A chorus of tech journalists this week is saying that Google is phasing out its social network, Google+.
Where did they get this juicy nugget of information? Well, they made it up. And I’ll tell you why. But first, let’s look at what the press is saying and compare that with reality.
Here are a couple of example headlines, which directly make the claim: Farewell, Google+, We Hardly Knew Ye—The Daily Beast and Google Further Distancing Itself From Google+—PCMag.
Slate even posted the following headline: Google Plus dying: YouTube comments no longer require social login, but then changed it, presumably because they’ve been using a variation of that headline since 2011. That’s because, with the way content management software works, you can still see the original headline in the URL.
The press has been declaring the imminent death of Google+ since 2011, but this latest fantasy proclamation of Google+ coming to an end was triggered by two events.
The first event is that the official date for phasing out the photo tools that were integrated into Google+ came and went. Google replaced them with the more consumer-friendly and separate Google Photos.
The second is that Google announced Monday that a Google+ login would no longer be required for using YouTube and other Google services.
When Google launched Google+ four years ago, the strategy was to link or integrate nearly every consumer-facing service to Google+, so Photos and Hangouts were built in from the start. Later, a Google+ account was required to use Google Play, YouTube and other Google services.
It was a radical strategy of universal integration, but non-Google+ users didn’t like it. And after the departure last year of Google+ chief Vic Gundotra, Google began the slow and gradual reversal of the integration strategy.
Since then, Google has removed these linkages that in hindsight never should have been imposed in the first place.
There are two things at play here. The first factor is Google+ itself. The second is the strategy to integrate Google services into Google+. The integration is being phased out. Google+ is not. The press is confusing these two facts.
The actual implementation of improved social media strategy is repeatedly used by the tech press as “evidence” that Google is phasing out Google+, but in reality this isn’t evidence of anything except that Google is undoing its unpopular integration strategy.
In all the echo chamber chatter about Google+ being phased out, the media has completely ignored Google’s clear, straightforward communication on all this.
Google+ chief Bradley Horowitz said the decoupling changes are being made mostly to improve Google+. He wrote in a Google+ post this week that “We think changes like these will lead to a more focused, more useful, more engaging Google+.”
In a separate interview, Horowitz said: “Google Plus is not dead. In fact, it’s got more signs of life than it’s had in some time” and spoke positively about the future of Google+.
Google+ Chief Architect, Yonatan Zunger, responded to a “Google is dead” article on TechCrunch from April by saying that “The TechCrunch article is BS. Google+ isn’t going anywhere, I can promise you.”
So Google says they have no plans to phase out Google+ and that it’s doing well. That information comes directly from the two people with the best information.
The echo chamber tech press, on the other hand, insists on saying Google+ is being killed. Their information comes from nowhere. They made it up.
Of course, some journalists got it right and have been reporting the facts on Google+.
It also needs to be said that Google+ is not succeeding at Facebook levels. But nothing is. Google+ is struggling to compete with Facebook. But so is Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Linkedin and all the rest. And there’s no evidence that any of these social networks—including Google+—is about to be closed.
The same thing happened before with Google Glass, and the press didn’t learn its lesson.
Google+ Is Alive and Well Despite Persistent Media Reports
How the tech press deluded itself about Google Glass
I’m going to give you two alternative histories of the Google Glass project thus far, starting with the one you’ve heard—the tech press’s self-deluded account—and then the actual history.
Here’s how the tech press tells the story. Google’s Google X labs came out with a stupid looking, privacy-invading product called Google Glass. Even though they spent a lot of money on it, the whole thing was such a dumb idea that it failed, so they killed it off.
Here are some choice example headlines: Google Glass is dead—and good riddance —The Daily Dot; The end is nigh for Google Glass—ZDNet;—and The definitive account of why Google Glass went down in flames—BGR.
Here’s the real-world version:
Google aggressively developed a wearable product that was so radical they didn’t really know who might use it or how. So in April, 2012, Google came out with an invitation-only Explorer Program to find out how real people would really use it.
The program was clearly advertised as temporary, experimental and exploratory—an “open beta.” They ran that program for awhile, then announced very clearly that they learned what they wanted to learn from the Explorer Program and would now fast-track the project into a real product or set of products.
True to their word, Google launched a Glass At Work program. Solid reporting based on sources say an Enterprise Edition is rapidly being developed.
Consumer products are reportedly coming as well. The CEO of the Italian Eyewear Maker Luxottica said in April that his company is working on a new version of Google Glass.
Luxottica is a global eyewear company better known for its sub-brands like Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, Eyemed, Glasses.com, Ray-Ban, Persol and Oakley. The company also makes frames branded as Chanel, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Burberry, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, Miu Miu, Donna Karan, Stella McCartney, and Tory Burch.
The tech press, however, ignored the facts and invented from whole cloth a deluded fantasy about Google Glass “dying” or being “killed off” by Google.
And I know why, too.
Why the tech press deludes itself
Researchers at the University of Southern California have uncovered an interesting paradox that exists on social media. It’s called the majority illusion.
When a person sees a behavior or attribute among many of their friends, they’re likely to be deluded into thinking that it can be extended to the network as a whole, even though it’s actually rare.
MIT Technology Review defined the majority illusion as “the local impression that a specific attribute is common when the global truth is entirely different.” Furthermore, MIT found that “the majority illusion can be used to trick the population into believing something that is not true.”
The media in general, including the tech press, is obsessed with using Twitter. And that love of Twitter is often accompanied by a disdain for Google+, for whatever reason.
Most groups outside the media don’t share that particular set of social media preferences. Yet the majority illusion convinces the press that “everybody uses Twitter” and that “nobody uses Google+.” But what’s true in the echo chamber is not true in the world.
In fact, as we learned this week in the company’s earnings report, Twitter actually has a small user base and is barely growing at all.
Another study from the American Customer Satisfaction Index pointed out this week that Google+ has a user satisfaction rating that’s higher than both Facebook and Twitter.
The tech press, needless to say, is massively influential on public opinions about technology and social networks. Unfortunately, they’re also a tiny, narrow, insular group of people who live in a bubble which is nothing more than a majority illusion fantasy world.
And that’s the one and only reason why they’re telling you that Google+ is dead.
In the real world, Google+ is very much alive and kicking.