I’ve used every Google product somewhere along the way, I think. In fact, I still use search and Gmail multiple times per day. I used to use Reader (RIP, you will be missed; Feedly is okay, but I miss Reader) more than either of those actually. I also occasionally use the baked-in stuff on my Android phone.
I used to think of Google as more of a concept than a company. Sort of an idea that just happened to be a corporation. That seems, looking back, incredibly naive. There was a time where Google was a champion of all things open — open source, open data, open graph, interoperability, etc.
This is no longer the case. And this is probably Facebook’s fault more than anything, but however it happened, Google is no longer about open. They are all about the walled garden. There are still nods to openness, of course. You can do a fairly useless Takeout if you want to move some of your data elsewhere. You can still use IMAP to grab all your mail. Chrome is still technically open source. I expect these examples to become fewer and fewer over the years, as Google shutters some products and removes export abilities from others.
It seems like I’m watching Google become Microsoft. And I do not like Microsoft.
Actually, I think Google and Microsoft have been quite similar for a while now. They even share the same boneheaded product naming conventions. They have the same peculiar habit of ignoring something until it becomes too large to ignore, and then trying to turn the whole company on a dime. The example that springs to mind here is Microsoft and Internet Explorer. Microsoft ignores the internet until they no longer can, and then suddenly everything is internet-enabled, including bolting Internet Explorer to the internals of Windows.
I get the feeling that Google is trying to do the same thing with Google+. They must certainly know this.
The only problem is that Google is not Microsoft, not in terms of market penetration, not in terms of the type of services offered, and not in terms of sheer clout. (In fact, I don’t think anyone is like Microsoft anymore. Not even Microsoft. Their notable failure to get Windows Phone off the ground speaks to this.)
So when they come up against the idea of social (and by social, we of course just mean Facebook) and the threat it poses, Google’s solution is to turn the company on a dime and try to inject some social into their DNA.
At first I thought this would be a great idea. Google has always had too many services that did different (and sometime the same) thing, services that weren’t really connected to anything. Drive, Gmail, Search, Docs, Talk… they all existed in their own little universe, not connected to each other in any meaningful way.
I was wrong. Or at least, I was wrong about what I thought they wanted to do. I was picturing a sort of integrated sharing hub, where we could interact not only between products, but between users. Google+ would make sharing so much easier–right?
Well, not really. What we got instead was a Facebook clone. A good one, but a Facebook clone nonetheless. And then products started disappearing. At first it was the obvious ones, the ones that were always oddballs, that never caught on. But then Reader died.
Reader didn’t die because it wasn’t being used. It was. Everyone I know used it. The hue and cry raised across the internet when it died was another proof of that. The reality is that RSS doesn’t fit in with Google+ very well. It should have been obvious when Google ended RSS sharing and replaced it with the Google+ +1 button that Reader didn’t fit. RSS sharing doesn’t jive with the walled garden approach. Even though it was incredibly useful for so many different things, including content discovery–I routinely found wonderful articles and feeds on Reader, as my friends shared them.
In fact, this is the only sharing concept that Google ever got right. It just worked, and I loved it.
Reader is gone now, and it’s been replaced by a growing antipathy toward Google+. Google+ is the thing that killed one of my favourite products ever, bar none.
This is all a long preface to a list I’ve wanted to make for some time. This list is why I’m not going to use Google+ anymore wrapped up in why I don’t trust Google anymore. Maybe this is an abbreviated list of why I used to be a fanboy and now I’m not. Something like that.
- There’s no one there. Google has routinely touted the Google+ usage numbers. I think they’re juicing them. I really do. How can so many millions of people be using a product that’s a virtual ghost town? I mean, there’s lots of tech geeks on there, and a few superstars of the tech world are really involved, but that’s all the activity I see. For a social site, it really sucks when no one I know is there.
- It’s slow and unwieldy. I have a fairly new, fairly powerful ultrabook. Yet Google+ stutters and moves slowly. This is all in Google’s own browser, Chrome. Firefox is actually somewhat better. But not good enough. This reminds me most of Wave, a product that should never have existed in the form it was released in. There are some neat features, sure. But if these neat features are making the thing run like a dog, maybe it’s time to cut down on the cruft.
- The interface sucks.The fact that it looks like a sad ripoff of Pintrest isn’t exactly a huge turnon. When Facebook introduced its Timeline feature, I didn’t like the dual-stream design. It’s not particularly user-friendly. Having to scan back and forth doesn’t exactly make the site easier to use. Now imagine instead of two streams, you have three! What an innovative way to make me angry! Having used the new design for a few months, I really hate it. With a passion. In an additional bit of screw-you, if you choose to have only one column on your screen, in proper timeline fashion, Google+ gives you a tiny centred column which looks ridiculous. The interface is a textbook example of an idea that must have seemed great but actually makes me want to scream in desperation. It makes me think that the internet as a whole is moving backwards–we did so much design work on making things like threaded comments and comment moderation and upvotes/downvotes work, and now we’re back to unordered streams. Yay internet!
- It killed Reader. I don’t think you understand how much I used Reader. It was intra-day. On my breaks, at home, on the bus. I loved that ugly son of a gun. Now Google is trying to tell me to use Google+ instead. I know that’s the reason. It didn’t fit the strategy. That’s why Reader is gone. Google might as well be asking me to fall in love with the man that killed my wife. Every time I think about it, my antipathy to Google+ grows. You killed Reader and gave me this? Screw you.
- No import or export. One of the big reasons I ever used Twitter was because posting to Twitter was easy. I could do it from anywhere. This was back when the internet of things was still a possibility for Twitter, back before they started walling off their own garden. No such luck with Google+. You can’t send stuff to Google+, except manually, and you certainly can’t pull your shares and +1’s and posts out if you want to. No RSS feed for Google+ stuff! If you want to share, you have to use the API, and if you’re using the API, you might as well be trying to suck a golf ball through a straw. Kudos to apps like ThinkUp who try to at least make a backup of all that stuff, and kudos to those developers who have managed to wrangle Google+ into an RSS feed (a service which I actually use), but from Google’s perspective they’re doing exactly what Google doesn’t want them to do: Jump the garden wall.
There’s your list. That’s about all I can take. So farewell Google+, I’m not really going to miss you at all.
And for Google, a bit of advice:
Look, if you can’t go to the popular kids’ parties, don’t make your own party. It’s pathetic. Do something else instead.