The many annoying ways Google forced users onto Google+October 9, 2018
Yesterday, Google announced plans to shut down the consumer version of Google+ after a previously undisclosed security flaw was brought to light. Launched in June 2011, Google+ was Google’s most ambitious attempt at creating a social networking platform. It rapidly gained millions of users, but as usage slowed, Google wedged Google+ into countless services, pushing people to join and use the network — whether they wanted to or not.
It never quite took off, and in 2015, the company said it had plans to drop Google+ as a requirement across its products. Today, even Google admits Google+ has “low usage and engagement” and that 90 percent of Google+ user sessions last less than five seconds. But there was a time when Google desperately wanted to improve that figure by building Google+ into everything it could. Now that the social network is dying, here’s a look back at many of the ways that Google tried to force people to use Google+.
This is perhaps the most well-known example of forced Google+ use. In 2013, YouTube announced that users would be required to use their Google+ account in order to leave comments on the platform. Going one step further, the comments section would also mirror some details from Google+, like privacy settings and whose posts you might care to see.
In addition, comments posted on a YouTube video would, by default, also be posted to your Google+ profile, unless the option was manually unchecked. People… were not happy. Two years later, in 2015, the company untied Google+ from YouTube, saying, “a Google Account will be all you’ll need to share content, communicate with contacts, create a YouTube channel and more, all across Google.”
In late 2011, Google changed the sign-up process for Gmail, making it nearly impossible to register for a Google account without opening a Google+ profile. The new sign-up screen didn’t provide a “skip Google+” option, so the only way to make a Google account without a Google+ profile was to close the browser tab midway through the sign-up process, then open up another Google page and log in. “Making it quick and easy to create a Google Account and a Google profile enables new users to take advantage of everything Google can offer,” a company rep told Ars Technica in 2012.
Shortly after, it let brands and businesses highlight their Google+ pages and content right in Gmail inboxes. Then, in 2014, Google integrated “Email via Google+” into Gmail, allowing anyone on the social network to send messages to your Gmail inbox. That same year, it decoupled Google+ from Gmail, making Google+ an optional step when creating a Google Account.
Google launched the Google+ Local app in 2012, which integrated reviews and photos from your Google+ friends directly into individual business pages. While it expanded Google’s ability to deliver local business information, it also attempted to push the Google+ platform. Google+ Local as a standalone app was killed just a year later, in 2013, with many of the functions rolled into Google Maps. In 2014, Google tried again by making some public Google+ photos with location information visible in Google Maps.
Google used Google+ to personalize search with an integration called “Search plus Your World” in 2012. The feature lent a social context to search results. So, if you were logged into your Google+ account while using it, then photos and posts from a user’s account and the people in their Circles would be injected into the results. According to Search Engine Land, Google no longer personalizes search results outside of a “user’s location or immediate context from a prior search.”
Google launched Google Play Games in 2013, a service that let people view leaderboards, engage in multiplayer gaming, and unlock achievements. It also required a Google+ profile in order to use it. The Google+ requirement was removed in 2016 as part of “steps to reduce sign-in friction.”
During it’s I/O keynote in 2012, Google announced the addition of a new Google+ feature called Events, which was integrated into Google Calendar. The rollout was rough. Google didn’t provide users with control over what invites appeared on their calendars, which led to immense amounts of spam. Anything a Google+ user was invited to populated to their Google+ Events page and was added to their calendar. Some reported hundreds of events spontaneously appearing on their calendar. Fixes were pushed, but the issues with Event spam automatically adding to calendars persisted for years in various forms.
In 2011, the Google Bar was a black strip that ran across the top of the screen on all of Google’s web properties. That quickly shifted into a more clean integration with a drop-down menu attached to Google’s logo that let you switch between things like Maps, YouTube, and search. No matter how it looked though, one thing remained the same: it prioritized sharing content with Google+ and came with a notifications icon that let you know whenever there was new activity on your Google+ account.
In 2011, Google+ unveiled Hangouts, a messaging app that allowed for group text and video chats. It required a Google+ account in order to sign up. Google+ Hangouts were integrated into Gmail in 2012, but just two years later, Hangouts was untethered from Google+, letting anyone with a Google Apps account use the service. “Google Apps customers have been taking advantage of both Google+ and Hangouts for long enough that we recognize the separate use cases for both,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch at the time.
Google+ Photos shut down in 2015 when it was replaced by spin-off product Google Photos. Photos could still be sent to Google+, but it was no longer seen as core to the service. And, having Google Photos exist on its own made the Google+ version redundant. “The reality is that maintaining both Google+ Photos (the private photo management component of Google+) and Google Photos poses several challenges,” said Anil Sabharwal, director of Google Photos in 2015. “Most notably, it is confusing to users why we have two offerings that virtually do the same thing.”