Social Networking

The inevitable demise of Google+

October 9, 2018

Let me start by saying that I LOVE Google+. It is so much better than Facebook, in so many ways. Less clutter, more control over who sees your posts, more control over what kind of posts you want to see, no stupid fucking algorithm deciding anything for you, no ads, WAY better group functionality, better event pages, better photo sharing capability, cleaner UI, and so much more.

Google+ seemed to attract techie/intellectual type people. Programmers, computer gamers, artists, the DIY crowd, makers, and people that generally had an inclination toward science and technology. It quickly became the place where I made a lot of new friends, which set it apart from Facebook even more. Facebook is where you keep in touch with people you already know, and that’s all it’s ever been for me. Google+, on the other hand, was a place to meet new people. I loved it immediately, and it’s been a special place for me ever since.

People have been calling it a “grave yard” almost since it came out, which, until the last year or so, has not been at all true. Certainly, it’s never been as big as Facebook, but it has never been as empty and barren as what so many people tried to paint it to be. There were Communities with tens of thousands of active users. It was extremely busy, just not the behemoth that Facebook was/is.

So, you might ask, why didn’t more people move over from Facebook? The answer to that is simple, and so fucking frustrating. Two reasons, really. For starters, people fear change, especially when it comes to anything technical. G+ looked, felt and interacted much different than Facebook. Much like the world’s unfortunate, and quite frankly ridiculous addiction to Microsoft, people tend to stick with what they know, even if there is something better out there.

Also, related to this, people weren’t using it because people weren’t using it. I’ve seen this with a lot of great software, particularly with chat applications. People will jump on for ten minutes or so, can’t find any of their friends, or their friends have accounts but were also only on long enough to get discouraged, and they leave, never to return. So no one uses it, because no one is using it.

Secondly, Google just made a lot of bad, BAD decisions when it came to Google+.

I joined Google+ during it’s really early days, when it was invite only. It was integrated into all things Google, including Gmail, events, Youtube, and Hangouts. I LOVED that integration, especially for RPG gaming. In fact, TTRPG players were, and still are a huge portion of the G+ userbase.

Back then, you could create a Community around your game, D&D for example. Post a notification about a game, people would respond and when the game filled up, you created an Event in the Community, and invited the people that made the cut. When it came to game time, those people would get a notification from Google Events, with a link to the Hangout.

Everyone would join the Hangout, where there were apps built right into the thing, including 3D dice rollers that would roll dice across the Hangout window, white board applications, mapping applications, and screen sharing applications, all built into Google’s native Video/Voice chat system. And if you wanted, you could broadcast that Hangout live on Youtube (where it could be archived for later viewing) and inside Google+.

It was fucking perfect for gaming.

The beginning of the end was maybe five or six years ago, I don’t remember exactly. For some reason, Google decided to remove all of that integration. Suddenly, Events disappeared. Okay, no biggie. Then Youtube integration and Hangouts-on-air disappeared. Again, not really a deal breaker, but it did suck. Then Hangouts became it’s own thing, no longer integrated into Google+. Even worse, all of the Hangout apps went away. No more dice rollers, no more screen share, all gone. Events eventually made a return, but it was an after thought, and wasn’t nearly as integrated into things as it once was. Hangout Apps also returned about two years ago, but much too late to make any difference. People had already left hangouts in droves by that point.

Then came the Google+ redesign. The redesign wasn’t bad, in fact I liked it’s new look, but a lot of people didn’t. It was the last straw for a formidable number of Google+ denizens.

All of these changes happened within a year, and that’s when the slow, but steady exodus began. It was just a trickle, but it continued, never ceasing. I finally noticed a few months ago that most of the posts I was seeing were from organizations, companies, and bloggers, and not nearly as many were just normal people posts. Communities are also really slow, and many of my favorites are all but abandoned. With no one around to moderate, spam bots have slowly infested every corner of Google+, and the developers seem completely uninterested in doing anything about it.

Last month, I started to wonder if it was worth sticking around.

So what this all boils down to, is that Google seriously screwed the pooch on this one. It was the ultimate exercise in self sabotage. They had a great product, which people were flocking to when it first came out. For a few years, it seemed like G+ might actually have become a contender to Facebook. Somewhere along the way though, Google+ lost it’s way, and the ship started taking on water.

Then came the announcement yesterday. Google is sunsetting the consumer version of Google+, the version we all use, in August of 2019. The reasons are due to a stagnant userbase, and the discovery of a data leak earlier in the year. It appears that the data leak was never exploited, but Google knew it was there.

The migration posts began less than an hour after the announcement was made. By noon, looking for a new online home was all anyone was talking about, mixed with posts mourning the downfall of our beloved Google+. New Communities sprang up, centered around looking for somewhere else to go, specifically somewhere that isn’t Facebook. Lots of alternatives have been suggested, with people, including myself, trying them out and reporting back on features and functionality.

Then this morning, more bad news for Google+. A lawsuit has been filed over the data leak.

Where does that leave us then? A #GooglePlusRefugee hashtag has been started on a number of services. The most popular ones that people are trying out are Mastadon, Mewe, and Diaspora. I’ve looked at Mastadon in the past, and to me it’s just a glorified Twitter clone.

Mewe looks like it has possibility, but it also looks like it’s aimed at thirteen year old girls. Given the behaviour of corporate owned Social Media giants in the last few years, Twitter included, I’m really shying away from this one just on that premise alone. I’m trying to give it a chance though.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Diaspora today and yesterday, and I really like it. It’s a little rough around the edges, but I think the sudden influx of users from G+ may hasten the development a bit. It’s an entirely open source project, with the developers being people mainly working on it in their spare time. The open source and decentralized nature of Diaspora really appeals to me, and I’ve already added lots of new contacts. It seems like it could be a great place to put down roots again.

I’ve tried a few Diaspora Android apps, and settled on Dandelion. It still leaves something to be desired, but it’ll do, and like Diaspora itself, hopefully it’ll see some marked improvements now that Facebook and Google+ have pissed off so much of their user base, forcing them to move on to greener pastures.

For a lot of us still on Google+, there is a debate about whether we stick it out until the bitter end, or jump ship as soon as we get comfortable with something else. Personally, I’m leaning toward jumping as soon as I can. Diaspora has managed to really capture my attention, most of my G+ friends have moved there, or were already tinkering with it to begin with, and I’m enjoying it. Ultimately though, it’s going to depend on the response from the development team over the next year. As I said earlier though, the platform still needs some polishing, but the sudden influx of users will probably be all the motivation needed there. Pluspora, the pod that I’m currently residing on, gained over a thousand users yesterday morning alone, prompting the hosts to increase server capacity to deal with it.

If you have a Diaspora account, or would like to try it out, you can find me here. I’ll be checking out Mewe as well, and I’ll post if I decide to make that move, or not. For now though, Diaspora is winning.