- Google+ was a social media platform launched in 2011.
- It had many standard features of social media platforms, like being able to post photos, post status messages, update statuses, and stream.
- Google+ ultimately failed due to several critical design flaws that exposed user information through its API.
Google+ Currents, the last bastion of Google+, is shutting down in 2023, drawing the curtains on one of the ill-fated social media platforms. Despite Google’s ubiquity as a household name in technology, Google+ never managed to catch on. It’s possible to find people of all ages who have never even heard of Google+ despite Google’s focus on advertising the platform and enforcing integration with their more popular social networks like YouTube. Let’s take a look at why Google+ failed and more.
The History of Google+: What to Know
Google+ launched in 2011 to challenge other popular social media platforms like Facebook. Google+ was intended to revolutionize social media by providing superior integration between social media platforms and other proprietary services like Google Drive, YouTube, and Blogger.
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Google+ launched in June of 2011 with many standard features of social media platforms, like being able to post photos, post status messages, and stream. It also featured many unique additions, like being able to group your relationships into different types rather than setting all of them to the generic “friends” label.
Despite the ultimately rocky road that Google+ would eventually take, some leadership at other social media platforms, namely Facebook, saw Google+ as a severe threat to their business. A former Facebook employee revealed in a book in 2016 that Facebook executives instituted a “lockdown” where employees would be responsible for bringing Facebook’s features to be more in line with Google+’s in a crunch time model.
Google+’s initial growth was explosive. However, it didn’t signal a shift of users from other social media networks to the service. Ars Technica reported that the explosive signup statistics for Google+ were essentially “an incidental byproduct of signing up for other Google services.” The site had an explosion of “active users” who spent little time using Google+ social network features.
Within two weeks of release, Google+ had 10 million users. A month later, 25 million people had signed up. By October 2011, 40 million had joined the platform. Two years later, 540 million users were regularly interacting with the “social layer” of Google+, and 300 million were periodically contributing to the social media stream that the service offered.
Signups tended to be more of a brute-force add-on to a different Google service, so the usage statistics of Google+ remained shaky at best. ComScore estimated that users spent just 3.3 minutes a month on Google+ compared to Facebook’s 7.5 hours.
Changes and Removal of Google+’s Social Layer
By 2014 several shifts had happened at the executive level. First, Vic Gundotra, the executive in charge of Google+’s operations, left Google and David Bresbis took over. Both would eventually give way to Bradley Horowitz. He stated that there would be a “huge shift” in Google+’s development to reflect how the service was used in practicality.
By this point, developers had moved two significant features of Google+, direct communication and photo sharing to standalone platforms. In addition, Google Photos and Hangouts were far more successful than Google+’s implementation of these features. Thus, Google+ would need a unique identity to make it stand out from these programs.
The shift that Horowitz intended was to bring Google+ in as an “interest-based social media platform.” The goal was to turn it from a catch-all do-everything social media platform to one solely based on sharing information and media about common interests to groups made regarding those interests.
In October 2015, Google+ underwent its official redesign. The makeover featured Communities and Collections. The site was also made simpler and faster.
Additionally, several features were cut out to help the site focus more intensely on the Communities and Collections features. Hangouts integration, Events, and Custom URLs were all removed. However, two elements were eventually added back to the site as permanent fixtures before it was shut down.
Initial Stages of Shutdown
The first stage of the shutdown began in October 2018 when Google announced that the consumer version of Google+ would be defunct by August 2019. This date was later pushed forward to 2 April 2019.
Google stated that the decision to shut down the consumer version of Google+ was due to low user engagement and difficulties in “creating and maintaining a successful Google+ that meets consumer expectations.” They cited statistics for this decision’s logic, like that it was based on average user sessions on Google+ lasting just five seconds.
A significant design flaw also allowed developers of integrated applications to access user data through the API. While Google said they’d found no evidence of the design flaw being exploited or abused by developers, they stood by the decision to lock the API and shut down the service.
In December 2018, another major design flaw exposed the data of over 52.2 million users. Google stated, once again, they’d found no evidence of a breach in the data. However, the data was still publicly available for six days before the design flaw was caught.
Google opted to push the shutdown date forward to 2 April 2019 and promised to “sunset all Google+ APIs in the next 90 days.”
Business Level Shutdown
G-Suite received a new application called “Currents” to replace its Google+ integration. Currents was very similar to Google+ and was designed to facilitate internal communication between a company’s team. On 6 July 2020, Currents officially replaced Google+ in G-Suite. However, by 10 February 2022, Google announced it would end Currents and transition its users to Google Chat in 2023.
The Founding of Google+: How It Happened
Google has had and continues to attempt forays into the social media world. Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz founded Google+. Both executives would be in charge of the project for most of its lifespan.
They intended for Google+ to challenge the world’s most popular social media networks by taking their formula and building upon it to provide more engaging and exciting content. By focusing their work on interest-based communities, they allowed users to interact with their interface better than other social media platforms.
While Google+ may not have been the roaring success Google had hoped for, it did break some new ground, influencing how social media was handled moving forward. Facebook, saw Google+ as serious competition and aimed to bring their own sites’ features in line with the new ground Google+ was breaking.
Google+ Through The Years
Google+ went through numerous changes and phases throughout its history. The site was designed to break new ground in the social media world. So, test-driving experimental features was the name of the game for this platform.
Initial Release Years (2010)
In its initial release, Google+ was clunky and not very user-friendly. The site’s primary features often felt hidden, and user engagement was low because no one could figure out how to use Google+.
At this stage, signups were more a product of the brute-force integration between Google+ and other Google services like Drive and YouTube rather than a product of interest in the platform. As a result, while they achieved a high signup rate, there was little engagement, and users spent just 3.3 minutes per month actively using the service.
Redesign Phase (2014)
At this stage, Google+ underwent a series of redesigns to improve the user interface, removed features that were not being used, and transitioned the platform to one that focused more heavily on interest-based communities.
Improvements to the site included making the site lighter and faster, and more straightforward. In addition, primary features were prominently displayed, and user interaction made a priority than in previous iterations.
Consumer Shutdown Phase (2018)
By 2018, several major design flaws had been found in Google+’s API. These design flaws exposed private user data to developers who were developing using the API. These API scandals damaged Google+’s already shaky reputation further and led to the official sunset of their API.
The shutdown was initially announced for August 2019. However, another API scandal forced Google to push the shutdown date forward to April 2019. In addition, it influenced the choice to sunset the Google+ API immediately within 90 days of the December scandal press release.
Business Only Phase (2019)
The Currents app replaced Google+ for the G-Suite business model in 2019 when the consumer version shut down. The Currents app was basically the same as Google+ in practice but was only available to business Google users.
Currents moved away from the interest-based model to promote business communications between team members. Currents was the last bastion of Google+’s lifespan until its shutdown was announced in 2022. Starting in 2023, Currents will be shut down, and users will be moved to Google Chat.
What Were the Most Important Features of Google+?
Google+ aimed to innovate on the standard social media platform and produce a platform with a unique identity from the most popular social media platforms at the time. Here are the primary features that Google+ users enjoyed for their 3.3 monthly minutes of use.
One of the defining features of Google+, Circles let users to organize the people their connections into lists that determined what content was shared with them. Initially, the organization of the user profiles was done through drag-and-drop. However, the interface was changed to a checklist menu during the redesign process.
Circles also allowed users to filter the content present in their stream. By selecting a Circle, only posts by members of that Circle would be visible to the user.
Google+ Communities were an off-shoot of the Google+ Pages feature—a feature similar to Facebook Pages that allowed users to create non-individual pages representing communities or interests. Communities could be made from their interfaces and allowed users to connect with people who had similar interests.
Local was the combined application usage of Google+ and Google Places. It allowed users to review and post images of tourist and commercial locations directly to their page. In addition, it aggregated their scores from Zagat, which Google acquired in 2011.
Google+ Creative Kit
Google+ Creative Kit was an online photo editor similar to Picnik that Google integrated into Google+. The tool allowed users to lightly retouch photos with color correction, blurring, and other effects to change the look of their shots. It was removed from Google+ in 2015 when Google Photos launched.
AutoAwesome was another feature. People used it to add special effects, capture animated GIFs, and perform other fabulous additions to their photos. And then there was AutoEnhance, which would automatically enhance image colors, by saturating.
How Did Google+ Make Money?
Google+’s exact business model was never published. Still, it can be assumed that Google+, like other social networks, made the bulk of its money through personalized advertising.
Google+ didn’t make any significant acquisitions as it was a part of the Google umbrella rather than a standalone company. However, Google’s acquisition of Zagat, a tourism review platform, allowed it to integrate Zagat’s ratings into Google+’s Google+ Local feature.
Google+ Notable Controversies
Google+ was censored from China’s intranet almost immediately after its launch. It would also be censored on Pakistan’s internet later.
Critical Design Flaws Expose Private User Information
Google+ also had several critical design flaws that exposed user information through its API. While Google claims that the information was never exploited or breached, developers using the Google+ API could freely access otherwise private user information unfettered. This type of controversy plagued Google+’s history many times throughout its lifespan.
With Currents shutting down in 2023, it’s time to say goodbye to Google+. However, even though the service is going away for good this time, its legacy lives on in the many platforms and programs influenced by its development and features.
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