By Andrea Perng
On Oct. 8, Google Alphabet announced that it was going to shut down Google+ for consumers as part of Project Strobe, a review of what data would be found through third-party access. Data that was investigated included that of Google accounts and Android devices. The sunsetting of Google+ marks Google’s third failure in social media, following Orkut and Google Buzz.
In its blog post, Google reported that 90 percent of user sessions on Google+ lasted less than five seconds. These abysmal numbers, Stanford director of consumer privacy Dr. Jennifer King says, are primarily because Google entered the social media game too late, coming through with Google+ in 2011 while Facebook had been established in 2005 and Twitter in 2007. According to King, Facebook had critical mass, which meant that there were so many people using Facebook at that point that there was nothing attractive enough about Google+ to convince people to drop Facebook for it.
“One of the unfortunate things is that I think Google+ had a much smarter privacy model than Facebook,” King said. “But it just wasn’t enough to overtake what was already happening on Facebook.”
The privacy model that King refers to the way in which people are connected with each other on a certain social media site. According to King, Facebook essentially started out with no privacy model at all, having started with a very limited population of Harvard students and gradually opening access to the public. On the other hand, Google+ made an effort to try and figure out how people could organize their own connections, as well as allowed people to adjust the visibility of their posts. However, Google+’s ultimate failure can still be attributed to its late entry into the social media scene: Facebook had considerably more time to make and learn from their own mistakes.
The only reason why junior Jasmine Lee started using Google+ in the first place back in fifth grade was because she didn’t have a Facebook, like many of her classmates. She used Google+ until seventh grade, when she was bullied off the platform. Lee has sworn off its use ever since and has opted to instead use Facebook.
“I ended up making a more professional Gmail address afterwards,” Lee said. “And because high school requires you to use popular social media like Facebook, obviously, I just shifted.”
Lee believes Google+’s low usage among high schoolers can be attributed to its clunky, disorganized user interface. She describes its UI as visually unappealing, and says that it was hard to find the right people to follow. In addition, celebrity impersonation was rampant on the platform: one of Lee’s friends had once interacted with an account that claimed to be K-pop idol Jeon Jung-kook of BTS.
“[Google+] doesn’t really seem like a very safe platform compared to Instagram and Facebook, where they have this privacy tab and all the settings where you can change who can view,” Lee said. “I do know that Google+ has the same thing, but it just [didn’t] seem to be actually there.”
Ultimately, as Google has already failed three times with their previous social media ventures, King does not foresee them trying again. She says that Google had gotten cocky by assuming that trying to create another social media platform following Orkut and Buzz would work and become as viral as Facebook, but they had failed to consider certain elements of human psychology that Facebook had incorporated.
“It’s just not something you can just throw infinite engineering resources [at],” King said. “They still, I think, to this day struggle with understanding the social side of computing. Yeah, I don’t see them doing something like that again.”