Sunday, January 20, 2019

Goodbye Google+

Google are pulling the plug on their social network Google+ with as little ceremony as possible. It's not even clear exactly when the lights will be switched off but it will probably be in April. It is no big surprise to many users since the service has been largely left to wither over the last few years with few signs of any loving care from its owners. It now follows a line of Google services that have been quietly laid to rest over the years when they failed to gain the impact that their often over-hyped launches promised. Remember Google Wave for example? It was the platform that would revolutionise online communication and was introduced cleverly by invitation only in 2009. Invitations to try Google Wave became status symbols and expectations were sky-high. However the platform didn't meet these expectations and was quietly phased out a mere two years later.

There's a good eulogy to Google+ by Gideon Rosenblatt, Can You Fall in Love with a Social Network?, where he tracks the rise and fall of the platform and explains why he embraced it so enthusiastically, as did many others including myself. Although it is often presented as Google's challenge to Facebook, Google+ offered a different approach built on forming interest groups based on circles of friends and colleagues. I've been using it for several years as a platform for our online course Open Networked Learning, both as a community for the whole course and for small communities for each of the study groups in the course. It has worked very well and has an attractive layout that is easy to work with. A few years ago Google+ was fully integrated with Google Hangouts, the web-conferencing tool, and this made group work extremely easy, allowing all participants to arrange and run events in the form of a Hangout. Sadly Hangouts was suddenly disconnected from Google+ a few years ago and we have had to find other conferencing tools instead. Hangouts still lives on as a service, but it is very much under the radar and I hardly know anyone who uses it any more. Another case of a good service dying through neglect.

The main lesson here is that platforms and tools come and go. That means you will always need a plan B and somewhere safe to store the data you value.

The main lesson of Google+ is that it’s time to stop trusting our creations and our relationships to companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, in the hopes that they will do the right thing with them. They will do the right thing as long as it maps to their primary purpose, which is maximizing returns for their shareholders. When that stops being true, well, then, that assumption of trust disappears. Google+ demonstrates this problem more vividly than any product or service shutdown that I can remember.

I will miss Google+ but not in the form it has taken in recent years, where it became less useful with every so-called update. It lost its spark a few years ago and instead of being a place for innovative new functions and dynamic communities it became a slowly stagnating backwater. Our online course is now using BuddyPress, a WordPress plug-in, to create communities and this looks like a more reliable solution that we have greater control over and can run on our own server.

If you want to see how you can save at least some of your content on Google+, I can recommend a post by Sue Beckingham, Google+ is now closing in April 2019 – How to download what you have curated.

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