Google’s once much-hyped social network, Google+, shut down recently after just 8 years on the social circuit. The announcement came last year, when it was revealed that a bug, which had been present for over two years, led to the exposure of millions of user’s data to external devs. At this stage, Google+ was already dying.
However, this is not the first example of a Google social network having to shut down. In 2010, Google Buzz was launched, but by 2011, it had been retired. Google Friend Connect was another network, which was launched in 2008 and shut down in 2012. But, after so much hype around the network, what actually went wrong with Google+?
Google+ was launched without a plan in place and came as Google’s answer to Facebook which, at the time, was needed in order to counter Facebook’s success after seven years on the social scene and gaining more popularity each month. Many employee accounts believed that by launching Google+, Facebook was going to well and truly ruin Google. When it was launched, there were no clear differences between Google+ and Facebook, which was quickly gaining more and more traction with its users.
A lot of users found sharing updates and posts on Google+ confusing and unnecessarily complicated. Although considered an innovation, the “circles” feature on Google+ was fairly complex. Users were supposed to be able to create circles of people, focusing on family and friends, to share circle-specific posts and updates.
But, these circles were one-way and other users didn’t need to share anything back. Google+ users had their own circles, but there was no way of knowing who you were in a circle with. This worked in direct contrast with Facebook’s sharing technique and, unlike on Facebook, circles were Google’s failed attempt at creating groups.
It Was Company Focused
It was widely speculated that Google+ was created and designed in order to solve internal problems at Google, rather than creating something which made it easy for other users to connect with one another. It seemed like a relatively straightforward approach at first, as Google doesn’t need to micromanage multiple user profiles in order to use their different services and apps, as logging into Google+ connected you to the rest of Google’s products.
However, it didn’t create a social experience which was simple like other networks, such as LinkedIn or Facebook. Users had to think about who they wanted to add to their circles, rather than simply connecting with someone on LinkedIn or adding someone as a friend on Facebook.
Google Didn’t Move Into Mobile Quick Enough
As soon as the mobile boom came, social network sites such as Twitter and Facebook were quick to offer a streamlined mobile browsing experience. Google+, however, seriously lagged behind and, as a result, found it hard to get back into a comfortable position. Whilst Facebook recognised it’s slow descent into mobile, it quickly made up for lost time and offered high-speed browsing and external apps, such as messenger.
Instead of focusing on these issues, Google decided to instead put their spotlight on offering high-resolution images and sharing opportunities. Whilst these were great for desktop users and Chromebook experiences, they were too slow to load on mobile and were generally laggy. Mobile for Google+ was, generally, perceived to be much more of an afterthought rather than a concern, even when it came to other social network’s success in the field.
Rank-Based Presentation Took Centre Stage
Another huge factor which contributed to the overall and overwhelming unreliability of Google+ of communication was Google’s use of ranking. When you viewed the content in your Google+ feed, this content had been ranked using a highly sophisticated algorithm, so any content which Google deemed important or interesting appeared at the top of the page. Communications which were deemed lower priority were shown lower down the page.
In addition to this, Google+ also supported infinite scrolling. This meant that there was no actual end point on the page and, so long as you kept scrolling, you would continue to be shown more posts. This, in essence, meant that you could never really be done with what Google+ had to show you – there was no sense of closure. It also meant that each individual would, eventually have to stop at some point, and wherever they stopped proved highly unpredictable.
A combination of these two factors was deemed, by many, as one of the final and fatal blows to Google+. If a close friend or family member sent a message, there was little to no guarantee that the other user would see it at the top of their stream. If it appeared lower down the feed, then there is also no guarantee that they would see it before they stopped scrolling and reading. This causes less of a problem for the person who the message is intended for, but more so for the person who actually sent the message.
It’s interesting to note that Facebook updated and continue to update its algorithm to support showing posts how they believe users will want to see them. If a user chooses to interact frequently with a page or a person, then it is likely that they will be shown their posts above any others.
The issue that comes with ranking, in general, is that it takes away that all important control from the user. At the end of the day, who is to decide for that individual what is and what isn’t interesting or important to them, other than themselves? Google+ leaders were convinced that setting the network up based on rankings was key as, after all, Google’s entire success premise was based on their ranking algorithms. Any problems which arose could be solved, or so they thought, by coming up with a new, more personalised algorithm. This, sadly, did not prove to be the case. Ranking can be a great tool to help to browse low-priority information, as no one wants to have to make hundreds or even thousands of decisions about what they want to read or what not to read next. Having an automatic curator, or algorithm, makes sense in this context.
It is located on my author log-in page, but here it is Natalie Wilson is a freelance writer for many different business publications. With a range of knowledge in the business and insurance sector, she is an avid researcher and writer in the field. Having worked with a number of different businesses, including Red Cow Media, Natalie is now a freelance writer looking to specialise in the topic. You can connect with her on Twitter @NatWilson976.