Back when Google first made their foray into social networks with Google Plus, they were all about making all of their products accessible through one, public, profile. They were going to grow their social network by making everyone who used any Google product, sign up for Plus. That was a surefire way to get the number of “users” up to make it appear to compete with Facebook and Twitter, but if you’ve spent much time looking at Plus over the years, you might recognize that many of the people you already know, and maybe even follow in Plus, have profiles in name only. In other words, they aren’t on the social network, just have a profile because they use another service.
Well, lo and behold, Google has been rolling back that requirement. First the created Photos, as a separate piece from Plus rather than integrated, and now they are rolling back the much hated requirement that you had to have a Plus profile to even comment on YouTube videos.
I suspect that Google is recognizing that Plus simply isn’t Twitter or Facebook, and was never going to unseat those two as the primary social networks. It might still serve as a niche market, with some decent communities and other tools, but it simply isn’t ever going to be as popular with mainstream users. Not because of a lack of features, but because Google forgot the one thing that makes a social tool useful; who else is using it. If none of my friends or people I want to interact with are using a particular network, then it ceases to be valuable to me. It was never about the features, it was always about the connections. Plus has only been a limited tool for me when it comes to making connections, especially when compared to other tools out there. Forcing people to sign up, and then having countless accounts that weren’t really being used, is one of the things I’ve always hated about Plus. It’s hard to grow your own circles when the people being suggested by Google as coworkers, friends, etc. aren’t really using it, and won’t see anything you share with them anyway. In fact, I would suggest that many people didn’t even know they had a profile, let alone how to use it. They simply created one as they signed up for another Google service, and ignored it from there on. That’s not the type of thing you want for a social tool.
Plus will continue on as it is no longer integrated with Google, and probably remain useful for those of us who actually maintain activity over there. That’s good. But from Google’s perspective, this is a loss. I believe the push to get everyone into one Plus profile across all of Google was about targeting advertising. If Google can track everything you do online, including YouTube, the contents of your Gmail, who you have Hangouts with, the content of those messages, Plus circles and interactions, what you write on Blogger, what you search for, and on and on, they could really put together a nice picture of you as an advertising target. Of course, humans don’t always work that way. Sometimes we truly want to exist separately. Sometimes I want to interact as a child abuse survivor, and not a technical trainer, or a sports fan instead of a photographer, so I keep those things on separate sites. Google forcing all of that together, never really felt right. I use my own name across all those sites, but for many people, that wasn’t what they wanted. Google is, finally, starting to recognize that.
It sure took them long enough!
How do you use Plus, or do you use it at all? Are you glad that Google is letting us go back to having unique profiles for each service instead of putting it all together, or will you use the one profile you have now?