Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

05.4.2019 Fairfax Tech Column 140


One of my greatest disappointments in society is a syndrome I call LOMS. Look Over My Shoulder. Some people struggle with someone else, that they see when they look ‘over their shoulder’, gaining some perceived advantage or accessing something they want.

It is an idea not limited to individuals. Businesses do it as well. Even large businesses. Very large businesses. Take Google (or its now parent company Alphabet Inc.). Current market capitalisation is $818 billion. For the last five years, it has sat comfortably in the top four stocks on the US Stock Exchange for total market capitalisation. Its business model is stable and it has 89.95 per cent market share. Revenues are consistent and continue to develop.

But Google did a LOMS and saw Facebook and Twitter and wanted to own that space as well. They tried several times. Have you heard of Google Orkut? Google Friend Connect? Google Buzz? Most people haven’t but, after three failed attempts, Google+ was going to be the social network to end all social networks. It was going to be bigger than Facebook and Twitter. Google+ introduced ‘Hangouts’ which was a way to video chat with multiple people. It tried features that were designed to compete with Facebook but do it better. When it appeared that things weren’t going so well, Google decided to force Google+ onto you. If you wanted Gmail or a YouTube account or just about any Google service, you needed to be a part of the Google+ ecosystem. Great for user numbers and stats on reports but not great for consumers who want ease of use.

Google also made you use a real name. Wow! There goes half the Facebook audience out the door!

So audience numbers were not great. Engagement was low. The average user session was less than five seconds. And then a security breach.

Google noted that it discovered and fixed the bug in March last year but are just informing users about it now. The bug gave apps the ability to access data that users marked as private. Information such as names; e-mail addresses; gender; age etc. Google said that profiles of up to 500,000 Google+ accounts were potentially impacted but the number of people actually impacted is likely minimal. Given the 300 million users on Google+, the 0.17 per cent of users potentially impacted seems small but I suspect it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Google+, very simply, was just not going to take over from Facebook, so the decision was made to shut it down.

Shutting down a social network can be almost as complicated as starting a social network. All those photos that people have uploaded? How do they access those? Comments on YouTube videos? It is probably about now that some Google execs are questioning the logic of starting a Facebook competitor in the first place. And there is probably a lesson in there for all of us. Do what we do well – and allow others to do the same!

Mathew Dickerson