On April 2, 2019, the end of Google Plus reaches its final conclusion. And in many ways, its founding also really tells the story of my entry into active participation in social media.
Before Plus, I had participated on chat rooms and such, but not in any significant manner. I had friends and relatives that had hounded me to join Facebook and Twitter for years, but I really had no interest.
I joined Google+ on June 29, 2011 (which happened to be my birthday) after a friend gave me an invitation. At first, only invited users could participate, and it was a fascinating site as Google’s first real entry into the social media marketplace.
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Google set up varying degrees of relationships. Google Plus ventured away from classic networking concepts we are used on the internet, but focused more on varying ‘circles’ of relationships: “family”, “colleagues” or “acquaintances” were common groupings. You didn’t have to request friends, like in Facebook. You simply followed people, put them into the category you believed they belonged in, and then started a relationship.
Google actively promoted this concept of ‘identity’ over ‘friendship’. Google CEO at that time, Eric Schmidt, said the following to NPR regarding the site:
“[Eric Schmidt] replied by saying that G+ was built primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names if they’re going to build future products that leverage that information,” Carvin wrote in a Google+ post. “Regarding people who are concerned about their safety, he said G+ is completely optional. No one is forcing you to use it. It’s obvious for people at risk if they use their real names, they shouldn’t use G+.”
This, in many ways, defined the early success, and later failure, of Google+.
Google actively pushed the site as a ‘environment’ into which individuals, businesses, government and others could help feed information and access. Google Hangouts, their video communication app, was quickly integrated, as was varying photo apps. Google had always hoped Plus would be a way for casual internet social media users to access Google’s other money making activities.
The biggest reality is Google was too late to the game. Facebook and Twitter already had dominated the marketplace Google was trying to invade. And Google wasn’t ready to fight the hard, long slog that would be necessary for Google+ to seriously compete with the market leaders.
Even worse, as they failed to make up ground, and fell further and further behind, they made strange choices in altering the platform. The mobile app, for example, was very streamlined when it came out, and functioned far better than its competitors. Now, in the end, it is a clunky, almost useless waste of space on your cellphone. Time and again, Google decided not to listen to its users, and instead to strange recommendations internally. Clearly, in hindsight, that failed miserably.
The irony is that in the end, Google+ was killed off because of data breaches. Early in its existence, it was the high level of security that enamored many to the site. But in the end, Google’s cost cutting and spendthrift ways caught up to them, and security suffered until it simply had gone too far.
As for my own personal journey on social media, Google Plus helped me build many relationships that I continue to this very day, both professionally and personally. Many of my political connections started on Google+. I actively participated on Hangouts with politicians, Fox News hosts including Bret Beier, and, by the thinnest of margins, missed out on participating in a Hangout with President Barack Obama. I debated everything from medical treatments to Obamacare to the best ice cream in America, and back again. I was also among a group that created the largest Conservative group on the site, The Conservative Union, which had well over 50,000 active users at one point.
During the 2012 campaign, it was clear Democrats spent a fair amount of money on the site. Hundreds of liberal users flooded all conservative postings, only to disappear in the weeks after the election. Even the tech savvy Obama campaign thought at that time that Google+ was worthy of attention. At its height, I was getting 1 million hits a month. The problem is, new users had trouble breaking through and reaching the masses, and quickly gave up trying.
Some of the friends I made on the site are now friends that I hope to keep lifelong. We know each others personal triumphs and travails, our personal hardships and highlights. Our little Fight Club has become a little internet family all of its own.
So as our journey on Google+ comes to a close, I want to thank those that made it enjoyable, frustrating, heartfelt, annoying, but ultimately beneficial. And I hope once it is gone, people will remember if fondly.