Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Google+ R.I.P.

Okay, I'll admit the title is a bit melodramatic. Google+ isn't really dead. Unfortunately on January 24 2017 Google will be shutting down Classic Google+. It will be replaced by New Google+, the new iteration of the social media site, despite the fact that New G+ doesn't seem very popular with users. For many of us long time G+ users (I've been around since the beta), it certainly seems as if Google+ is over.

Google+ was launched on June 28 2011. For whatever reason the tech media would claim that Google+ was a "ghost town". This was an outright lie. As early as the beta Google+ became a very busy place with plenty of people and plenty of posts. There would be lively discussions of the sort one would not see on Facebook or Twitter. To give you an idea of how successful Google+ was, I have more followers on G+ than I do on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn combined. Indeed, I made several close friends there and they are the sort of friends I can see having for the rest of my life. Google+ was an active and vibrant place where one could easily find people with whom one had a great deal in common.

Sadly, Google+ would change over the years. Over time it would lose some very useful features. Ripples was a tool that would show how one's post had been re-shared. It was quite useful for those concerned about the reach of their posts on Google+, and fun to play with for the rest of us. Hangouts on the Air was a livestreaming service. Sadly, it was moved over to YouTube. Over time features would be introduced that were not nearly as useful. Communities (which are sort of like Facebook groups) proved very popular at first, but now it seems to me that most Communities are inactive. Collections are essentially collections of posts, not unlike Pinterest boards. A lot of users played with Collections at first, but now it seems to me that most of the people I know ignore them.

Of course, much of the reason for these changes in Google+ were changes in management.  Vic Gundotra, the executive who had been in charge of Google+ from its inception, left in 2014. Since then there have been a few more changes to management.  Sadly it seems to me that the relatively new leadership seriously misread how many people use Google+. On November 18 2015 they introduced New Google+, a radical redesign of Google+ that places more emphasis on Collections and Communities. It was not received well by many Google+ users. Fortunately, one could always remain on Classic G+.

Sadly, that will end on January 24 2017. Whether Google wants to accept it or not, many Google+ users loathe New Google+. I suspect once it becomes the only choice for G+ users, many of us will use G+ much less frequently. I suspect yet others will simply leave. The problem with New Google+ is twofold. The first is its emphasis on Collections and Communities. Quite simply, from what I have seen Collections are not that popular. I know a few people who have their own Collections, but most people I know simply ignore them. They don't create Collections, nor do they follow other people's Collections. Because of that it certainly is not something one would want to base a social media site around.  Of course, I have one major problem with Collections myself. Quite simply, someone who is not following me can follow one of my Collections. I really do not like that and it is why I don't have any Collections. I want my posts in the Collections to be public, but as far as I am concerned only those people who follow me should be able to see those Collections.

As to Communities, as I said earlier, initially they were quite popular. Unfortunately as time passed the novelty wore off and many Communities became inactive. I have three Communities and of those three only one gets posts with any kind of regularity. I think Google needs to face up to the fact they got it right the first time. Google+ isn't an interest-based social network, it is a people-based social network. People are not interested in following Collections. They are interested in following people.

The second is that with New Google+ they have deprived Google+ of much of its functionality. Chief among these is circle management. For those who have never used Google+, circles are essentially lists into which users can organise people. Each circle has its own stream, making it easy to keep track of posts. Classic Google+ had a fairly efficient tool for organising circles, complete with a "drag-and-drop" interface. Sadly that sort of circle management is missing from New Google+. That makes it very hard to manage circles on the New G+.

Another bit of functionality that was lost with New Google+ is an adequate means of curating one's photos. With Classic Google+ one could organise photos into albums and even decide which photos other users see by highlighting them. Sadly all of that is gone with New Google+. Photos are just bunched together and there is really no efficient way for the user to sort them, let alone decide which photos other users should see. I suspect depriving Google+ of any real photo management tools could be due to Google wanting users to use Google Photos. Unfortunately, some of us choose not to use Google Photos because its photo management tools are about as bad as those of New Google+. They really ought to have retained the Classic Google+'s tools for curating photos, not to mention dramatically overhaul Google Photos.

Yet another bit of functionality that was lost with New Google+ was integration with Hangouts (quite simply, chat). One of the things I have always enjoyed about Google+ is the ability to chat with my friends there. Since Hangouts are not integrated with the New Google+, I will now have to have an entirely different window open for Hangouts. That is hardly efficient and very inconvenient for many G+ users. It would be much easier to have Hangouts right there on Google+.

New Google+ has several other problems that I will not go into. Suffice it to say that it is far inferior to Classic Google+. In fact, it is so inferior to Classic Google+ that many G+ users are puzzled as to why Google would even consider replacing Classic Google+ with New Google+. As far as I can tell, people want efficient photo management tools and Hangouts; they don't want Collections and Communities. I think with New Google+ that Google has seriously misread the wants and needs of their users, and as a result they will see usage of Google+ plummet. In that case I think they will be forced to either reintroduce some of the functionality of Classic Google+ into New Google+ or discontinue it. Sadly, given Google's history (remember Google Reader?)  I suspect they will simply discontinue it. If that is the case, then it will be very sad, because Classic Google+ was the best social networking site of which I have ever been a part.

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