For five years, all citizens of the internet have been viciously blackmailed. From business managers to YouTubers, everyone has experienced the ruthless coercion of handing over our information and time in exchange for the ability to exist in our modern techno-topia. The villain, twirling his mustache and cackling as we weakly do his bidding? Google+.
That’s right. Google+, the much-hyped, little-used social-network-that-wasn’t just had its fifth birthday. The network celebrated its foul birth into the world with required “invitations” to participate, a trick that fooled many of us into thinking this new bundle of joy would not grow into the soul-sucking face of a failed empire. Mountains of money were sunk into the development of the platform, as creators Vic Gundotra and Larry Page scrambled to be relevant in the face of Facebook’s increasing social domination.
From the congress of existential fear and competition, something putrid was born. For all of Google’s massive success on numerous frontiers, it wasn’t enough. The internet giant, at the point of Google+’s conception, already had a long list of failure and false starts in the social world. From Orkut and Reader, to Wave and Buzz, Google+ had a reputation for failure even before it breathed its first “circle” into being.
The fear of a social takeover may seem strange on Google’s part: Facebook was valued at $14 billion in 2010, compared to Google’s $200 billion. The real dollar signs, however, came from the data mining Facebook had tapped into; each account has a real name, birthday, photos, networks of contacts and vibrant newsfeeds. That database has proven invaluable in predicting online behavior, for use in sales, political advertising, even social psychology. To add insult to injury, many early G+ employees left the enterprise to go work for Facebook.
After the first six months or so of G+’s stagnant entrance into the online world, it was clear the public was not enthralled. The platform attempted to innovate with the reasonably noble mission of assigning contacts clear designations (as in, “Work,” “College,” “Friends,” “Family”) instead of being another app that abuses the idea of friendship. It integrated a variety of Google services, at first to coordinate users’ real life lives into their online worlds. This idea, however, quickly turned dark.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) favor was given to websites and businesses with Google+ pages, over others. Businesses that continually maintain an active profile are more likely to be “found” in Google’s parent search results. YouTube users no doubt remember when they were required to create a Gmail account to continue using the site—a step which angered many. The Gmail address created a Google+ account for many unsuspecting people who just wanted to watch Dramatic Chipmunk one more time. The venture’s efforts to force users to use the platform have only resulted in a collective joke—it’s an empty site with empty content, automated by marketers and never to be looked at again, except by Google’s own search engine.
Multiple overhauls have changed what G+ does (and tries to be). The integrations with Google Hangouts and Memories have given the network some dependable sustenance—the blood of the innocent, if you will. With yet another overhaul last November, Google+ is successfully off life support—for now. From the blackmail of uninvolved bystanders to the successful leaching off of its own family, the story of Google+ is certainly not a light-hearted tale.
Is this a case of creating the monster that kills us? If we had loved Google+ more, instead of mocking it, could we have saved it? If we tried to figure out what circles were before quitting the site in 2011, would our Google overlords have been kinder? Who can say now. Happy Birthday, Google+. Here’s to five more years of begrudgingly existing under your tyrannical rule.