Since Facebook was released to the public back in 2006, it had been a time-honored tradition to complain at length to any update or questionable algorithm shift they felt necessary to throw in your face. It was almost seasonal. Like Christmas. The wailing and gnashing of teeth, the destruction of keyboards and statements of, “I’m gonna leave this stupid site if they don’t put it back the way it was,” were on par with those quintessential, inescapable, mind-numbing carols that invaded every single moment of your life for weeks.
We’ve all been there, right? You have just appointed your page to just how you like it, and then suddenly Facebook barges into your perfectly feathered nest, sets it on fire, pisses all over it and tells you to get used to it. You complain. You join groups. You rage rage rage hard, and then eventually you forget about it and get used to how things are… until they change it again.
I’ll admit, I was a part of the chorus of squeaky wheels. Until I was reminded, over and over again that what I have on this site is not mine. I have lost sight of the bigger picture; If I wasn’t selling a product on Facebook, I was the product.
It was always sobering to be reminded of just exactly what we were all doing on this site. If I could divorce myself long enough from being butthurt about their seemingly personal infringement, I could see the reasoning behind it. I understood that something as humongous as Facebook would need to stay afloat somehow, and the best way of doing it for them would be to distract their millions and millions of users with shiny objects jangled in our faces like a ring of keys in order to generate ad revenue by “borrowing” your personal information. On a certain level, I understood. It didn’t mean I had to like it.
Facebook and I parted ways sometime around 2011 when a huge change landed with an even huger thud on their site leaving many of us to question why they are there and what they were doing. Before this time, you could enjoy updates from your friends and see what was happening in your particular little bubble. Then all of a sudden, Facebook, in their infinite wisdom, started stuffing your feed with news articles that Facebook felt was relevant to you, because algorithm. While at the same time all your friends’ activity took a back seat.
There was also the change where you could see what other things your friends were liking and what other conversations they were having, which I kind of felt left the door open for future stalking and harassment.
Facebook, the comfortable dorm room which we all felt safe in had turned into something unrecognizable and potentially dangerous. The random threats of closing a page were more real this time. Before, nobody, especially Facebook, regarded these threats as anything credible because there wasn’t anywhere else to go to. At least, no place that was as user-friendly.
Then, Google+ appeared.
Then shit just got real.
Up until this time, Google had only been dipping their toes in the social stream. Years before launch, they released testers like Google Buzz, Orkut, and FriendConnect. All had a modest following and showed potential for something greater, at least by those who used them, until Google finally wrangled them together to make Google+; A social network specifically designed to be everything Facebook wasn’t. Before its release, it was given the name of “Facebook Killer”.
That first month wonderful. Everything was bright and shiny, and there was nary a troll or an obnoxious ad to be seen anywhere. It was a calm vista where people could converse without yelling at each other and the exchange of ideas was done in a much more respectful manner.
Sure, there was that whole “Aliases and nicknames are verboten so use your real name or get kicked out” thing, but LOOK! CIRCLES! We got CIRCLES! You can stuff all your friends in CIRCLES! Pay no attention that your freedom of choice is a currency we don’t take around here. The Circles are your friend.
It didn’t take long before this exotic haven was beginning to look more like a cheap resort. In 2012, if you didn’t have a Gmail account, something that required very little effort to do, you were forced to sign up for a G+ account at the same time. A move which failed to win over many new subscribers.
The same thing happened in 2013. Hey! Want to comment on or share a YouTube video? Something you could do already because you had your own YouTube account? Nope. Now you had to have a Google+ account in order to continue doing something that you’ve been doing for years. And your YouTube handle couldn’t be a clever nickname or established brand, you had to use your real name or else no more engaging. It didn’t go over too well.
No account, no engaging. The move was unannounced and unappreciated. Not only did this incur a backlash by YouTubers who were busy gaining their own following, but it also affected a lot of G+ users as well. Most saw it as absurd and authoritarian, a move that was reason enough to get rid of their freshly minted accounts completely and seek greener pastures. It was a mistake that Google stuck to its guns on until they backtracked in 2015 when G+ accounts were no longer mandatory to comment and share. But the damage was already done.
The whole YouTube debacle was still a fresh wound in the following year when in April, the founding father of Google+, Vic Gundotra, announced that he was stepping down from his position. The news didn’t seem to send anyone into too much of a tailspin. It was a quiet decision that was made, perhaps, to not cause too many ripples that could result in negative side effects(?) Not that it made too much of a difference anyway. After his departure, several tech journalists mused that if G+ wasn’t a ghost town already, it was certainly on its way to becoming one soon. Google+ was now left in the hands of people who didn’t know what to do with it.
The next couple of years lacked any real signs of improvement. Google Photos and Google Hangouts, applications spawned from G+, became their own entity in 2015. Android and Play Store freed themselves of the yoke of mandatory affiliation in 2016. 2017 saw a new layout and a retooling of the “+1” button, but by the time this happened, the end was already inevitable. Most of the users who were there from the beginning had jumped ship. Spam had overrun many user-created Communities long since abandoned. The network had become emaciated of users and content. Things couldn’t seem to get much worse.
…then 2018 happened.
Then shit just got real.
As early as 2014, British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, had been surreptitiously gathering personal information from Facebook users. Specifically, White Americans who vote Republican. Their goal was to garner as much information as they can while at the same time, thanks to algorithms, abscond with as much information they had on their friends and family.
Was this legal? Oh, heavens no. But how else are you going to achieve global domination when your Chosen One is a narcissistic, bigoted, sexually assaulting racist who’s had a history of failing at every business venture he starts? Well, when you have the interest in a few Russian oil magnates who have endless supplies of cash and a vested interest in toppling Western interests all over the globe, you tend not to worry about the little things like “campaign finance violations”.
It started as an innocuous test or quiz like so many others to flood a Facebook feed, but unlike the “We Can Determine Your Personality Based On What Kind Of Pizza You Like” Buzzfeed fodder that we’ve all blown a few minutes on, this quiz had the extra added benefit of being an “actual” psychology test made by “actual” psychologists. It also had the extra added benefit of paying you for taking it.
Three hundred thousand Facebook users took the plunge. Without their knowledge, Cambridge Analytica was able to farm the personal information of not only the paid subjects but also their friends, followers, and family members. Each one gathered up like apples from the orchard, then sold to the highest bidder.
When this scandal was first released it was downplayed. The New York Times initially reported the number affected was somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million users, but after further investigation and a whistleblower coming forward earlier this year, the number was then revised to closer to 87 million users.
The damage was done. Donald Trump was elected despite losing the popular vote thanks to some good old Russian hacking, and the hijacked personal information of a few million Facebook users.
The backlash was immediate. #DeleteFacebook trended for days on Twitter. An unavoidable mass exodus followed as Mark Zuckerberg was hauled up before a Congressional Committee, grilled like a salmon, and then made to make amends with his millions of users. Consumer confidence had reached a new low with Facebook by April 2018.
“But, hey!” I hear you ask. “What’s this got to do with Google+?”
Not a lot, I’m afraid.
Facebook, regardless of the negative backlash, the exodus of many accounts, and the liability it has caused many to utilize it is still the King of all social media. Its user base is still firmly in the hundreds of millions.
On the other hand, Google+, whose user base had been diminishing steadily thanks mostly to one unnecessarily egregious misstep after another, had–shall we say–some soul searching to do.
Now, stick with me. This is where things get a little squiffy.
Earlier this month, it was announced by Google that as of August 2019, Google+ will be closing down. The announcement comes on the heels of a Wall Street Journal expose of a bug found in the security features of the website. Something which Google was allegedly unaware of and unprepared for.
Officially, Google launched “Project Strobe” earlier this year. It’s essentially an internal audit of all the Google apps and it’s relation to Android devices specifically. What it had found was a string of code that would facilitate the access of private information to some half a million users. It was a flaw. A bug. Something that could be completely catastrophic had it been allowed to prosper.
Fortunately, it had been caught in time, and maybe because they didn’t notice the soaped up, screaming baby when they threw out the bathwater, because after they allegedly fixed the problem, Google had decided to scrap the consumer version of this platform and offer no alternatives to migrate to, or Mea Culpas or reassurances to make their existing service better.
Google+ is finito.
You have less than a year. Pack yer shit and get out.
End of story.
It’s kinda like when you find a spider in your bathroom and the only way to take care of it is to burn your house down.
It’s been a few weeks since the news broke, and personally, something hasn’t sat right with me about getting kicked out of my online home. Google is a juggernaut. It always has been. It has infiltrated our lives and become indispensable. We no longer research things, we ‘Google’ them on our smart devices made by Google. There is a certain air of dependability and sophistication when your email address ends with @gmail.com. Hardly a day goes by when someone in my family shouts out, “Okay, Google…” into their phones when they have a nagging question rolling around in their heads. Google is omnipresent. Google is everything.
I’m just trying to figure out why they folded so easily when something as fixable as a bug in a line of code could have easily been… well… fixed. Especially when it comes to their once beloved “Facebook Killer”.
Who knows? Maybe it wasn’t as fixable as it seemed? Maybe it was some nasty bug like a code-gobbling Trojan Horse or some new strain of Stuxnet that had been tinkered on for years and released to the American Midwest. Ya know… for kicks!
Actually, blaming the bug for the closure was the reason given on their company blog. A nicely wrapped up package offered to the public without too much explanation. What they left out, and the thing that WSJ picked up on, was this “newly discovered” bug had been operational for about three years. Three years of using a platform that could have potentially made off with a gold mine of personal information. Three years of blithely communicating privately with only a select few people. Three years of knowing you had this thing, and not letting your customers know about it.
Fortunately, this bug that was infecting Google+ was never utilized. Whether it was because no one noticed. Or perhaps they did, but the bigger prizes were over in Facebook Land. No one could say for sure. This “newly discovered” bug had the potential to wreak havoc in the hands of some really bad actors, but it never happened. According to the audit, no evidence was found that any information was stolen. None. In three years.
Three years they had this flaw in their architecture and they didn’t tell a soul. Project Strobe was conducted earlier this year, and the findings came soon after. Mark Zuckerberg was also brought up before Congress around the same time this happened. Google’s executives could have come forward, but instead thought better to wait it out until the whole Facebook/Cambridge Analytica clusterfuck trudged its way to the back pages.
As the New York Times reported earlier this month…
“…The disclosure made on Monday could receive additional scrutiny because of a memo to senior executives reportedly prepared by Google’s policy and legal teams that warned of embarrassment for the company — similar to what happened to Facebook 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 most likely be called to testify in front of Congress…”
–Daisuke Wakabayashi (NYT 10/8/2018)
Embarrassment. They were risking embarrassment by disclosing it. And now, as a direct result of not doing anything, they risk facing the same fate they were trying to avoid. To avoid getting egg on their face, they now run the risk of countless lawsuits, a long and uncomfortable dressing down from Congress, and a possible loss in revenue as consumer confidence takes a nosedive.
As a footnote, while the Google blog post regarding the shuddering of Google+ states officially that there was a security problem to blame, in the same breath, at the same time, Google finally admitted that Google+ was no longer a social network or even a “social layer”. It was Zombieville. A ghost town. Current numbers indicate that Facebook, in spite of everything, currently has more than 2 billion users while g+ is hovering in the 6 to 7 million active user range. Most of them, Google states, only have an engagement rate of about 5 seconds.
Hard to believe, right? Dismal active user counts who only stay long enough to have their parking validated? How could that be? Could it have something to do with the forced integration with other applications on their platform? The bullying tactics? The constant rearranging of the interface and the hobbling of perhaps their biggest saving grace they had, the “+1” button? Maybe if they didn’t do any of this, maybe if they went in a better direction, maybe if they listened to their users, their engagement rate might last a little longer?
Could it be that the reason for such low user engagement was the platform being at odds with their customers from the beginning and not some phantom, nameless bug which may or may not have been hanging out and minding its own business for years? Could it be that this embarrassment they were trying to avoid was completely brought upon by themselves? Maybe?
But, who cares? Nobody is going to miss a ghost town unless there was some way someone could profit off of it.
Google+ has been my social home for years. For the most part, it’s relatively free of trolls and the absence of obtrusive advertising is refreshing. The distaste I’ve cultivated over the years about going back to Facebook for the sole purpose of interacting with other people and perhaps cultivating a following has only soured more.
I have grown bitter and curmudgeonly. I find that these days of spending an inordinate amount of time on Twitter to see how close we are to the end of the world that I’m really good at reacting rather than interacting. I have become fluent in Snark, Sarcasm, and Hyperbole. The whole point, or at least the original reason that I got on social media to begin with, has become stained with troll vomit. I no longer feel like being social.
But that’s not possible.
It has been driven into my head that you need Facebook or Twitter to survive as an author. While that might be technically true, in reality, it’s more of a liability. Reaching a wider audience using Facebook isn’t guaranteed, even when you do pay to advertise. Tweeting about your published works only falls on deaf ears. I could be more heartbroken that I will no longer have a centralized social platform with which I could link all my other accounts to, I don’t think it will make too much of a difference. I don’t think there will be too much of an impact if I just not bother at all.
But I need all the help I can get.
Google+ Mass Migration will probably be the last Community I follow. It’s a gathering of G+ users who are sharing information and stories about where to plant our roots. So far, the leading contenders are MeWe, Minds, and Pluspora (an offshoot of Diaspora). All of these sites have their benefits, but they all seem to be built on very shaky ground and no one is counting on any of them being around for long. I’m leaning more towards Friendica, but I can’t help but think that setting up shop there is more trouble than it’s worth. Honestly, I really don’t think a change of venue translates into more followers. Not for me. Not for what I’m doing. Perhaps it’s best to make the most of what I have.
Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe G+ shutting down is a good thing. It will be one less distraction and it will force me to make better use of my time. This blog will be my home for the foreseeable future. I’ll make the occasional appearance on Medium, participate in some quick fiction over on Tumblr, continue doling out the snark on Twitter, and advertise new projects on Instagram and Pinterest.
Maybe we’re all looking at the demise of social networking happening in real time. I’d like to think that we’ve all evolved beyond sharing cat videos and pictures of our lunch. Personally, I don’t mind the occasional distraction. But the problem with that is that I take it for granted that it’s always there. Just fire up the computer and get lost for hours in other people’s work rather than focusing on my own. Maybe it’s a good thing G+ is going the way of the dodo. Maybe Facebook will have their Friendster moment one day and eventually fade into obscurity. Maybe we’ll all go back to days of UserNet and communicate using pure text without graphics or emojis.
Maybe then our attention span will last longer than 5 seconds.
Here’s to hoping.
©2018 AA Payson