Today Google announced that they are closing down Google+, their social network. Naturally this elicited three sorts of reactions: the "oh no!" of frequent users, the "people still use G+" of non-fans, and the puzzlement of folks for whom G+ never caught on. Google+ was Google's attempt at making a social network. When it first arrived people were confused at how it worked. Google+ introduced the concept of "circles" where folks could collect up a group of folks with similar interests and treat that as a separate group. You could post to circles and follow the activities of folks in that circle. What was really cool though was the ability to share circles and merge them into your own circle. This was great because someone could say "here's a circle of cool folks that are interested in tabletop role-playing games" and others could add those folks to their own gaming circles.
It's hard to convey just how cool circles were in the early days of G+. It gave you a ready-made list of folks who had similar interests to you. Before long those circles became groups, and those groups became communities.
I mention the role-playing game community in particular because that was the community that was the most interesting on G+. I was suddenly following a bunch if interesting and talented game designers and folks who were thinking deeply about games and game design.
It's hard to overstate how amazing these communities were.
Google also felt the need to make all of their social products work with Google+. They added events, actual communities, and Hangouts integration into Google+. They created ways for role-playing groups to get together online and play games. People created add-ons for hangouts to roll dice and show maps. Events allowed folks to meet online or in person. Coffee House Coders and Michigan!/usr/group used events and communities to help keep people up-to-date, and the Michigan!/usr/group also streamed meetings using Google+ events and streaming.
People quickly figured out how to make beautiful things with Google+. They built relationships. Those relationships prospered.
Unfortunately Google couldn't articulate what Google+ was to anyone. They tried advertising, demos, and what-not but unless you were steeped in Google+ it was difficult to figure out.
So Google did the thing that they thought was most obvious: they tried to strip it down and simplify it.
They took away the ability to share circles. No longer were people able to share lists of interesting users. They also disconnected the integration of Google Hangouts, and removed events from communities. They killed off the ability to add apps to Google Hangouts, and streamlined the user experience to the point where even expert users were having a hard time doing things they used to do.
In their efforts to make Google+ more accessible to the masses they killed off the product that the experts found useful.
Naturally the power users moved on. If they wanted shitty Facebook they could go back to Facebook just fine, thank you. And over time Google+ became a shadow of its former self.
Today Google announced that Google+ was slated for closure. August 2019 will see the closure of Google+.
I mourn the Google+ that I knew. I mourn the friendships and interesting discussions that happened there. Today the discussions were of people trying to rebuild their communities on other platforms. But the reality is there will never be another platform like Google+. Google managed to create something that encouraged folks to build communities. But because they didn't understand that they did everything to stifle those communities.
I was going to title this post "The Last Social Network" in part because I'm fatigued. I'm tired of corporate-owned social networks where the users are an afterthought. I'm tired of corporate-owned networks where it's all about lock-in and monetization. So I'm on Mastodon for the foreseeable future. And should something happen to make Mastodon and the resultant ActivityPub ecosystem disappear then I'm done.
Goodbye Google+. You were unique and misunderstood, even by the people who ostensibly loved you the most.