An Important Message from “Google” about Google+ !

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(Google Doc version: https://lauren.vortex.com/google-plus)

Google – “You can count on us!”

An important announcement about Google+

Dear Google+ users,

We have some bad news for you. We hope you’re sitting down. If you’re driving, please pull over safely before reading the remainder of this message.

We know that many of you have built major parts of your lives around Google+, beginning back in 2011. Over the years since, we have encouraged you to share your experiences and photos, to build Communities and Collections. We know that large numbers of you have spent hours every day on G+, and have built up networks of friends with whom you communicate every day on G+.

And we know that in our rush to maximize G+ participation and engagement, we made some pretty poor decisions, like that period where we integrated YouTube comments and G+ posts, requiring YouTube commenters to create G+ accounts — managing to upset both communities in the process. But you know the motto — move fast and break things!

Now we just want to get out from under Google+. And you’re going to be the collateral damage. Please understand that it’s nothing personal. It’s just business.

So we’re shutting down G+. We’ll be shutting it down this coming August, uh April, uh as soon as we can locate the Google+ SRE in charge. We’ve been trying to page them for months but they’re not answering. We’re pretty sure that there’s a G+ control dashboard in our systems somewhere — when we find it we’ll pull the switch and you’ll all be history.

We could yank your chains and claim that killing G+ is all about poor engagement and API problems and whatnot, but we know you’d see through that, and frankly we just don’t want you around anymore. You’re more trouble than you’re worth to a firm that is pivoting ever more toward serving businesses who actually pay us with actual money. Of course, many businesses now claim that they’ve lost faith in us due to our behavior killing services and mistreating users on the consumer side, but we’ll throw them some usage credits and they’ll come around. You can always buy user trust!

The ad business just isn’t what it used to be. We need new users in new places! Governments are breathing down our necks, ad blockers are reducing ad impressions and conversions, and a bunch of would be do-gooders are making a fuss about our plans to set up a censored search engine in China. You know how many Chinese are in China? More than you can count on your fingers and toes, believe us!

And speaking of business, we’ll be continuing G+ over on our enterprise/business products, at least until it becomes inconvenient for us to keep doing so. And before you ask, no, you can’t pay for continued access to consumer G+ or bundle it with Google One, and you can’t have a pony or anything like that. Get this through your heads. You’re not our target users or target demographics. We just don’t care about you.

Now, after we’ve said all that, we hope that you won’t get too upset if we ask for your help in killing off G+ with a minimum of public attention from bloggers and the media.

Since we routinely provide the means for you to download your data from Google, you can download your G+ posts before we drive a stake through the heart of the G+ data center clusters. We don’t know what the hell you’re going to do with that data, since you’re going to lose contact with all your followers and friends you’ve built up over the years on G+, but did you really expect us to bother providing a tool to help you stay in contact with them after G+ is tossed into the dumpster? We recommend that you just forget about those people, like we’re forgetting about you. It’s easy with practice.

Oh, here’s another thing. You might expect that with the shutdown of G+ so close, we wouldn’t still be soliciting for new G+ users, and you might think that we’d have “butter bar” banners up warning users of the shutdown and providing continuing updates. You might expect us to email G+ users about what’s going on.

But, c’mon, you know us better than that. Remember, we just don’t care, so there are no banners, no continuing informational updates, and — get this! — we’re still soliciting for new G+ users to sign up, without so much as giving them a clue that they’re signing up for a service that is “dead man walking” already! The poor ignorant slobs! Pretty funny, huh? And the only users we’ve emailed about the G+ shutdown are at sites using our G+ APIs, which we’re going to start dismantling in late January. It’s going to be quite a show, because that’s going to break vast numbers of websites that made the mistake of deeply embedding G+ APIs into their systems. Hey, to quote “Otter” from “Animal House” — “You f*cked up! You trusted us!”

So it’s up to you all to spread the word about what’s going on, because we’ve got better things to do than dealing with G+ losers. You’re so yesterday!

OK, ’nuff said! We’ve already spent more time on this note than we should have, and talking to you guys isn’t advancing any of our careers. Be glad that we’re posting this in a nice dark font that you can actually read — we could have used “Material Design” and then sat here chuckling, knowing that so many of you would be squinting and getting migraine headaches from trying to read this.

But we’re not cruel. We just don’t care about you. There’s a big difference! Please keep that in mind.

Thanks for being the guinea pigs in our social media experiment that was Google+. Now back to your cages!

Best,

Google, Inc.

 – – –

Lauren Weinstein / lauren.vortex.com / 22 January 2019 / https://plus.google.com/+LaurenWeinstein / https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein

Another Awful Google Accessibility Failure: The New “Google Contacts”

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Google Contacts — which I use heavily — has now moved over to Google’s horrific “let’s kick people with less than perfect vision in the teeth!” user interface (UI) design. I assume it’s rolling out gradually so you may not have it yet.

But even when you do get it, you STILL may not be able to really see it, because like most of Google’s “material design” UI “refreshes” it’s terrible for anyone who has problems with low contrast fonts. Even at 175% magnification, the fonts are painful to read — and for many users are likely to be impossible to view in a practical manner. And as usual, older users will suffer most at the hands of Google’s UI design changes.

There are a few minor improvements in the new Contacts design relating to form field layouts, and your “notes” for an entry no longer need to be in a restricted-sized box. But those positive changes are rendered meaningless when the fonts overall have been made so much more difficult for so many people to read.

If you talk to Google’s internal accessibility folks about this sort of problem (and I’ve done so, numerous times) you’ll be told that the new design is fine for “most users” and meets formal accessibility standards.

Yet the single most common complaint I get about Google is from users who simply can’t comfortably read or use Google interfaces, and Google is pushing material design into more and more of their products. Google Docs (I use this one heavily also), plus Sheets, Slides, and Sites are also apparently doomed to undergo this change, according to Google.

For the moment, you can still switch back to the familiar version of Contacts (there’s a link for this buried at the bottom of the left sidebar), but we know that Google at some point always ultimately removes the ability to use the older versions of their products.

This situation is rapidly becoming worse and worse for the negatively affected users.

Of course, Google could solve this problem by providing higher contrast UI options, but such options are severely discouraged at Google.

After all, you don’t want to make things easy for those users that you don’t really care about at all, right?

For shame Google. For shame.

–Lauren–

Thanks Google! — YouTube Cracks Down on Dangerous Videos

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When I feel that Google is making policy mistakes, I don’t hesitate to call them out as appropriate. I don’t enjoy doing this, but my goal is to help Google be better, not to see a great company becoming less so.

On the other hand, I much enjoy congratulating Google when they make important policy improvements — and yeah, it’s nice when this involves an area where I’ve long been urging such changes.

So I’m very pleased by Google’s newly announced changes to YouTube acceptable content rules, to significantly crack down on dangerous prank and dare/challenge videos on YouTube.

I’ve written about my concerns in this area many times, for example in “YouTube’s Dangerous and Sickening Cesspool of ‘Prank’ and ‘Dare’ Videos” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/05/04/youtubes-dangerous-and-sickening-cesspool-of-prank-and-dare-videos), approaching two years ago.

I am not unsympathetic to Google’s philosophical and practical preferences for a “very light touch” when it comes to excluding specific types of content from their YouTube platform. In a perfect world, if all video creators behaved responsibly in the first place, we likely wouldn’t be facing these kinds of challenges at all. But of course, the reality is that irresponsible creators of all sorts permeate vast swaths of the Internet ecosystem.

The new YouTube “Policies on harmful or dangerous Content” (https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801964), should in theory go a long way toward appropriately addressing the kinds of concerns that I and others have expressed about dangerously inappropriate videos on YouTube.

Whether the new rules will actually have the desired positive effects will of course depend on how rigorously Google enforces these rules, and in particular whether that enforcement is evenhanded — meaning that large YouTube channels generating significant revenue are subject to the same serious enforcement actions as much smaller channels. 

Time will tell in this regard. But today, as someone who very much loves YouTube and who considers YouTube to be an irreplaceable aspect of my daily life, I want to thank Google for these positive steps toward making YouTube even better for us all. Kudos to the teams!

–Lauren–

Boot to the Head: When You Know that Google Just Doesn’t Care Anymore

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If you’ve ever needed more evidence that Google just doesn’t care about users who have become “inconvenient” to their new business models, one need only look at the saga of their ongoing handling of their announced Google+ shutdown.

I’ve previously discussed what I believe to be the actual motivations for this action, that’s suddenly pulling the rug out from beneath many of their most loyal users (“Can We Trust Google?” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/12/10/can-we-trust-google). But let’s leave the genesis of this betrayal of users aside, and just look at how Google is handling the actual process of eliminating G+.

What’s the technical term for this that I’m searching for? Oh yes: disgraceful.

We already know about Google’s incredible user trust failure in announcing dates for this process. First it was August. Then suddenly it was April. The G+ APIs (which vast numbers of web sites — including mine — made the mistake of deeply embedding into their sites, we’re told will start “intermittently failing” (whatever that actually means) later this month.

It gets much worse though. While Google has tools for users to download their own G+ postings for preservation, they have as far as I know provided nothing to help loyal G+ users maintain their social contacts — the array of other G+ followers and users with whom many of us have built up friendships on G+ over the years.

As far as Google is concerned, when G+ dies, all of your linkages to your G+ friends are gone forever. You can in theory try to reach out to each one and try to get their email addresses, but private messages on G+ have always been hit or miss, and I’ve had to resort to setting up my own invite-only forum for this purpose (“A New Invite-Only Forum for Victims of Google’s Google+ Purge” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2019/01/05/a-new-invite-only-forum-for-victims-of-googles-google-purge).

If I’d been running G+ and had been ordered from “on high” to shut it down, I would have insisted on providing tools to help users migrate their social connections on G+ to other platforms, or at least to email! Google just doesn’t seem to care about the relationships that users have built over the years on G+.

You know what else I’d be doing if I ran G+ at this point? I’d be showing respect for my users. I’d be damned well warning everyone about the upcoming shutdown on a continuing basis — not just with an occasional post on G+ itself visible only to users following that official G+ user, and not relying on third-party media stories to inform the user community.

I’d have “butter bar” banners up keeping all G+ users informed. I’d be sending out emails to users updating them on what’s happening (so far as I know, only G+ API users have been contacted by email about the shutdown).

And with only a few months left until Google pulls the plug on G+, I sure as hell wouldn’t still be soliciting for new  G+ users!

Yep — believe it or not — Google at this time is STILL soliciting for unsuspecting users to sign up for new G+ accounts, without any apparent warnings that you’re signing up for a service that is already officially the walking dead!

Perhaps this shows most vividly how Google today seems to just not give a damn about users who aren’t in their target demographics of the moment. Or maybe it’s just laziness. We can assume that consumer G+ is being operated on an ever thinner skeleton crew these days. Sure, encourage users to waste their time setting up profiles and subscribing to communities that will be ghosts in a handful of weeks. What do we care?

The upshot here though isn’t to suggest that Google is required to operate G+ forever, but rather that the way in which they’ve handled the announcements and ongoing process of sunsetting a service much beloved by many Google users has been nothing short of atrocious, and has not shown respect for Google’s users overall.

And that’s nothing short of very dismal, and very sad indeed.

–Lauren–

Google’s Brain Drain Should Alarm Us All

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The casual outside observer can be readily excused for not noticing the multiplying red flags.

At first glance, so much seems golden for Google.

Google is still expanding its physical infrastructure by leaps and bounds. New buildings, new data centers, new offices — just last week we learned that Google will be taking over virtually the entire old Westside Pavilion for offices here in L.A. I used to hang out there many years ago, back when it was a relatively new shopping mall.

The pipeline of graduating students into Google’s HR machine remains packed to overflowing, and as usual there are vastly more applicants than positions available.

But to those of us with deeper connections to the firm and its employees, there are alarm bells sounding loudly.

Google is in the midst of a user trust and ethics crisis, and an increasing number of their best long-term employees are leaving.

Their reasons vary — after all, nobody is expected to stay with one firm forever, and there are career paths to be considered. 

However, it is undeniable to anyone who really knows Google that there is an increasing internal glumness, a sense of melancholy and in some cases anger, toward some key decisions that management has been making of late, and regarding the predicted trajectory for Google that logically could result.

As at most firms, there has always been some degree of friction at Google between management and the “rank and file” employees — traditionally staying largely internal to the firm and out of public view.

This has changed recently, with a series of controversial internal issues spilling out dramatically into the external world, in the form of employee protests and other employee actions really never seen before in modern Big Tech workplaces. 

Consternation over Google’s links to military projects, a potential censored search project for China, and a massive payout to a high-ranking employee accused of sexual harassment — the world at large has taken note of these issues and more.

Just in the last few days, a major shareholder lawsuit has been filed against Google relating to the sexual harassment case. And coincidentally a couple of days ago, the Arms Control Association named the 4000 Googlers who opposed Google’s contract with the Pentagon’s “Project Maven” as the “Arms Control Person(s) of the Year.”

There have indeed been some positive internal changes at Google resulting from this unprecedented level of employee activism — for example, Google has formalized an important and positive set of AI Principles.

For many Googlers, this has been too little, too late. Particularly among female and LGTBQ employees — but by no means restricted to those groups — the atmosphere at Google is no longer seen as welcoming and ethical. And increasing numbers of Googlers — alarmingly including those who have been at Google for many years, who have been the representatives of Google’s culture at its best, and who have constituted the ethical heart of the company — have left or are about to leave.

And this appears to be only the beginning. I’ve lost count of the Googlers I know who have asked me to keep an ear open for outside positions that fall into their areas of expertise — a bit ironic since I’m always looking for work myself. 

These kinds of situations can be devastating to a firm in the long run, in and of themselves.

They also hand Google’s political and other enemies — the haters and more — political ammunition that can be used against Google not only to the detriment of the firm at a time when Big Tech is increasingly being inappropriately framed as “enemies of the people” by Luddite forces on the left and the right — but to the ultimate detriment of Google’s users and everyone else as well.

Yet compared to Google’s competition — for example firms like Amazon and Microsoft who happily accept military combat contracts, or Apple with its highly problematic actions to help China block open Internet access by removing VPN and other apps — Google’s ethics have traditionally been a cut above the others.

As Google’s brain and ethics drains continue, as more of their best and most principled employees leave, Google’s moral advantage over those other firms is rapidly deteriorating, and the exodus of such employees is always a “canary in the coal mine” warning that something fundamental has gone awry. 

So long as Google management chooses not to directly and effectively address these issues, to not dedicate significant resources toward reclaiming the ethical, user trust, and employee trust high grounds, there is little reason to anticipate a course correction from the increasingly dark path on which Google now appears to be traveling. 

–Lauren–