If Google+ Dies, and Nobody’s Around, Do Any Tech Pros Care?

Remember Google+ (or “Google Plus,” as some folks insisted on calling it)?

Of course you do: When Google+ launched seven years ago, it was touted as a possible Facebook killer. Google connected its other services into the social network, guaranteeing massive adoption. As with other social platforms, Google+ users could post photos and status updates, and connect with friends and groups.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Google+ steamrolling all competitors in the social realm: It failed. And it wasn’t just because folks already used Twitter and Facebook; the subsequent rise of platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram showed that people were only too happy to incorporate another social-based time-waster into their schedule. Nor did Google let its platform grow stale, regularly introducing updates to the UX.

Whatever the reasons for the demise of Google+, Google is finally pulling the plug on the endeavor. “While our engineering teams have put a lot of effort and dedication into building Google+ over the years, it has not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption, and has seen limited user interaction with apps,” read the company’s Oct. 8 posting on the shutdown. “The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

Ouch.

Insult to injury, Google+ was the vector for a particularly dangerous API bug, one that could have exposed private user data to developers: “We discovered and immediately patched this bug in March 2018. We believe it occurred after launch as a result of the API’s interaction with a subsequent Google+ code change.”

Google insists that no third-party developer was aware of the bug, and that no user profile data was misused. Nonetheless, the revelation comes at a terrible time, given the data breaches currently quaking the tech industry. Just the other week, for example, Facebook announced a breach potentially affecting 50 million accounts. Lots of outside attention is currently focused on how tech companies store and use data.

For tech pros, the demise of Google+ probably isn’t a big deal, although there might be a very small subset of developers who relied in some way on the platform’s API tools. (If you fall into that tiny camp, we’re sorry.) But there is a broader lesson for anyone building a platform: If something clearly isn’t working, and iterating isn’t improving your metrics, sometimes it really is better to kill the whole project rather than let it limp on for years. This is especially true if you don’t have Google-level resources and talent.

Come to think of it, we made this point over a year ago. Good thing that Google finally caught up with our thinking.

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