After Google was unable to inform the world about a security bug, Google said it would finally be a well thought-out but unpopular social network trying to conquer Facebook.
The shutdown comes after Google found and fixed a security hole in March that may have revealed the personal information of 500,000 Google+ users. Google was silent for months on the issue and came after a report Monday from the Wall Street Journal. Google said then it decided against disclosing the glitch because it did not meet internal "thresholds" for warning the public.
It's the end of a long and difficult journey for Google+, which started in 2011 with a lot of fanfare. But while the network was consistently praised for its clean interface and useful photo capabilities, it never got the incentive to really threaten Facebook, now the world's largest social media network with more than 2 billion users.
Now Google+, long described as a ghost town, is plundered because of the code's inadequacy.
But his story does not come to a clean end, at least not yet. The demise of Google+ raises questions that we have not had to tackle on this scale in modern technology: when a big social network goes down, what's next? Google said the service will slow down in the next 10 months and will eventually shut down in August to ensure that people have plenty of time to remove their information and photos from the network.
Of course, Google+ is not the first social network that fails. There was Friendster and MySpace, but they burned out in an earlier era, before the all-consuming social media age we're living in now. Friendster closed in 2015 after a short pivot in gaming. MySpace is still technically there, even though it has positioned itself as a music site. Vine, the Twitter-owned network for 6-second video loops, announced the closure in 2016. The move was widely lamented and most of its users migrated to Instagram and YouTube.
That is different. Google+ should originally be an alternative to the behemoth Facebook. It has failed spectacularly, but it is a significant social network of probably one of the most powerful companies in the world. This is a social network that announces its death at a time when we have become so firmly rooted in social media that it could suffocate us. About 77 percent of the US population has a social media profile, according to Statista. We have relied so heavily on the social media mechanisms that we were misled, divided, targeted and misused.
And so the death of one of these services – even if it is used so little – could be a welcome news for some. But that does not make it any less shocking.
"A piece of your life or how you would present it will disappear," says Brian Solis, an analyst at the Altimeter Group. "There is no real understanding of what that will mean."
Google did not want to comment on this story.
Scare the SoundCloud
The biggest scare we could have when it comes to a beloved social site shuttering is SoundCloud. On the German side both signed and unsigned musicians can upload their music and share it with a fan base. It is such a part of the zeitgeist that it has become a meme for people to distribute their SoundCloud links to anyone who will record them.
Last year, the company fired 40 percent of its workforce, followed by reports that SoundCloud only had sufficient funding for 80 days.
The internet immediately panicked. Chance the Rapper, an avid user, tweeted: "I'm working on the SoundCloud thing."
The service was eventually rescued by venture capital funding and its CEO Alex Ljung stepped aside. (It's not clear what role Chance the Rapper played even though he had tweeted that he had a "fruitful call" with Ljung.)
The idea of losing SoundCloud has led to concerns about the instability of online communities.
"The moral of their struggle is clear," wrote the New York Times. "With digital culture increasingly committed to the success of the platforms it thrives on, there is always a danger that it will disappear forever."
The power user
For most people who forgot Google+ years ago, shutting down could be anti-limiting. We have many other ways to feed our social media fix, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest. (However, it may be useful to check your Google+ profile for gems or content worth saving).
But just because Google+ was mainly a punchline does not mean that it was completely abandoned. It's difficult to pin down exact numbers of users because Google has reportedly counted people who use the social features of the network in Google products. An external researcher estimated that there were 111 million active profiles in 2015.
Google declined to share social network user numbers, either at its peak or at the moment. But earlier this week, the company said that 90 percent of Google+ sessions lasted less than five seconds.
"Google gave us no reason to use Google+," said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. "Facebook was good enough to satisfy what we needed on social media."
Nevertheless, like every service, it had its power users. The service is popular with photographers for its well-respected photo features such as storage and editing capabilities. Daniel Radcliffe or Harry Potter himself is a dedicated user. It's his only verified social media account, even though his followers are not listed on the site.
Radcliffe said the reason why he likes it so much is the lack of commitment. "It's something I can do, it just does not have any comments and stuff," he said in 2016. (Asked to be interviewed for this story, a Radcliffe representative turned down and said the actor was busy with his new Broadway Game opens next week.)
Then there's Guy Kawasaki, Apple's evangelist for the original Macintosh. He has almost 7 million Google+ followers compared to 1.46 million on Twitter and 430,000 on Facebook. On the day the search giant announced his closure, he wrote on his page, "What the plus?" and added, "I've seen great potential in Google+." He even signed a Change.org petition requesting Google not to close it.
For people like him – public figures and speakers – the end of a platform is a blow. It's a particularly big hit for people who indicate their cumulative number of followers on different social media sites for things like talking gigs. Trying to replicate his audience on other platforms is out of the question, Kawasaki said.
"It's impossible," he said. "I wake up tomorrow and I'm just telling myself that I'll get 7 million new followers on Facebook or Twitter, showing me how to do it without buying it – and I do not buy followers."
In the end, he said Google+ was not a priority for a company as big as Google. Alphabet, its parent, already has everything under control, from search to e-mail and driverless cars. So the social network that was constantly languishing was dispensable.
"I'll miss it," Kawasaki said. "It was a great experiment."
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