Google+ turns 5 and is somehow still alive

People who love Google+ sure love Google+. That hasn’t changed since Google first launched what at the time seemed like a credible Facebook competitor back in June 2011. If you’re a Google+ fan, today is a day to celebrate: Against all odds, your favorite social network turned five today. For everybody else, the fact that Google+ is still online may come as a surprise.

PDP_FiveAlive_59The number of those who still love the service fell quickly after those heady days of the summer of 2011. Google did so many things right; the design was great (and used what were, at the time, really advanced web technologies) and its focus on privacy with the help of its Circles seemed like the right antidote to Facebook. People were genuinely excited about Google+.

The honeymoon didn’t last long. Circles turned out to be too complicated for most people (and the idea of sorting your friends into buckets always seemed strange), the fact that Google didn’t allow anonymous (or even pseudonymous) users quickly created a backlash and even after Google changed its policy, the sour taste of those early days remained for many.

In those early days, Google also seemed to focus more on figuring out ways to juice Google+’s user numbers than on improving the product.

Unlike Twitter, Google also kept the service mostly closed to third-party developers because the company didn’t want to “disrupt something very special” and “magical.”

Google’s insistence on building social (and hence Google+) into all of its products, largely driven by the project’s head Vic Gundotra, was one step too far and after Gundotra’s exit in early 2014, it probably spent as many engineering hours on removing all of its Google+ integrations as it did on building them in the first place.

For the most part, though, the company seemed to have forgotten about the product after Gundotra left, until it tried to relaunch it last year with a focus on communities and collections. The reaction mostly sounded like the soothing sound of crickets on a hot summer evening.

Unlike Google’s other social experiments, like the ill-fated Buzz, Google+ is still alive after five years. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself. To be fair, it birthed good products like Hangouts and the excellent Google Photos. I don’t think that was worth all of the agony Google went through, but at least it was worth something.

Happy birthday, Google+!