UPDATED: Google Is Finally Yanking the Plug on the Failed Google+ Social Network

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Google’s failed experiment to create a social network to compete with the 800-lb. gorilla Facebook is over. Today the company announced that they are shutting down Google+:

Google+, a social network that we can certainly say existed and not much more, is slated for a long-overdue trip down the memory hole.

A ten-month sunsetting period was announced in a Google blog post today about increased security efforts, dubbed Project Strobe, which found a bug in Google+ that could have leaked some personal information users posted to their profiles, though according to Strobe’s analysis no one else was aware of or took advantage of the vulnerability.

That may have something to do with Google+’s relative obscurity as an online social destination. Despite integration with the company’s other, hugely successful products like Gmail, Blogger, and YouTube, Google admits usage is negligible. In the company’s own words, “90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

Given the potential for abuse, and the fact that almost no one is using Google+, Alphabet opted to take the path of least resistance and yank the doddering network off life support. Users (whoever they might be) have had plenty of time to download and migrate their data before the platform’s final days arrive in August of next year.

According to an article in The New York Times:

Google said it would shut down Google Plus, the company’s floundering answer to Facebook, after it discovered a security vulnerability that exposed the private data of up to 500,000 users of the service.

When the company’s technical staff discovered the bug in March, they decided against disclosing the issue to users because they hadn’t found anyone that had been affected, the company said in a blog post on Monday.

That decision could run afoul of relatively new rules in California and Europe governing when a company must disclose a security incident. In the blog post, Google said its “Privacy & Data Protection Office” decided the company was not required to report the security issue.

The incident could face additional scrutiny because of a memo to senior executives reportedly prepared by Google’s policy and legal teams that warned of embarrassment for Google — similar to what happened to Facebook earlier this year — if it went public with the vulnerability.

The memo, according to The Wall Street Journal, warned that disclosing the problem would invite regulatory scrutiny and that Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, would likely be called to testify in front of Congress.

I actually will be rather sorry to see Google+ go, but I can certainly understand the decision. Nothing can compare to the initial excitement when the social network launched, but the feeling of euphoria didn’t last very long. As I have written:

…I joined Google+ when it launched in the summer of 2011, and I immediately began having real conversations with people instead of avatars [on Second Life], participating in face-to-face in hangouts, and posting items that people enjoyed and thanked me for writing. That first year was a heady and exhilarating time, hard to describe to someone who wasn’t there.

But after that first year, things went rapidly downhill and usage dropped off precipitously. Hangouts, which were great fun and a novelty at first, did not catch on the way that Google obviously hoped they would. Eventually, Google+ became a virtual ghost town.

Now I’m going to have to sit down and figure out exactly how to back up all my Google+ posts (over 18,000 of them!). I don’t want to lose them. I guess I’d better figure out how to use Google Takeout to save my stuff…

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One group that will be hard hit by this decision is the Opensim Virtual community, which has been a primary source of information on OpenSim developments for years now. Perhaps Talla Adam will move the group over to Facebook, where any number of Second Life related groups seem to be doing well.

UPDATE Oct. 9th: Lauren Weinstein has written a must-read editorial on Google (the company) in general and Google+ (the platform) in particular on his blog: The Death of Google.

And a petition to save Google+ has already gathered over 10,000 signatures over on Change.org, but I personally don’t think it’s going to make Google change their mind:

Petition

Mike Elgan, who was a passionate user of Google+, writes:

Remember Yahoo? Twenty years ago, Yahoo.com got more traffic than any site on the internet. But it failed to evolve.

In place of evolution or innovation, Yahoo simply started buying everything with the intention of integrating it. But it was unable to integrate anything in a compelling way.

Eventually, Yahoo simply became the company that closed things. It quickly became clear that nobody should invest any time, energy or money into supporting or using Yahoo because whatever product you invested in would likely be shut down, killed off, closed for business.

Now, Google is the new Yahoo.

Google is the company that kills its own products.

Google’s M.O. is to launch some new product or service with great fanfare, convince it’s loyal fans to go all-in, allow those fans to devote countless hours with the product, then kill the product and leave the devoted fans with nothing.

They did it with Reader, Inbox, Answers, Lively, Glass, Orkut, Buzz, Wave, Nexus Q, Dodgeball and many others.

The closure of Google+ is the biggest slap in the face ever, by far.

Google told us Google+ was the future of Google. So we jumped in and engaged. Personally, I’ve spent thousands of hours lovely crafting publication-quality opinion pieces. This is what I do for a living, and I gave my time and labor over to Google+ for free.

Now, Google is going to flush all my work down the toilet.

Yours, too.

Google has been working hard for years to push away its most loyal fans. Now, Google is going even further.

In fact, the killing of Google+ is a perfect storm of Google’s vision vacuum. It’s driven by their antipathy toward passionate users, and also their failure to understand the human element generally.

Google has failed utterly with every social network they’ve ever launched, and the reason is that, culturally, Google simply can’t understand human beings.

I recently got rid of my MacBook Pro and bought a high-end Pixelbook. And I was leaning toward buying a Pixel 3. But now I’m off the fence. I’ll be buying iPhones from now on.

And I can’t even imagine what will happen when Google decides to kill Google Photos.

Google simply can’t be trusted.

Google is the new Yahoo, the company that kills its own products.

Which Google product is next?

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What Friendster (Yes, Friendster) Teaches Us About Social VR and Virtual Worlds

God, there are days when I miss Friendster. Anybody remember Friendster?

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Friendster was founded by Canadian computer programmer Jonathan Abrams in 2002, before the wider adoption of MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004) and other social networking sites. It was my first introduction to social media. Hell, it was most people’s introduction to social media. This was a brand new world! The hype about social networks then was similar to the hype over virtual reality now.

FriendsterJonathan Abrams originally meant for Friendster to be a dating site, but the people using it had other ideas. People began to game the system by connecting to each other to form ever-larger social networks. Friendster would give you statistics on the number of your connections, out to three degrees of separation (that is, friends of friends of friends). And people began to compete with each other to see who could amass the largest social network. We called ourselves “Friendster whores”.

Actually, danah boyd, then of the School of Information Management & Systems at the University of California, Berkeley, was (as far as I am aware) the first person to define the term “Friendster whore”. She was, at the time, researching Friendster and other online social networks, trying to understand how people present their digital identity, negotiate social contexts and articulate their relationships. (I actually did submit some stats of my huge, eventually-3-million-plus Friendster network to her.) Her definition, which I adopted, was taken from her blog Connected Selves, September 1, 2003: “Friendster whores — people who simply collect as many people as possible”

On top of that, people begin creating fake Friendster accounts called Fakesters (“Hi, I’m Jupiter, a huge swirling ball of gas!”). The Fakesters became a way for Friendster pranksters to connect with each other, and expand their merry mayhem even further.

Of course, the people running Friendster were not too terribly keen on people creating fake accounts, and they would delete them as fast as they could. (These agents were termed the “Friendstapo”.) That only made some people redouble their efforts to create fake accounts, and some of them were truly hilarious and inspired.

My favourite Fakester was someone who channeled the late-night-infomercial fake-Jamaican tarot-card-reading shaman Miss Cleo, who declared a run for President…

Dat’s right babies! Da will a’da spirits be dat
I should lead dis wonderful nation trew da comin
times! Due ta m’overwhelmin popularity and trust
wit’in da Friendster community, Miss Cleo be
runnin fer president! So call me now ta cast yer
vote!

Friendster turned into a very different beast from what Jonathan Abrams had intended. Now, who would have predicted that?

My main point is this: the people who create the software platforms think they have control, but it’s really the end users who shape the service and build the community that they want to see. Past a certain point, it’s completely out of the founders’ hands. Linden Lab understands this and, for the most part, they get out of the way of the insanely creative people who have built Second Life into what it is today. Nobody could have predicted all the fantastic directions that SL went into. And I can see the same thing happening already in Sansar, High Fidelity, and other virtual worlds.

Surprisingly, it’s the often-anarchic world of VRChat which is currently following the rigidly-controlled Friendster corporate playbook that’s doomed to failure. For example, from their Community Guidelines page, there’s this gem:

Petitions & Protests

All questions and concerns should be emailed to moderation@vrchat.com. Any effort to organize a petition or protest on official VRChat channels is forbidden. These include but are not limited to VRChat, the VRChat subreddit, and the VRChat Community Discord.

Hmmm…let’s see how long this little edict lasts, shall we?

I do remember reading somewhere that Philip Rosedale, the founder of Linden Lab and the creator of Second Life, was truly surprised when people took his platform and basically recreated the real world (big mansions, fancy cars, etc.), as opposed to creating things that were impossible to have in real space and time. Of course, that came about too, over time. But it turned out many people simply wanted to live out their fantasies of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I just came across this ad from the March 2018 issue of the SL magazine, Attention:

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Which goes to prove my point. You can’t predict what’s going to happen. People may take social VR spaces and virtual worlds into as-yet-undreamed-of and unanticipated areas. Nobody can predict what the metaverse is going to look like.

Except for Miss Cleo 😉