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25 October 2018

Google+ is shutting down, so what?

Search, Web Google+ is shutting down, so what?

For those of you that haven’t had much to do with Google+, it’s a platform that basically encourages you to promote Google’s services for them (well played Google). However, after a decrease in user activity and a security breach, Google’s social platform will be no more in 2019.

With the increasing popularity of Facebook over the last decade, Google attempted to compete with the social giant by building their own networking platform in 2011. The goal was to create a community where people could easily interact while integrating with other Google applications such as Gmail, Google Maps, Drive and Calendar.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t their first attempt at creating a social platform to compete with Facebook. In 2004 Google launched Orkut, followed by Google Wave in 2009, and Google Buzz in 2011. Unfortunately just like Google+ all these platforms flopped — I guess you could say Google has somewhat become a little infamous for being a social site serial killer.

So where did Google go wrong?

Recently Google released a statement confirming user engagement is lower than expected. According to a report published by Google, 90% of user sessions lasted less than five seconds — levels so low the site actually ranks behind MySpace, which is truly shocking. While lack of engagement may have been a contributor to the closing of the platform, it was the security breach from March (2018) which forced Google’s decision.

What was the security breach?

The bug was found back in March 2018 and reported in the Wall Street Journal (in October). It was disclosed that Google chose not to release this information sooner, due to fear of regulatory scrutiny (compared to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal). Furthermore, the report provides a possibility that the breach may date back to 2015 and gone undetected for three years. Yes, three years!

The security breach was a bug found within one of the Google+ People APIs, meaning third-party apps had access to user profile fields. This data was limited to static, such as name, email address, occupation, gender, and age. Although after the discovery of the bug, it was patched immediately. Google admitted it was possible that over 500,000 accounts may have been affected, yet they cannot confirm specific users. Luckily there is no evidence regarding the knowledge of the bug existing, nor proof of misuse.

New Google security interfaces for the Google Suite

What does this breach mean for Google?

Apart from the direct consequence of shutting the platform down, Google announced new security measures to combat the same thing happening in the future. All in an attempt to restore user faith and trust in the brand. These new features give users more fine-grained control over what data they wish to share with third-parties. Rather than data requests appearing on a single screen, each permission request will show one at a time. This process requires users to respond individually to each permission type.

Google will also be updating their User Data Policy, this will limit third-parties from accessing user Gmail data. Apps enhancing email functionality will still be able to request access; however, many others will not. This same process includes apps affecting clients, backup services, and productivity services. After the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, this change isn’t surprising.

The effect of Google+ shutting down

Google+ offered another source of advertising and opportunities to improve brand awareness and search results. Following the end of MySpace, Friendster, and now Google+, it can be assumed that sometime in the distant future Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter will likely fall as well. It’s no surprise that many marketers and search specialists are now questioning the value these platforms offer (specifically traffic and leads). On the flipside, just because many social platforms are likely to collapse in the future, their current benefits should not be ignored.

In reality, marketers should embrace all the bonuses social media has to offer. These platforms are continually developing and provide vital insights, regarding audience and product opportunities. Experimenting with these new and existing platforms can show unexpected results and assist in making educated business decisions. While some outcomes and data may only be of temporary use, they provide many benefits by guiding alternative forms of marketing, advertising, and public relations.

So what is next for Google?

In the long term, Google+ will be kept alive for businesses who use the network as a secure place for co-workers to communicate. However, for the regular accounts, Google+ will be shutting down over the next ten months (with the official close in August 2019). The goal of this process is to give current users an opportunity to migrate their information. Google assures users by confirming the upcoming release of information regarding how users can best gather and transfer their data.

Google+, its creation, and closure can teach us a lot about our current social networking culture. It has been estimated that Google invested over $500 million dollars into the building of the site. While the internet giant forged one of the most thought-out and well-funded attempts to take on Facebook, they still lost. Does Facebook encounter any competition? I’m starting to think they don’t.

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