Why does Google always fail at social networks?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

This is a pleasant summary of failed social networks. It does not touch on the subject that interests me most, which is why this space consolidated. But it does offer some interesting tidbits. In my novel How The Young Anna Barnev Established Her Career As A Graphic Designer I spend some time making fun of Google+, and I’m pleased this description of its failure so nearly matches mine:

Google’s next stab was a dreary jumble of boxes evoking a digital fulfillment center. By all accounts, it was an attempt to integrate features that Facebook, LinkedIn, and the iPhone have cornered (like location sharing and automatic cloud storage for photos), but—with dropdown menus organizing your people into “friends,” “family,” and “acquaintances,” further catalogued into the even more confusing “circles”—it felt like an unimaginative robot’s idea of socializing. Or, as Google+ UI designer Morgan Knutson called it in a postmortem tweetstorm, a ”god forsaken piece of shit.”

In a lengthy thread, Morgan described siloed teams under corporate bureaucracy which conceptualized networking as “the social graph”:

“Vic [Gundotra’s] product vision was fear-based. ‘Google built the knowledge graph, and Facebook swooped in and built the social graph. If we don’t own the social graph then we can’t claim to have indexed ALL the world’s data.’”

Plus, it was more overtly unsettling than Facebook in the same way that your gmail avatar started popping up in the upper right hand corner of YouTube and your Chrome browser. That’s because, as the New York Times reported in 2014 (even then, calling it a “ghost town”), Google Plus was basically an attempt to collect a central dataset for all of the stuff you were doing across all Google services; at one point, you couldn’t set up a gmail account or comment on YouTube without setting up Google Plus. In the words of Google Plus project management VP Bradley Horowitz, it “gives Google that common understanding of who you are.”

On October 8th, 2018, the same day the Wall Street Journal reported that Google Plus had exposed hundreds of thousands of user data for years, Google announced that it would shut down the service in August due to “low usage and engagement.” Additional data was exposed from 5.2 million accounts during a November software update, and Google started deleting profiles in April.