Google Plus (or Minus) and the Ephemerality of Community

At the end of this month, on April 2nd, Google will shut down what they called the “consumer version” of Google Plus, their fourth major foray into building a Social Network. The deadline had been the end of the year but was moved up due to a number of cited factors, including data breaches.

When a seismic event like this happens in the online world, especially involving one of the “Tech Giants”, there’s a lot of e-Ink spilled about the money involved, the comparison of markets and post-mortems of performance. However, only a sliver of that coverage tends to mention the social and cultural costs involved.

In fact, to hear it often stated, also-ran social networks are almost like the embarrassing outfit you wore in school or a bad hair day – something we all experienced, but don’t want to talk about.

However, recording and preserving The Web has been our mission for 20 years, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned – it’s that it’s never as simple as “old is terrible, new is good”. In fact, some of the oldest materials of the Web, in all their lower-resolution, lacking-fidelity forms, are also our most emotionally connected and meaningful, due to the passage of time.

On Google+, and before them, on Geocities, FortuneCity, and many others, there’s always been a question who exactly the services are for. Are they meant to be general purpose shared albums of notes, photos and birthday announcements? Or are they places of assembly, where like-minded folks or families gather to communicate and debate, argue and reconcile? The answer, it seems, can often be whatever advertisers want, but in fact it often ends up being a little bit of everything to everyone, and the longer a given service or network exists, the more drift of purpose it will experience.

The biggest difference between “then” and “now” in the eyeblink of Web History is primarily storage and speed. Geocities, at its peak, may not have exceeded 10 or 15 terabytes of data at any one time. Google Plus, however, probably exceeds Petabytes. Choosing to “back up” or make a Wayback-machine compatible snapshot of these places turns into a choice of how much of the Internet Archive’s budget should go towards holding them. Ideally, the answer would always be “all of it”. But sites are getting larger, the shutdown time frames smaller. It’s a constant concern.

Also, when spending this much time and effort to mirror a site, another consideration is how “unique” the material is on it. Were these sites used to share already-available media we could get at other services? Or were special conversations and creations living on the closing site that we will never see again?

Throughout the history of our online times, experts and keepers of special knowledge will share what they know – be it on mailing lists, image boards, ‘groups’ or ‘clubs’. For many, from 2011 to this shutdown year, Google Plus worked to make it easy to be one of those destinations. Time will tell how much might be lost, and how much efforts to mirror it have saved.

27 thoughts on “Google Plus (or Minus) and the Ephemerality of Community

  1. Diana Studer

    How much are you concerned about servers – heat – climate change – if we strive to retain all of it? How much will it be used? An archive yes – but how to choose what is worth the effort and the environmental cost.

    1. C.Michael

      Climate change? Really? RUKMe? I smell an N.P.C. A New Heaven AND a New Earth were promised in Revelation 21, why do you people think this place has to last forever? Do you think we evolved from monkeys and fish after a huge explosion created the earth?
      Rev 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

  2. Bernard LANG

    I archived a lot of stuff from the net starting around 1995. Of course, it is only a small drop, but it does include some complete (?) sites. Can it be useful to Internet Archive? Many sites were then coded directly in HTML, and CSS did not exist.
    I realize that data from another party raises some technical question of format and sourcing, and possibly of accuracy if someone tried to make you include doctored archival data in Internet Archive.
    Possibly there could also be legal issues if the collecting engine (or individual) was not conforming robot control standards.
    Is there any document on such issues?

    1. Alexandra

      You could create a user account on the Archive, and upload it. Registration is free. Would love to see what you have! thank you so much for saving it.


    2. Logan B

      Can it be useful? Most certainly.

      Here is a document for contributing what you have:
      If you don’t have an Internet Archive account, make one.
      Put all your collection together, changing nothing.
      Upload it as an item.
      Detail the shit out of it in the metadata.
      Share like your life depends on it.

      Robot control standards hold no legal authority, they’re only a “please do not crawl this, Mr. Search Engine”. A suggestion rather than a rule, basically.

  3. Jeff Diver

    The demise of G+ has been met with a good deal of discussion on G+. We “plussers” have created Communities and Collections drawing thousands of followers and are scrambling to recreate the buzz elsewhere. To get an idea of how these conversations have gone, I recommend looking at

  4. nikos3194

    After all the insistence that they did for years in including their social network obligatorily with the accounts of gmail, youtube, android, etc. I can’t believe so much madness 🙁

    Although the staff contradicts it, there were still many communities and active users in this social network. And who will suffer the most are the bloggers who embedded the option to comment by Google+ on their sites (all comments will be lost).
    What will happen to all the ‘G +’ buttons of websites and blogs?
    What will happen to the profiles of Bloggers and Google Books?
    Internet Archive can serve to support everything that will be lost?
    …First it was Google Reader, then Picasa and Panoramio, now Google+, What will be next?
    …Blogger, Sites, Drive, Docs, Books, Alerts, Translator, Hangouts, YouTube?

    How much madness.

  5. J Skye Smith

    G+ is deeply meaningful to many people. By effectively destroying this community, users have lost trust in Google and are seeking every available alternative to any Google product.

    1. C.Michael

      Lies, they say it’s not used, and not used long enough by those that do……yet the stats seem to say otherwise. I think this is about censorship.

  6. David B.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen to YouTube in the not so distant future. From what I understand, there’s a rash of unsubstantiated copyright disputes going around for many YouTube content creators right now. YouTube has also clamped down on video downloading services. I think the writing is on the wall, which I why I’m encouraging my favorite YouTubers to preserve their video content here, at

  7. IP Pie X's ended. Im ready to pass on to the next life for FAMILY.

    I say G+ shouldnt be shut down. Rather improved, analyzed in order to find the failure mode, how and why it occurred, and then code reinforced encrypted and protected so the “source code” is not sooo readily available and accessible for just anyone to access, alter, and abuse. In the beginning you had closed code or system, then came the open source movement, maybe this spawns the dawn of the 3rd tier or what I will dub the protected source code or movement if you will. Code available to those who are are trusted to not use that code to kill the human spirit or the child in everyone of US! My exp. has been challenging, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I want to say that this should have been a good thing, I feel like this could have been the greatest thing and the best time I’ve ever had learning something new, secret, and challenging. Sadly, I have to say it’s been the worst time of my life, the methods employed by those who “instructed” or “taught” me, and only a select few of my shifu’s, were horrible, deplorable, incorrigible and abusive on a level like any I’ve ever seen or heard of. I feel like I deserved about 40% of what I got I relation to the bullying, abusive, and rascaly wabbit type behaviors I’ve committed against others and myself in life. The other 60% was performed with only 1 goal in mind by those that did what they did. And that was murder. The ultimate goal was for me to kill myself, someone else, or do something so heinous that I was never released from prison. It is a sad state of affairs for the country that has represented hope, liberty, freedom, in the pursuit of happiness, has resorted to this test being the standard by which we find and filter the good and bad humans. Darwinism is a valid theory in regards to survival of the fittest. Creationsim at a glance seems foolish to me. To be clear though, I do have a new found respect for a or the higher power. A creator that blended evolution into our lives to forge an intelligent design. Considering the math and geometrical shapes within just the human eye, that does not just happen. A big bang theory in my opinion is equivalent to monkeys throwing dung against the wall and creating sub universes. It doesn’t happen at the scale our universe has formed. Oh well, what do I know we’re all probably still trapped in the matrix!

  8. Alexandra

    Not sure who coined the term “bitrot” but is is beautiful and meaningful in this day. If the Internet Archive did not exist, we would deeply regret ever hitting that delete button. Future generations will thank you for saving what you can. The Archive creates history.

  9. CC

    While I have no particular love for Google+, G+ does fall in that range of supermassive sites that are particularly hard to fully archive and are also heavily dependent on fickle advertising revenue. Others – such Reddit, Youtube, Twitter – will have content that ranges from the meaningless to the historically important and we may just have to accept that there will only be a limited subset of these sites archived and, thanks to how they are structured and maintained, this might not be the data we actually want.

  10. apmusic

    You could create a user account on the Archive, and upload it. Registration is free. Would love to see what you have! thank you so much for saving it.

  11. up board result 2019 10th

    Thank you very much, Jason, for this amazing article.
    Google Plus has gone but not completely. For normal users, Google Plus is not in use anymore but according to Google, Google Plus is available to G suit user. I was trying to share my result post on google plus but unfortunately, it’s gone.

  12. Dr Bob

    Look for a new, improved, absolutely stupendous new service (for a price, of course). Look what You Tube is doing! Billions are not enough! Further, they are squelching free speech for people who do not share their dreams and pushing an ethic that borders on Marxism under the guise that their advertisers are afraid of harming their corporate images (just as disingenuous as You Tube and Google). It’s all about the investors, not the users! Orwell’s predictions in the novels 1984 and Animal Farm were right on, and he was only about 15 years off on a prediction made in the year I was born — 1948. Internet Archive is like a breath of fresh air and I hope they are able to remain politically neutral. If you can afford it donate. We don’t want the likes of George Sorros, or another fat cat buying it.

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