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Google+ (sometimes written as G+ or Google Plus) was a multilingual social networking website owned and operated by Google. It was launched on June 28, 2011 in an attempt to capitalize on the success of other social networks such as Facebook or Twitter and it was designed to link to Google's products like YouTube.

It was Google's fourth foray into social networking and had been overseen by three Google executives. It had seen a redesign in November 2015.

It was announced on October 8, 2018 that Google+ would shut down for consumers, citing low user engagement and disclosed software design flaws. The Google+ developer API was discontinued on March 7, 2019. Registration is no longer possible as of February 4, 2019 and the consumer version was shut down on April 2, 2019.

History

Creation

Google+ is the company's fourth foray into social networking, following Google Buzz (launched in 2010, retired in 2011), Google Friend Connect (launched in 2008, retired in March 2012), and Orkut (launched in 2004, retired in September 2014).

Google+ was launched in June 2011, with its features including the ability to post photos and status updates to the stream or internet-based communities, group different types of relationships into Circles, Hangouts (a multi-person instant messaging, text, and video chat service), events, location tagging, and the ability to edit and upload photos to private cloud-based albums.

Growth

Redesign

Shutdown of consumer version

Google announced on October 8, 2018 that it would be shutting down the consumer of Google+ in August 2019 – though this date was changed to April 2, 2019. The company cited low user engagement and a design flaw in the API that could expose private user data discovered as early as spring of 2018.

Google+ will still be open for G Suite users.

History

Google plus icon

The Google Plus icon.

The service was launched on June 28, 2011, in an invitation-only "field testing" phase. The following day, existing users were allowed to invite friends who were over 18 years of age to the service to create their own accounts. This was suspended the next day due to an "insane demand" for accounts.

On July 14, 2011, Google announced that Google+ had reached 10 million users just two weeks after the launch of a "limited" trial phase. After four weeks in operation, it had reached 25 million unique visitors. Based on ComScore, the biggest market was the United States followed by India. In October 2011, the service reached 40 million users, according to Larry Page; by the end of the year Google+ had 90 million users.

On August 6, each Google+ member had 150 invitations to give out, but on September 20, 2011, Google+ was opened to everyone 18 years of age or older without the need for an invitation. After Google+ went public, users registered to Google+, but those under 18 years of age were unable to sign up.

At the initial launch, Google accounts could not be used on Google+ due to lack of support for Google Profiles. On October 27, Google announced that Google+ now supports Google Apps users.

Despite experiencing high growth in the United States and European markets, Google+ was unavailable in mainland China. While it was not technically "blocked" it was made impossible to use by slowing it down to a crawl. However, the government has since made Google+ available again.

In under a day, the Google+ iPhone app became the most popular free application in the Apple app store.

Early adopters of Google+ have been mostly male (71.24%). The dominant age bracket (35%) is between 25 and 34. A survey estimates 13% of U.S. adults have joined Google+; it is projected to have 22% of U.S. adults in a year.

On November 7, 2011, Google launched Google+ Pages, which lets businesses connect with fans in a manner similar to Facebook Pages. These businesses will receive corporate accounts to start sharing information about themselves and invite others to join in on the conversation.

On January 26, 2012, Google opened Google+ to teenagers. The age limit had previously been 18, but Google Vice President for Product Management Bradley Horowitz announced on Google+ that users could now be as young as 13.

Features

Obama-hangout

Google staff starting to set up for the President's first Google+ Hangout in the Roosevelt Room of the West Wing. Aired live on the White House Google+ page on January 30, 2012.

Barack Obama hangout

President Obama answered questions about the State of the Union posed by citizens in the first-ever completely virtual interview from the White House. Aired live on the official White House Google+ page on January 30, 2012 at 5.30 pm.

Quick list: Stream, Circles, Hangouts, Pages, Events, Communities

  • In the "Stream," which occupies the middle of three columns on the page, users see updates from those in their Circles. There is an input box which allows users to enter a post. Along with the text entry field there are icons to upload and share photos and videos. The Stream can be filtered to show only posts from specific Circles With the release of Android 4.3, it is now possible to create "StreetView-like" panoramic (albeit sessile) photospheres example.
  • "Circles" enable users to organize people into groups for sharing[1] across various Google products and services. Although other users may be able to view a list of people in a user's collection of Circles, they cannot view the names of those Circles. The privacy settings also allow users to hide the users in their Circles as well as who has them in their Circle. Organization is done through a drag-and-drop interface. This system replaces the typical friends list function used by sites such as Facebook. Since September 26, 2011 users can share Circles; it's a one-time share, so if the creator of the Circle updates the members, people's shared copies won't be updated.
    :Another function of Circles is to control the content of one's Stream. A user may click on a Circle on the left side of the page and the Stream portion of the page (the center) will contain only posts shared by users in that Circle. For the unsegmented Stream (includes content from all of a user's Circles), each Circle has a "slider" configuration item with four positions: nothing, some things, most things, and everything. The nothing position requires the user to select (click on) the Circle name explicitly to see content from users in that Circle. The everything setting as its name implies filters nothing out from people in that Circle. The remaining two positions control the quantity of posts which appear in one's main Stream, but the algorithm controlling what shows has not been disclosed.
    The default "Circles" are Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following. These circles names can be changed, and the "Following" circle is always at the top of the "Add to circle" list when on a Google+ Page. [citation needed]
    The "Following" Circle is described by Google+ as "People you don't know personally, but whose posts you find interesting."[citation needed]
  • "Hangouts" are places used to facilitate group video chat (with a maximum of 10 people participating in a single Hangout at any point in time). However, anyone on the web could potentially join the "Hangout" if they happen to possess the unique URL of the Hangout.[1] On August 18, 2011 Google added a new addition to "Hangouts" - clicking on the Share button under any YouTube video reveals an icon that suggests watching the video with friends in a Google+ hangout.[2]
    • Mobile Hangouts currently supports Android 2.3+ devices with front-facing cameras (and iOS support is coming soon) are available since September 20, 2011.
    • Hangouts On-Air gives users the ability to create instant webcasts over Google+. The broadcasts can also be recorded for later retrieval. This feature, announced on September 20, 2011, is currently limited to some videocast personalities, but the announcement indicates that it will be opened up. The first publicly broadcasted Hangout was with The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am on the night of September 21, 2011.[3] The feature became available at a large scale on May 7, 2012.[4]
    • Hangouts with Extras, currently in a preview state, will allow users to share documents, share a scratchpad and share their screens with other users.[5]
  • "Messenger" (formerly: Huddle) is a feature available to Android, iPhone, and SMS devices for communicating through instant messaging within Circles. Additionally, users can now share photos in Messenger between their Circles.[1]
  • "Instant Upload" is specific to mobile devices; it stores photos or videos in a private album for sharing later.[1]
  • "Sparks" is a front-end to Google Search, enabling users to identify topics they might be interested in sharing with others. "Featured interests" sparks are also available, based on topics others globally are finding interesting.[1] Sparks is accessed as a pull-down from search results and helps to keep users informed of the latest updates on the topics of their interest.
  • "Games" (social gaming) had 16 games when launched on August 11, 2011,[6], but were expanded to 44, later.[citation needed] Unlike Facebook games, Google+ games are located under a games tab, which gives games less visibility,[7] and have notifications that are separate from the rest of a user's notifications.[7] This service shutted down at June 2013.
  • Google+ has a "+1 button" to allow people to recommend sites and parts of sites, similar in use to Facebook's Like button.[8]
    • Google recently announced that since introducing this +1 button, it is now being served more than 5 billion times per day.[9]
    • With the implementation of the +1 button, Google hopes to make search results more "germane".[10] This will not directly affect search rankings.[10]
  • Similar to other Google applications, Google+ provides integration with other Google applications like Gmail, Calendar, Documents, etc.
  • A "Data Liberation" option provides the ability to download one's content from Google+.[11]
  • "Search in Google+" allows users to search for content within Google+. Users type what they're looking for into the Google+ search box, and Google will return relevant people and posts, as well as popular content from around the web.[12]
  • Hashtags, which involve the prepending of a number sign to the beginning of a word or CamelCase, are hyperlinked to the most recent or highest-trending search results within Google+ containing the term. This, a feature which gained notoriety as a microblogging practice on Twitter, was implemented as a Google+ feature on October 12, 2011. Autocompletion came on January 17, 2012.[13]
  • "New Features for Google+ Mobile" Since the launch of Google+, Google has been adding and improving many features. On September 30, 2011, the company released a list of changes and additions to Google+ mobile which include:[14]
    • Improved SMS support so that users in the US and India can now post to Google+, receive notifications, and respond to group messages via SMS. They have also made it easier to +mention someone from a mobile device. Now, to +mention another user, one simply writes +[their name] inside a post or comment. In order to +1 comments more easily, users are now able to +1 them directly from their iOS devices. They also introduced this feature to the Android app in December 2011.
    • Users are now able to edit their profile photos from a mobile device.
    • Google has now made it simple to organize Google+ notifications from a mobile device. This feature allows users to select which notifications are important to them and which are not so that their mobile devices are not inundated with superfluous notifications.
  • "What's hot" Stream, introduced on October 27, 2011, is a stream showing what Google+ users are currently excited about.[15] Initially it appeared in the middle of a user's stream as a separate collapsable section. As of February 2012, it still appears in the middle of one's Stream, but it behaves more like a Circle in that it has a slider control; thus a user may turn it off completely (except for it being listed on the left side of the page) by sliding the slider for it to the nothing position. For some, the appearance of What's Hot in Streams was such an annoying (mis)feature that it was listed as one of Google+'s known issues.
  • Ripples, introduced on October 27, 2011, is a visualisation tool, showing how resharing activity happens regarding a public post. One can replay the public share's activity, zoom in on certain events, identify top contributors, view statistics about average chain length, the most influential people in the chain, the language of the sharers, etc.[15]
  • Google+ Creative Kit is an online photo editor integrated to Google+ on October 27, 2011,[15] which is essentially Picnik, integrated earlier to Picasa Web Albums.
  • Google+ Pages was launched on November 7, 2011 to all users.[16] It allows entities which are not individuals (such as organizations, companies, and publications) to set up profiles, or "pages," for the posting and syndication of posts. It is similar to Facebook's similarly-named feature. At the same time, Google changed the site's logo and favicon, from black to a red one, matching the colour of the coral notification icon.[17]
    • Google+ Badges was quietly rolled out to select enterprises beginning 9 November 2011 and officially released to the public on 16 November.[18] Badges are sidebar widgets which embed "Add to Circles" buttons and drop-down lists into off-site websites and blogs, similar to Facebook's Like Box widgets. This was officially treated by Google as a replacement for the older Google Friend Connect and its widgets, and GFC was announced by Senior Vice President of Operations Urs Hölzle on 23 November 2011, as scheduled to be retired by 12 March 2012 on all non-Blogger sites in favor of Google+ Page Badges.[19]
  • Google+ Local: On May 30, 2012, Google Places was replaced by Google+ Local, which now integrates directly with the Google+ service to allow users to post photos and reviews of locations directly to its page on the service. Additionally, Google+ Local and Maps also now feature detailed reviews and ratings from Zagat, who was acquired by Google in September 2011.[20]
  • Select public figures have verified names. Google determines whether a particular profile warrants verification. The purpose is to indicate to site visitors whether a particular profile belongs to who one would generally expect the name to be, and not someone who coincidentally has the same name as a public figure. Verified identity profiles have a checkmark logo after their name. Examples of profiles bearing the verified name badge include Linus Torvalds, William Shatner, Leo Laporte, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin.[21]

Technologies

According to Joseph Smarr, technical lead on the Google+ team (former Plaxo CTO) Google+ is a typical Google web application: it uses Java servlets for the server code and JavaScript for the browser-side of the UI, largely built with Google's Closure framework, including the JavaScript compiler and the template system. They use the HTML5 History API to maintain good looking URLs in modern browsers despite it being an AJAX app. To achieve fast response times Google often renders the Closure templates on the server-side to render it before any JavaScript is loaded; then the JavaScript finds the right DOM nodes, hooks up event handlers etc. The backends are built mostly on top of BigTable and Colossus/GFS, and other common Google technologies such as MapReduce.[22]

Reception

Design impact

The introduction of Google Plus had an impact on the graphic redesign of Google's web search service.[23][24][25] CNN noted the "combo-plate approach" of Google+, likening the new social effort to a "Taco-Bell-meets-KFC."[26] As it was explained later, Google+'s new look is actually part of a broader effort to refresh the visual design across Google, to achieve a consistent experience in all products across the Google spectrum.[27][28]

In particular, there have been changes to Picasa Web Albums, whereby all Picasa users images will automatically join their Google Plus image storage.[29] Google also plans to rebrand Picasa as Google Photos.[30] Other changes:

  • After tagging someone, they receive a notification and can see the photo and the related album.
  • For new albums, anyone an album is shared with can see who else it is shared with.
  • Albums someone shared can be tagged and re-shared by others.
  • Photos up to 2048×2048 pixels and videos up to 15 minutes won't count towards the 1 GB storage quota for Google+ users (it is 800×800 pixels for non-Google+ users), creating "virtually unlimited" storage for mobile users.

Google Maps got the redesign on June 28, 2011.[31] A redesigned Gmail and Calendar interface was first available at July 1, 2011.[32][33] The Google News redesign went live on July 21, 2011[34] and Google Docs got a new look on August 5, 2011.[35]

The new Google Reader interface was made available on October 31, 2011. Beside the sweeping visual changes, former social features ("share" and "like" buttons) have been replaced by a Google +1 button and the "share on Google+" box. It's said that now Reader is on its fourth social model, after using Google Talk contacts, allowing people to manage friends from the Reader interface and then integrating with Google Buzz.[36][37]

Further design developments related to Google+ occurred in January 2012. On January 10, Google released "Search plus Your World", which inserts content shared on Google+ profiles and brand pages under Web Search results. The feature, which is opt-in, was received with controversy over the emphasis of Google+ profiles over other social networking services' user profiles (i.e., Facebook and Twitter). The feature builds upon the earlier "Social Search" feature which indexes content shared or published by authors; "Social Search", however, relied partly upon returns from non-Google services, such as Twitter and Flickr.

Importing contacts from other social networks

Google+ includes a feature to invite contacts from Yahoo! and Hotmail.[38] At this time, however, there is no official way to import Facebook contacts into Google+; but there are some workarounds to achieve it.[39] Facebook allows users to download their data, but not in a simple format easy to import; network effects make it difficult for a new social network such as Google+ to be successful, and an easy tool to migrate to a rival service would reduce the effect.[40]

Censorship by governments

Within a day of the website's launch, various news agencies reported that Google+ was blocked by the People's Republic of China.[41] This is part of a wider policy of censorship in mainland China.[42] The Iranian government has also blocked access to Google+ from 11 July 2011,[43] as part of Internet censorship in Iran.[44]

"Occupy Obama's G+"

On 20 February 2012, Internet users from the People's Republic of China realized that state restrictions on Google+ had been relaxed for unknown reasons, allowing them to post on Google+ pages.[45] In particular, Chinese users began to inundate the official election campaign pages of U.S. president Barack Obama on Google+ with often-off-topic comments in simplified Chinese characters.[46]

The "occupation" of Obama's G+ page is largely considered[by whom?] a temporary mistake in Chinese censorship by observers outside of China,[citation needed] as Google reduced its physical presence in mainland China.[citation needed]

Controversies

Joining the service requires mandatory real-name and gender disclosure, which at launch was shared as public information.[47] The gender selector has options for "Male", "Female", and "Other". This requirement was criticized by the weblog SlashGear for causing lack of privacy and, together with Facebook and other social networks, for forcing the user to choose among limited categories that describe only mainstream gender descriptors.[48] The mandatory public gender exposure led to criticism for making older Google profiles public.[49] In response, Google made changes to the service that allows users to control the privacy settings of their gender information.[50] Google's justification for requiring gender information is that it uses that information to inform its usage of the terms "he," "she," and "they" in their delivery of information to users of the service. If a user decides to make the gender portion of the profile private, the language used to convey information becomes gender-neutral, using the singular they in place of gender-specific pronouns.[51]

Google+ allows its users to +1 and recommend items across the web to their friends and contacts. However, it offers no control on who sees people's +1s (includes +1s on Google ads and third party sites). Since anyone can add others to their circle without getting confirmed/approved, anyone can potentially see other's +1s . Google displays +1 to a user based on his/her social connections. If a person adds another to their circle, he/she will be added to their social connection. However, Google allows its users to either hide or show +1 tab on their profile and all +1's are manageable from the +1 tab.

Google+ has also received criticism for it's presence on YouTube. When someone shares a YouTube video, a comment is left in the section, mentioning who has shared the video with Google+. This typically breaks up the comment section and people grow weary of it showing up, which is why people started to post "Bob" or "Bob's army" in comment sections all over YouTube. Bob is a unicode-based stick figure, and is sometimes copied and pasted with guns or tanks and a message like "This is bob. Copy and paste him so he can take over youtube." Despite the comment section issues that Google+ has caused, Google will most likely keep the current YouTube section as it is.

Nymwars

Google+ requires some users to identify themselves using their real names and accounts may be suspended when this requirement is not met.[52][53] Google VP Bradley Horowitz has stated that a violation of the terms of service will only affect the service whose terms were violated and not any of the other services that Google provides.[54] However, there are reports of account holders being temporarily locked out of all of Google services.[55]

On October 19, 2011, at the Web 2.0 Summit, Google executive Vic Gundotra revealed that Google+ will begin supporting pseudonyms and other types of identity within a few months.[56]

Integration onto YouTube

On November 6, 2013, video hosting site YouTube began requiring that commenting on its videos be done via a Google+ account, making it impossible to reply to pre-Google+ integrated comments. YouTube said that their new commenting system featured improved tools for moderation, and comments would be shown according to "relevance" and popularity instead of in chronological order, determined by the commenters' community engagement, reputation, and up-votes for a particular comment.

The decision was met with harsh criticism from users, with some YouTube commenters and content creators citing online privacy and security concerns due to the Google+ requirement that users user their real name. YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim voiced his disapproval in one of a few comments subsequent to the change including the temporary addition of the following text to the first ever video on the site: "I can't comment here anymore, since I don't want a google+ account".

Thousands of commenters pasted text art tanks and stick figures called "Bob" to protest the new commenting system and Google+. While supporters said it was a positive step at the cleaning the "virtual cesspool" of homophobic, racist, sexist, and offensive comments found on YouTube, this actually increased the spam. AS a result, Google took the opportunity to strike back against those posting "Bob" ASCII art in protest at the company's actions.

On July 27, 2015, the company announced that integration with Google+ would be discontinued. In October 2016, YouTube made it possible to reply to pre-Google+ integrated comments once more with or without a Google+ account.

See also

References

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