Google+ turned 5 years old Tuesday. It was once supposed to kill Facebook. Now we wonder how it's still alive.
Google+ was so thoughtful. Instead of making everyone your "friend," it connected you through different "circles." A work buddy could be a work buddy, an acquaintance an acquaintance. Real friends could be real friends online, too.
"We'd like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software," the introductory blog post read. Just as Google had become the primary place people searched for information on the Internet, Google wanted Google+, and not Facebook, to be the primary way that humans experienced other people online. Facebook, which was well on its way to accomplishing that very thing, declared war in response. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg put the company into "lockdown."
A Facebook "lockdown" is "a state of war that dated to Facebook's earliest days, when no one could leave the building while the company confronted some threat, either competitive or technical," as Vanity Fair described in its recent deep dive into this war. The lockdown was declared, VF reported, with the lighting up of a neon sign in Facebook's offices, installed just for this purpose. (Facebook won the battle.)
Still, some of us were optimistic at first. Here is a Facebook post I wrote in 2011, when Google+ and I were both babies:
"Hi Facebook. I think I like Google+ a lot more. But I'll still use you."
I did not use Google+ for very long. My last post to the network was in March 2012.
Google tried a lot to keep plus alive. It integrated G+ profiles with YouTube, which meant that YouTube commenters suddenly needed profiles from the social network to comment. Google dropped that required integration after it made some people very angry. Google even told its employees in 2011 that their bonuses were tied to the success or failure of "our strategy to integrate relationships, sharing and identity across our products."
It became obvious to some employees who worked on the project that Google+ wasn't going to succeed within months. "It was clear if you looked at the per user metrics, people weren't posting, weren't returning and weren't really engaging with the product," a former employee told Mashable last year. "Six months in, there started to be a feeling that this isn't really working."
So why is Google+ still alive? Last year, Wired made the case that two other products that launched with the actual social network the now spun-out hangouts and photos helped to make Google into a social network anyway. Google can and does learn a lot about you even if you never use Google+.
But Google hasn't given up on its designated social network yet. Google overhauled Google+ last year to try to make it less of a Facebook clone and more of a community-based sharing site like Pinterest.
The November changes haven't led to the Google+ renaissance, but it did at least reset the death clocks.
Anyway, happy birthday, Google+?
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