It was touted as being the “photographer’s” social media platform by many in the business. Now, however, Google+ is being shut down. Over the next ten months, the site will slowly wind down allowing users to download their data, photos, and videos before closing completely in August 2019.
To some photographers, this will not be a great surprise but to many, there will be some sadness at its closure. Photography has been, and remains one of Google+’s strongest bastions, with large, active communities sharing great photos and sage advice.
Sadly this was not true of many other communities where interactivity dried up leaving much of G+ a tumbleweed infested ghost town. So while we are on the tortured Western metaphors, let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly of Google’s social media platform.
A Platform That Displayed Photos Well.
Perhaps the number one attraction of G+ for photographers was the way it displayed our photos. Most of us came from the highly compressed, pixel challenged behemoth that is Facebook. Google took a refreshing look at the way we display and share photos, not only allowing us to display larger, higher quality photos but also allowed us to define our copyright terms on those photos.
The way the platform displayed photos in its communities was also very attractive. The images were displayed as large thumbnails with a clear header denoting the photographer and a footer displaying the top comments. Overall photographic communities were a very attractive place to be on Google+.
Because of the way G+ worked it was possible to create circles. These were targeted networks based on your own interests. You could create a circle with your family or friends or more specifically travel or street photographers. To these circles, you could add other members so that when you viewed that particular circle you would only see posts relevant to it.
The fact that you could easily add well-known photographers and educators to these genre-specific networks meant that G+ was a good place for those learning or looking for photographic inspiration.
Another, somewhat hidden benefit to photographers using G+ was its SEO. Everything that you posted was instantly referenced by Google’s search engine. This meant that if you worded your posts well, they would be seen before and well above similar posts made on other social media platforms. This was a huge consideration in a world where photography is driven by social media attention.
Why Photography Could Not Save Google Plus.
Google+ did not fail because of photography, in fact, you might argue that it hung on for so long due to photography. However, there are some photographic factors that that led us to ditch the platform. First and foremost is that in a world of immediacy, G+ was more like a slow burning forum.
Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook live in a world of fleeting likes, and Warhol style fame where people crave instant attention. On Google we did not get that immediacy, instead, we would have to check back over hours, days even months to see if people liked or commented on our work. Perhaps this is more a sad reflection on modern society rather than any fault of Google.
Whilst the concept of circles and connecting with well-known peers in photography sounds great, in reality, it did little. The attractions Twitter or Instagram is that followers often get direct replies from their peers, these replies are seen in the relevant timelines and give followers a sense of connection with their peers. This did not happen so much with G+ making it a more sterile environment.
Beyond photography, Google Plus’s failures are well known. In March this year, a security flaw exposed over half a million accounts. Google’s failure to go public about the breach meant that many of us were unaware that our precious data had been compromised.
While photographic communities remained vibrant on G+ many others did not. Perhaps the elegance of the interface for photographers kept it alive for us but for many other types of community, the relative lack of interactivity meant that membership withered away.
Perhaps the biggest thing that killed Google Plus was its focus on taking on Facebook. From the outset, their mission was to rival Facebook, to better it. However, while Facebook grew organically from humble beginnings, Google attempted to leverage its might in creating an social media platform almost immediately. That did not allow for the small groups, cliques and clubs that drive social media to form and grow.
Where Now For Photographers?
It’s a pretty safe bet that most of us that dabble in social media have not restricted ourselves to Google Plus. Facebook continues to be the dominant platform for general social media but for photographers, Instagram and to a lesser extent, Twitter are the places to be. Instagram is probably the favourite platform for photographers, if only because it was built from the ground up as a platform for photography.
Although originally designed for anyone to share their shots, it has become a strong and powerful location for enthusiasts and photographers to display their work. It has the immediacy that G+ lacked and due to it’s mobile base, images look good on smaller screens. For the time being, for photographers, Instagram is the place to be.
The demise of Google Plus is a sad but not surprising story. Many of us who dabbled with it, will fondly remember the way the images looked on screen and the friendliness of it’s communities. Today’s world is one where the need for immediate social impact is greater that the way an image is displayed.
Sadly Google, the company that prides itself on the accuracy and immediacy of it’s search results, completely misread the way the world uses social media.