A few days ago we got news that Google Plus had a vulnerability that exposed profile information, even when the users had flagged that as private to the circles based visibility system. They didn’t report this until Wall Street Journal was about to break the story, so for starters that is kinda bad. Their response to this whole situation however is interesting an unique in the tech world… but also very google. Instead of agreeing to fix the bug… they just decided to sunset the service as a whole. So within the next ten months or so Google Plus as we know it will cease to exist and join the long graveyard of services that google decided to axe… the most important of these for me personally being Reader their RSS Feed Reader.
One of the problems with Google is at the end of the day you have to remember they are primarily a search engine and advertising company. Anything that does not align with those two missions is suspect to disappearing at a moments notice. Part of me would like to believe that Gmail and Google Docs are safe since they are both products being sold… but even then I think the only thing that is sacred is Search and the Advertising services that fund seemingly everything. That means all of these products that people rely on… Google Voice, Google Fiber in their homes or anything they may have purchased on Google Play are honestly likely suspect to the whims of whatever seemingly random business decisions Google Corporate makes.
As far as Google Plus… I was an early adopter and had an awful lot of fun on the network. There are a bunch of people that I never would have known were it not for the service. It seemed to have a very high adoption rate among MMO gamers, and I used it almost rabidly around the launch of Star Wars the Old Republic with a good deal of our guild coming from connections made through Google Plus. It was almost a simpler version of the internet, when no one seemed to worry about follow counts or were afraid of interactions… and instead sort of widely followed anyone who seemed to have anything even vaguely close to similar interests.
What made Google Plus special however was the Circles system, or a way of walling off certain groups of users from seeing content not intended for them. I had tons of circles for various interests, and it felt safe to be open and free with ideas and opinions… when you are targeting a specific community in mind. Granted what this meant in practice for myself and other bloggery types is we sort of made Plus a massively multiplayer chat engine. I regularly posted these massive diatribes about various in game things… instead of posting them on my blog which in itself was a bit of a problem. The rapid fire nature of getting interaction and commentary made it super appealing, and I think there were some folks who largely switched to “blogging” through G+ at the time.
It was not a network without controversy, and the biggest one for me personally was the enforcement of Real Names sometime in 2011. I started dinking around with the internet as a whole in 1993-ish which in some minds makes me an early adopter… and in other minds makes me a babe in the woods. Regardless… back then there was a golden rule of using the internet… NEVER SHARE PERSONAL INFORMATION WITH ANYONE. You never knew who was on the other end of the connection talking to you, and as such you really shouldn’t give them any information that they might be able to use to harm you. As such I have a really hard time actually using personal information online, and this is why you either see me posting as “Bel Temple” or “Belghast Sternblade”, because I grew up in a culture that used handles to relate to each other and real names.
It is not that I am trying to hide my identity or troll anyone, because I have been using the name Belghast as a static gaming moniker for decades… and honestly before that I went by Exeter on IRC. Those are real identities to me, much like the handles that I know people by are similarly real. I know Ashgar’s real name, and have met face to face with him on several occasions… but I still end up calling him Ash because that is his name in my brain. I mean gaming culture sort of does this, in that we relate to each other by tags and handles that seem just as real as any other attribute that you might associate with someones name. Regardless I played along for awhile and branded my Google Plus by my actual name… and it made me deeply uncomfortable the entire time. “Bel Temple” was my eventual half way point, since I do actually respond to “Bel” in real life just as often as I do “Mark”.
Ultimately it wasn’t a controversy that drove me away from Google Plus, but instead a whole sequence of things that are likely unrelated. In April of 2013 I rededicated myself to blogging and started posting on Tales of the Aggronaut every single day of the week and managed to carry that forward for a little over three years. During that time… any energy or thoughts that I might have posted on Google Plus… I instead directed towards the blog which was in constant need of fodder. It took several months before I realized that I just wasn’t interacting on the network anymore. Even then… I couldn’t seem to find the oomph to get reconnected. Folks faded away, things started getting more political… and my interest in social media in general waned.
The truth is… my appetite for interaction is in twitter sized bites and not grand multi paragraph posts anymore. I miss the golden age of Google Plus much like I miss the golden age of any thing that I have interacted with and then ultimately out grew. It bums me out a little bit that it is going away, but at the same time… much like other things I have mourned like Toys R Us or City of Heroes… I wasn’t actually using it myself. I think the future of Facebook like interaction will ultimately belong to things like Diaspora that allow you to carve up small but interconnected communities, much like we have with Mastodon and Nineties.cafe. I find myself feeling less comfortable being part of the hive, and instead wanting to be part of smaller guild sized communities. I don’t really think I am alone in this.
Whatever the case though… Google Plus is leaving and with it I do mourn the promise of what it was for awhile and what it could have been. I noticed this morning that when the news broke on October 8th they apparently did something to break the syndication process, and with it all of my posts went back to being shared only with myself. However I plan on syndicating this one specifically with Google Plus manually. While I have a ton of different social media accounts, in truth the only three that actually matter are as follows.
I can be pretty slow to respond at times unless I am actively engaged with a given network at that moment, however those are the three that I actually use by choice. Everything else I am mostly just using as a syndication platform for Tales of the Aggronaut and is ultimately not likely going to get an interactive response from me. If we only have contact through Google Plus, and you don’t want that connection to die… then I suggest you follow me from one of those. Then again if you have made it this far… you can just quietly watch from the wings as I continue to do my daily blog posts and weekly podcasts.