Google+ Its Culture and Collapse
Created by Google in June 2011, Google+ was Google’s big attempt at entering into the social media space. Utilizing Circles created by people, people could share pictures, video, and other media with only those inside their circle(s), or to the public at large. Although it shut down only eight years later, Google+ is still a very interesting piece of internet history. Analyzing its culture through the five circuits of culture reveals an understanding of Google+ to Google, and to both Google+ users and Google users at large.
Production of Google+ was not ideal for Google. Before the launch of Google+, in mid-2010, they launched a social media service known as Google Buzz, which allowed users to share content from other social media platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.) in one place, and interact with said content alongside other Google Buzz users. Additionally, people could share things from non social-media sources such as Google Reader, and interact with it similarly to how one would interact with a regular social media post (commenting, liking, etc.). Google Buzz didn’t last long however, shutting down in December 2011, leaving it on the market for a year and half, dying off only six months after Google+ launched.
Even with a fast failure of social media service, that didn’t stop Google from pouring an estimated $585 million into the production of Google+ (which discounts keeping the service running for eight years). With the intent of this being the next big Google service, Google poured massive amounts of money into this, from buying the social media site Slide for around $150 million to having 500 employees work on the project for an estimated $250,000 during their time spent working on it up until launch (including benefits that aren’t a direct salary). However, pouring tons of money into a service doesn’t necessarily mean it will take off with the public.
The identity of Google+ to the public was a mixed bag that didn’t play well into Google’s favor. Many people didn’t see Google+ as a unique service, rather they saw it as another Facebook or a Facebook clone. As a result of this, many didn’t see Google+ as a useful service, rather just a functional one. Additionally, near the end of Google+’s life, there was a privacy scandal involving Google+ that led to the potential compromise of over 50 million users’ data that was marked as “private”. The uninterested beginning to the service combined with the terrible end to it may show Google+ to be a scar left on the company in many people’s minds, and may explain why Google hasn’t tried to enter the social media space since.
Google represents a range of different things to different groups of people. The most relevant of these even after Google+’s departure is almost certainly what Google+ represented to people. Due to the common knowledge at the time of Google taking vast amounts of user data, many people saw Google+ as a privacy risk. However, with Google+’s identity being tied with being a Facebook clone, some saw Google as the lesser of two evils over Facebook in terms of taking data, and preferred Google+ over Facebook as a result.
For consumers, on top of the possible privacy implications, they also felt Google+ identified as a Facebook clone. As a result of this, Google+ simply represented an alternative platform, one that would be difficult to migrate to, due to the need to move entire friend groups, families, etc. over to another platform, some of whom may dislike Google+ for the company running it. Many people thought that this was a hassle for very minor benefit (or no benefits at all), and stuck with Facebook as a result.
For businesses, Google+ represented an advantage in the ever-evolving game of search engine optimization, along with a way to connect with customers. Due to Google+ sharing similar functionality to social media services such as Facebook, Google+ provided an opportunity for businesses with customers that didn’t use Facebook or other social media services to connect with customers, provide support, etc. Additionally, Google leveraged business information entered into Google+ to provide information in Google Search, along with giving benefits to businesses who provided said information in Google Search rankings. As a result, businesses saw Google+ as another way to play the search engine optimization game to hopefully come out on top and attract more customers.
For Google, Google+ represented a massive method of data collection, both for the benefit of advertising and for improving Google products (mainly Google Search). Due to the inherently social nature of social media, along with the sometimes more private information shared on them, Google+ was a massive opportunity for Google to obtain data on people, especially considering they could combine it with data obtained from Gmail. As with most data Google collects, this data would further allow Google to tune ads displayed to users. Additionally, Google was able to take advantage of business information entered into Google+, allowing Google Search to provide results based on said data, and allow users to more easily get into contact with businesses. Overall, Google+ represented a huge positive to the company, as long as it took off as a service.
In order to help facilitate Google+’s success, Google made Google+ painless to use, and did not regulate it much. Any Google user could sign up for Google+ very easily, as Google+ used Google accounts that most people already were using (whether they be for Gmail, Google Drive, etc.). Controversially, they tied Google+ into a lot of their other services, most notably of which being YouTube, where Google forced YouTube commenters to sign up for and use Google+ accounts to leave comments on YouTube videos.
Regulation by the Google+ user was much heavier than the regulation Google themselves put on the service. Utilizing Google+’s circles, users of Google+ limited the people that could see content they posted and what content they saw. This leads directly into how people consumed content on Google+, which was through these aforementioned circles, as that was the central point of Google+. Interestingly, most circles had work-related names, which could explain how the remnants of Google+ still exist in the form they do today. However, due to this emphasis on circles, only around 34% of content was shared publicly with other users, meaning approximately two-thirds of consumed content by Google+ users was shared privately.
Originally, due to Google+ not succeeding as Google had hoped, Google+ was announced to be shut down in August 2019. However, due to an API misconfiguration, Google+ apps or extensions could see user data marked as private. As a result of this breach of privacy on what Google reports to be around 52.5 million users, Google+’s shutdown date was moved forward to April 2019. However, the Google+ shutdown was only for consumers, while the service lived on in the enterprise space as Google Currents.
Launched as a rebranding of Google+ for G Suite in 2019, Google Currents is Google+ in the enterprise space. Being its own separate service, it can be analyzed under the five circuits of culture. Although it’s a continuation of Google+, its limitation to the enterprise leads to a vastly different culture surrounding it in comparison to Google+.
The production and identity of Google Currents both revolve around the enterprise focus. Being a continuation of Google+, the production of Google Currents hasn’t changed much from Google+, with the exception of focusing on providing features useful to an enterprise space, tweaking the wording of the service and its advertising to match, etc. In terms of identity, Google attempts to make Currents’ identity be that of engagement across a company.
Google Currents represents an effective method of company-wide communication, both between employees at the same level of the corporate ladder, and between those on different rungs. It represents an opportunity for those lower on the ladder to have their voices heard by those higher up without going through a chain of management, along with allowing those higher up to see feedback from those far beneath them on the ladder without having the message muddied by managers that sit between them. However in practice, this positivity that Google Currents represents is stifled by whatever company culture is put into place.
Unlike the Google+ that came before it, Google Currents is much more heavily regulated, both by the company and Google themselves. In terms of the company, any policies the company has in place, along with any norms in work culture limit what can be said on Google Currents. In addition to this, the combination of needing a company to pay per user for access to Google Currents combined with Google limiting Google Currents to be in individual company “bubbles”, Google Currents users are heavily regulated, and cannot communicate cross-company easily, and are limited by their employment as to whether or not they can participate.
As mentioned previously, most people named their Google+ Circles work-related names. This is almost certainly why Google Currents is popular enough to still exist, and why people now consume Google Currents the way they mostly consumed Google+ in the past: through work-related groups of people. The only difference being that instead of enabling outside of work banter, Google Currents moreso focuses on in-work communication, as Google Currents instances are controlled by a company, and are targeted for in-work use.
Overall, Google+ was Google’s best take on a social media platform that flopped almost entirely out of existence. With a production of over $500 million and a pre-production failure and post-production failure, Google+ didn’t have stable ground to start or end on besides the money and employee time being poured into it. With its Facebook clone-like reception, it never stood out as its own identity. It represented a huge amount of data to be collected to Google, both to improve its services, and to increase the details of advertising profiles on people, while to users, that same data collection posed a privacy risk, or a “lesser of two evils” approach when compared to the similarly data-hungry Facebook. To companies, Google+ represented a way to provide data to Google in return for being viewed higher up on the ever-important Google Search result.
With the regulation of Google+ being to allow anyone in, even with the extreme of forcing some people in through cross-service integration, most regulation fell onto users to regulate via the adding of people to circles. This leads into how people consumed Google+, with people sharing the majority of their content in their circles, most of them with work-related names. This leads perfectly into how Google+ still remains today, as an enterprise-only product called Google Currents, where information throughout a company can easily be shared without resorting to email chains or a simple IRC-style chat. Although Google+ still lives on as said Google Currents, it’s a shame that the original vision of Google+ was never fully realized and accepted by the company and the people respectively. Google may have become a very different company had Google+ taken off as they originally hoped.
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