Once upon a time, there was a company called Google. And it seemed invincible.
Not anymore--certainly not an announcement the company made Monday.
Mere hours afterThe Wall Street Journal revealed that Google had declined to tell users about a major security flaw that exposed private data of perhaps 500,000 people, Google said it's shutting down it's failing social media network, Google+.
Wait, Google has a social network?
Given the significant security challenges it faced, "and the very low usage of the consumer version of Google+," Google revealed the news in just nine words contained within a 1,400-word blog post: "[W]e decided to sunset the consumer version of Google+."
"Sunset." That's polite corporatespeak for cut our losses and close the darn thing down.
"To give people a full opportunity to transition, we will implement this wind-down over a 10-month period, slated for completion by the end of next August," the blog post continues.
Before we go further, let's remember two things:
- The privacy story here is a big deal, as is the fact that Google apparently debated internally what to do--but apprently decided not to tell anyone.
- Let's be honest: Hardly anybody even remembered that Google still had a social network. But that's part of what makes this such a stunning announcement.
An 'existential threat' to Facebook
When it launched back in 2011, Google+ was supposed to be the Facebook killer.
It scared the pants off Mark Zuckerberg. He called a rare company-wide meeting (a "lockdown," in internal Facebook slang at the time), within just hours after Google+ was announced.
The point, former Facebook employee Antonio Garcia Martinez later wrote, was to inspire everyone to go to war against what Zuckerberg called an "existential threat" to Facebook:
All of Facebook's engineers, designers, and product managers gathered around him in a rapt throng; the scene brought to mind a general addressing his troops in the field.
The contest for users, he told us, would now be direct and zero-sum. Google had launched a competing product; whatever was gained by one side would be lost by the other. It was up to all of us to up our game while the world conducted live tests of Facebook versus Google's version of Facebook and decided which it liked more.
"'One of my favorite Roman orators ended every speech with the phrase Carthago delenda est. 'Carthage must be destroyed.'" Garcia Martinzez recalled Zuckerberg saying. "'For some reason I think of that now.' He paused as a wave of laughter tore through the crowd."
A million little problems
Google+ had every advantage--a giant, then-young tech company behind it, more money than its engineers probaby knew what to do with, and the ability to sign up people who were using other Google services to Google+ by "brute force."
That was part of its downfall, it would seem. You probably have a Google+ account, but you might not even know it. That's how the site could sign up hundreds of millions of users but still have engagement levels that were a mere fraction of its rivals.
As entwined as many of our lives now are with Google, it's actually kind of inspiring--a reminder that just because a giant competitor enters your industry, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll be able to beat you.
And no, Google itself isn't going anywhere. In fact, for the sake of sheer irony, I hope you found this article via Google News.
That other 2011-era social media network
So raise a glass to Google+. You'll be drinking alone, I'm afraid, as it's probably least-mourned consumer-facing social media network since--oh, I don't know--maybe Friendster.
By the way, one of the many things Facebook did to combat the rise of Google+?
It bought a scrappy photo-sharing social network that had started at basically the exact same time as Google+, with just two coders who at first attracted total of $500,000 in investment, built their app in just eight weeks, and wound up millions of users overnight.
You might have heard of it. It's called Instagram.