What happened to Google Plus?

Google Plus was a Google-owned social network that operated from 2011 to 2019. Its low usage and engagement due to convoluted sign-up processes and bundling with Gmail accounts. Google Plus also suffered two major breaches of privacy after bugs were found in its API. The first breach was kept a secret for six months, while the second affected over 52 million user accounts. Google Plus for consumers was rebranded as Shoelace, a community-based meet-up service for like-minded individuals that was itself shut down because of COVID-19 protocols. Google Plus for business still exists in some form as Google Currents.

Background

Google Plus was a Google-owned social network launched on June 28, 2011, by Bradley Horowitz and Vic Gundotra.

The service formed part of a suite of Google products including Google Drive, Blogger, and YouTube to compete with Facebook, among other platforms.

Google Plus was shut down in 2019, becoming the company’s third failed attempt at creating a social network after Orkut in 2004 and Google Buzz in 2010.

What happened to Google Plus? How did it fail with the power and influence of parent company Google behind it? Read on to find out.

Low usage and engagement

Google software engineer Ben Smith noted that the platform had failed to meet expectations around growth and adoption. “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.

Perhaps more damning for the platform was that according to Smith, 90% of all Google Plus user sessions lasted less than five seconds. It is generally accepted that low usage and engagement were caused by Google forcing new users to jump through too many hoops. At one point, it required them to create an account to comment on ancillary services such as YouTube. It also tied Google Plus to the process of signing up for a Gmail account – whether the user wanted a new social account or not.

Data leaks

In early 2018, it was revealed Google had discovered a bug in the Google Plus API. This bug allowed third-party app developers to access the data of users and also their friends. Google knew about the vulnerability for around six months, only choosing to come clean once a Wall Street Journal publicly outed the company.

Google released a blog post in October 2018 noting that up to 500,000 accounts were affected by the bug with up to 438 different apps potentially having access to private information. With low usage a continuing problem, Google then decided to gradually phase out the consumer version of Google Plus over the next ten months.

A second data leak occurred soon after, causing the company to bring forward the shutdown by four months. Significantly, the second leak impacted some 52.5 million users with names, email addresses, occupations, and ages exposed.

Consumer shutdown and business rebranding

The consumer version of Google Plus was shut down in April 2019. Google Shoelace was then launched three months, serving as a quasi-replacement for its predecessor. Shoelace aimed to bring together individuals in a community with similar interests, but it too was shut down after becoming another victim of COVID-19 social distancing.

The business version, on the other hand, was rebranded as Google Currents for G Suite users to facilitate better collaboration within organizations.

Key takeaways:

  • Google Plus was a Google-owned social network that operated from 2011 to 2019. The platform suffered from low usage and engagement due to convoluted sign-up processes and bundling with Gmail accounts.
  • Google Plus suffered two major breaches of privacy after bugs were found in its API. The first breach was kept a secret for six months, while the second affected over 52 million user accounts.
  • Google Plus for consumers was rebranded as Shoelace, a community-based meet-up service for like-minded individuals that was itself shut down because of COVID-19 protocols. Google Plus for business still exists in some form as Google Currents.

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