually made a heavyweight but working solution:
It was given the name Pages which was more or less meaningless IMO (in this context).
What it felt like at the time however was a powerful solution for switching between pseudonyms connected to your account.
That said: Given a large reason for why Google+ is shutting down was that they had a couple of huge data leaks maybe we should all be glad kt wasn't too widely used :-]
I really tried to be on team Google+ for a while but it was too little too late.
That's the reason it's already planned shutdown was accelerated, but the leaks occurred after it was essentially abandoned to palliative care.
Had it been sufficiently used, and therefore actively maintained, they may not have occurred.
Bad: Forced to share a single "publicly linked identity" across all those groups. John Doe Public Accountant might not want people to know they also exist as John Doe Death Rocker, and vice-versa.
I used it in early 2000 and was blown away by what MySpace offered compared to LJ.
Seems to me it basically resembles the later "social networking" sites in features (and outdoes them except possibly Google+), just the tone was more focused on long-form blogging.
I guess the one thing lacking that people these days would expect was that you couldn't easily upload pictures and such (that was a paid feature IIRC; haven't checked how that works on Dreamwidth). But if you ignore that...
I hate it so. much. Usually I'm hitting the back button precisely because the video became annoying to me, or something else is happening where I don't want to hear it any more, and having to wait several seconds while the video still plays is awful.
Somehow the rest of Google seems to ignore him.
I host it with write.as, and I guess they might have some scaling problems or something. It is a just a small (but very cool IMO) startup.
And yes I agree. Due to the sliding/fading animations and other nonsense, it felt slow and sluggish. By today's standards it would probably feel fast. But for the time, it was the slowest thing Google had created.
We programmers look at difficulties users have dealing with large volumes of data and think, aha! I can solve this by giving them ways to add metadata to those data, so it can be more easily browsed/filtered/faceted/whatever. (We think that because programmers have an analytical cast of mind, which we then extrapolate from -- this would be useful for me, we figure, therefore it would be useful for anyone.) So we build these elaborate systems for storing and managing metadata, and then build elaborate UIs to expose those systems to the user.
Our system goes out to the users, and as long as those users are people like us -- analytical types -- it works OK. But then it goes out beyond that to a general audience, and suddenly we discover a new problem: namely that most users don't want to add metadata and simply will not do it, even if by doing so they could realize huge productivity gains. It doesn't matter how useful the metadata would be to them, to them adding metadata is work, and worse, it's nerd work of a kind they feel fundamentally uncomfortable with and unequipped to deal with. So they just don't do it. And they won't do it, no matter how hard you try to sell them on it.
That was the problem with "circles" in G+: not that it was a bad idea to let people split up their feeds, but that having multiple feeds required them to add metadata (creating circles, naming them, adding people to them, periodically removing people from them, etc.), and people just didn't want to do that. So they didn't.
It's not impossible to build systems that categorize data to make it more comprehensible, but if you want them to work, they have to do so in some way that doesn't put the burden on the user to keep everything correctly tagged/categorized/faceted/whatever. Because they just will not do that, no matter how many carrots you dangle.
I think it is a way to avoid admitting that we fail at ux innso many ways and in even more spectacular ways when we try to be smart and remove options.
In other words, dividing the world into "smart people" (e.g. us) and "dumb people" (e.g. everybody who isn't us) isn't productive. Realizing that there are people out there who think about these things differently than we do, and taking the time to learn how they think and build solutions that respect that, can be.
Thanks for clarifying. I guess we more or less agree somehow then.
They're already attempting to optimize out the broken part of the working system. End users that just literally can't or can't be bothered.
Guess my disappointment.
One thing I think about is tagging. Arguably circles is a private configuration. If I tag someone in a picture I posted to my Family Facebook Circle, but who on their end would see it on the timeline?
I never used G+ enough to know how it handled that scenario.
My intuition wants to tell me it's tricky things like that which piled up in Facebook's mind when evaluating whether to copy them. They've copied many competitors and social media outlets especially if it fit easily.
Privacy features isn't one of their strengths.
I also hope circles and collections will come to the fediverse. Pixelfed already had circles as one of four options for what to focus on in coming iterations.
(Probably the most major other change was I fought the CSS to make the background 100% black for OLED power savings.)
I'm told there also is a deeper theming system and some shared themes as Ruby gems. I haven't explored that personally because I'm using a shared host and so far I've been happy with the simple custom CSS overrides.
Programming- or gaming-related: Twitter
"Fit for mass consumption": Facebook
Personal: Facebook (with privacy settings activated)
G+ was endlessly frustrating, and yet still compelling.
The features many list were not part of the site for much its life: it launched without Search, Communities, or Collections. It morphed several times, significantly: May 2012 and 2013, the November 2013 YouTube forced integration, and several generally lesser ones after the site was in clear decline.
The low-friction interaction with notifications, and search capabilities, along with all-but-unlimited-length text posts, were strengths. As was underlying platorm stability.
The user cohort, yes, small, but geeky and academic, was a strength. (The SEO marketing contingent not so much.)
Noise, poor filters and organisational capabilities, and unwanted and intrusive integrations were downsides. Overall management was abysmal, likely for numerous reasons.
And yet I'd found it useful, within limits.
I'm not saying Google is perfect, they did have the Google+ API leak. You can hate Google for their decisions all the same as being able to hate FB for their infosec (or, better yet, hate both of them for the ad targeting) but I'd rather have my data stored by Google instead of FB.
Oh wait, I don't think Google+ had that..
Facebook connects people and people are nosy, they want attention and want to see what others are doing. G+ didn’t have that.
* The combination of Events and Hangouts was magical. This was great for planning open online meetups, games on hangouts, and tons of other things.
* Circle sharing. This really jump-started informal communities. Yes, they added more official communities later, but circle sharing was in my opinion a far more effective way to create real communities of people who get to know each other.
* Ultimately, of course, the most important part were the people themselves. It attracted a lot of interesting people. Geeks, early adopters, people with a passion for a wide variety of topics. People weren't using it to connect with families and friends they already know in the real world, they connected to new people with similar interests that didn't always fit a specific formal Community. Friendships were made, several businesses were launched based primarily on interaction on Google+.
I'm sad to see it go. I'm sadder still that Google mismanaged it into the ground. They had something great, but seemed determined to destroy it by forcing low quality content onto it, and removing popular features.
Surely at any time they could add ads. They knew how many people were going there and how often. Therefore they then could make a good guess, from their other apps, at how much money it would make them if they were to add ads.
It must have been that after doing the math they thought it was not worth it. Or maybe they never meant it to make money directly, only to feed into their other products, which make money. Either way, they knew how many people were going there and how often, and decided it wasn't doing what they wanted it to do and that it could not make enough money even if they added in ads.
It's definitely true that initially Google intended G+ to feed into the overall Google thing, and that many integrations of combining disparate Google properties together was actually done under the banner of G+.
But I do wonder with Ruth Porat's more "must be profitable" approach to Google divisions, if they had added ads a couple years ago, if it might've been considered worth maintaining.
I suspect the metrics were heavily cooked at the time when this was reported. At some point it was really easily to accidentally end up on G+ just by using other Google products, and Youtube comments counted as G+ posts, which no doubt made for incredible activity numbers.
> It's hard to imagine it could not have made a significant amount of money on ads.
Yes, I agree. And Google knew this better than either of us. Therefore no one at Google ever would have said, "We need to close down Google+ because it is not making enough money." It was making zero dollars, because they chose to give it no way make money, directly. There was no sign-up fee, and there was no advertising.
Your original comment that I was replying to:
> Had they done so, I wonder if they would've considered the platform more viable long-term?
They don't need to turn on ads to know if it is viable, because they can just turn on ads in their heads. "Google+ has this many users, who use it this often per day. Therefore, if we were to turn on advertising, it would probably bring in about $___________ per year." They did the math. They thought it still wasn't worth it.
But was it original? To me, it seems that they directly copied quite a few UI elements and concepts from Diaspora, including circles: https://blog.dbrgn.ch/2011/8/23/google-plus-inspired-by-dias...
The "how do I tell all my friends, except John, about a secret birthday party" problem. I complained about this near the launch.
I have a circle of friends in g+ I will miss, if they do not migrate to pluspora or a like service, which is inferior to g+ if not grossly inferior.
G+ got people to come, had an amazing position to abuse their monopoly just like with Chrome, but failed to hold them there.
And I believe the interface might have scared some away but I also believe there was nothing fun to occupy your time with while you're waiting for the next notification high.
If they were really smart, G+ should have better bootstrapped out of Google Reader. Google Reader at the time had a very interesting and active social community. (Instead they killed Reader as if it were a competitor to G+ and just hoped the now incredibly inconvenienced community would just move to G+.)
I only use social networking for professional relations. Sharing anything beyond that with Google would be a nightmare, even if that is a minority opinion.
To the topic at hand: I think their failure was mainly a timing problem. Facebooks largest argument has always been that it is the largest network with the most users.
Many people didn't have an interest to change the network.
I could not post something on my wife's "wall/timeline" in Google+.
This is different than "tagging" someone in that it goes on their page, not yours so their friends can see it.
I closed it and never used it again.
So for example instead of having one stream of info, there were multiple columns. This goes against the scrolling list behavior that everyone seems addicted to.
I disagree, It felt unpolished and raw and did not have any distinct style or consistency. You can hate facebook but they managed to cramp a lot of functionality in a pretty clean looking design.
Too bad Google kept promoting it like it was just another Facebook news feed.
It doesn't redirect automatically though.
What killed it for me is that it came from Google. They'd already showed they're terrible at customer service, and terrible at service longevity/continuity, and it just seems creepy for the same company to want to do my web browser, my phone, my search engine, my social media, my web hosting, my advertising, my payments, my shared documents (editing and storage), etc.
It seems like, to Google engineers, "fully integrated with 173 other Google services" is a feature. To me, it's a red flag. If they want me to use any more services from them, they need to come up with some way to wall it off so I'm assured that any potential issues with X don't affect my usage of Y.
What really killed it was no public API. It launched in the era of Tweetdeck and the like being major tools for consolidating social media interaction. There was no API. So to send a message to Google+, one had to specifically go across to the only application capable of talking to it, theirs. When you're already in/using Tweetdeck to post messages to Twitter, Facebook etc, why would you want to go to a whole new client to post a message?
While it seems like mostly people have moved away from using such catch-all clients for interacting (in no small part because Twitter have made it hard by their various API antics), this missed the zeitgeist at the time, and never got that critical mass going to sustain it.
If you're moving late in the market, you've really got to go where people are and bring them to you, or you've got to fundamentally solve problems to a mind blowing degree that other platforms have and can't. It did neither, even though the features like circle were really good.
That said, Google+ had a good bunch of interesting people discussing things nicely (vintage computing, craftmanship). There was a lot to enjoy and way less of the social network usual noise and chit chat drama.
On my way home today I wrote down why I liked it.
Circles privacy; who can see what. I found it confusing when it should have been obvious. This kept me from posting. The UI should have made it obvious.
If only AMP would do the same.
Seriously though, I really liked the Twitter-esque default-public interaction model, but with long form posts. Just doubling Twitter's character count has helped a ton with this. Public interaction still feels like an oddity on Facebook.
And then the ability to divide out people I was following was super nice, although I eventually filtered it down to two groups: One which I read religiously and had notifications of in my email, and one I would scroll through when I was bored and had time.
That experience was cool. It felt like modern social square, to just have open video chats, than anyone would just join.
Not many people were on it. Well, except the Dalai Lama. He rocked it!
This seemed like a better way to control spam in the ~3 posts I made on Google+.