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Peter Vogel

Educators, niche groups will miss Google+

Voices Oct. 22, 2018

Google+ will be shut down in August 2019, abandoning users who appreciate its features not found elsewhere and the high level of engagement found on the social media platform, writes Peter Vogel.

Google+, the social media platform that much of the world has forgotten, will be no more come August 2019.

In a bizarre move, Alphabet, the parent company of all things Google, announced that a security issue had been identified in the Google+ platform back in March. Rather than disclosing the issue, the company elected to ride out the matter, until it learned the Wall Street Journal planned to publish a story on the concern.

Whether the WSJ piece triggered Alphabet to announce the G+ shutdown, or whether it had been long-planned, is difficult to say. The company even panned its own product, claiming in the shutdown notice that the average time spent on G+ was just five seconds.

Such a claim is complete nonsense. Pretty much any Google user has a G+ profile, whether they realize it or not. The people spending five seconds there are not G+ users. They are using a G+ profile to get to some other Google service, typically YouTube.

In light of that five-second claim, you might think that the pending shutdown of Google+ would be a non-story. However you’d be mistaken.

From the moment the platform went live, Google+ attracted top-flight creative posters from artistic, professional, educational, technology, and scientific sectors from all over the planet.

Its growth was meteoric; within a short period its most prominent users had hundreds of thousands of followers, some more than a million. These followers were grouped by users into a Google construct known as circles. Each Google+ user created circles relevant to their personal interests.

I was an early adopter of Google+, beginning the first day it became public (July 2011). It started up while I was fortunate to be spending a month at the European Organization for Nuclear Research known as CERN (home of the Large Hadron Collider and birthplace of the WorldWideWeb) and I demonstrated it widely there.

I immediately appreciated its media-rich basis and the ease with which posts could be created. My only other social media presence at that time was Twitter, starting three years earlier.

For me, Google+ was a means to sharing some of my passions in areas such as technology, astronomy, physics, and cybersecurity. My follower count grew rapidly, especially after a high profile poster added me to something he called Science Super Circle.

At the zenith, my counts were growing by up to a hundred an hour. My most popular collection of posts, on cybersecurity, peaked at just under 60,000 followers.

The announcement that Google intends to shutter public use of Google+ almost a year away has led to a torrent of invective against the Mountainview, Calif., company.  

Some of this anger may be justified. Google has a history of shutting down popular services.  Think Google Reader for instance.

In this case, the shutdown notice was forced by a WSJ article, an article that may lead to key executives being shunted aside and a likely fine from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for failure to disclose in a timely fashion that there had been a potential security lapse that goes back to 2015.

What is next on the chopping block? Google Photos? Keep? Google Music?

One of my followers, Richard O’Hearn, sums up some of the unhappiness over the looming shutdown of G+.

“Google+ was everything: a blog, Pinterest, Facebook (when our friends were on it), Reddit, etc., and now it’s done? If they ever cancel Photos I’ll be devastated. Right now I’m just really bummed out. I have collections that I made/follow that are really great, and the people on G+ are just better at the ‘social’ part of networking.

“I left Facebook years ago, I’ll never go back. Twitter was too political, I can’t get into debates with character limits, so what’s out there???

“This really sucks.”

There is still a decision pending regarding education and corporate use of Google+, but it seems the direction is to go with closed corporate G+ communities only. Google would do well to reconsider its actions, particularly for education. Many educators turn to dedicated G+ communities when a Chromebook or GSuite issue arises. Unfortunately, Google tends to dig in its heels once a decision is made.

The platform did not click for the masses but it still does for many, primarily because of features simply not found elsewhere. Furthermore, the level of engagement there, and the quality of discourse, was simply superior to most other platforms.

Is there a viable replacement for Google+? In the days immediately following the closure announcement there was a lot of speculation about this, coupled with a frequently voiced opinion that many would remain active posters until the very end.

Most commonly named as alternatives are pluspora.com and mewe.com, the latter backed by WorldWideWeb co-creator Tim Berners-Lee. Neither can match the deep pockets of Google but both appear determined to expand their service to accommodate the influx of ex-Googlers.

Come August 2019 it will indeed be the end of an era, and in some ways a signal that the 
Google+ experiment has ceded the path forward to Facebook. In the meantime, see if you can find some of my collections and communities on Google+.

Follow me on Facebook (facebook.com/PeterVogelCA) or on Twitter (@PeterVogel).

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