It’s Just Gravity

March 11th, 2012  |  Published in etc

I was not aware that you have to log into Google+ to read “public” posts. This is bullshit, Google. Good bye. http://pic.twitter.com/F3dncOvE

— Oliver Reichenstein

I once spoke with someone who maintained Google isn’t “just an advertising company” because its assorted services were just too good and too smart to exist if there were no other reason for them besides ad sales. I thought that was naive rubbish at the time I heard it, but it was naive rubbish that made me a little sad because it would be nice to believe that Google was a real Wonka factory of good things driven by nothing more than love and a certain dwarvish passion for artisanal software excellence that put the end user first*.

In my heart of hearts, I would like it if Google had invented some sort of commercial anti-gravity device that would let it float there, just above the dirt. That’s sort of what it felt like in Google’s first few years: Good search results with ads that weren’t intrusive, good webmail with ads that didn’t distract you from the task of managing your mail. A good RSS reader that didn’t distract you from the content. Nobody else had seemed to figure that stuff out. It was immensely satisfying to watch incumbents flail around and fall down in the face of quality and care.

And now there’s Google+, which I admire a lot compared to every other social networking service, and I’ve cringed a little each time Google’s done something sort of tone-deaf or hamfisted with it, but also bristled a little when each ham-fisted or tone-deaf thing becomes the nugget of more ridiculous “Google’s being evil after all!” commentary from people who don’t exist to do anything besides have opinions about whatever.

Making you log into Google+ to read public posts? That’s not evil (and I’m not saying Oliver Reichenstein thinks it’s evil, either). It’s just crappy and sort of lame, and it’s happening because Google can’t bring itself to lie about the numbers Google+ is generating. But it also needs them to be higher, so it pulls stuff like that, knowing a largely negligent tech press will relate the numbers without making an effort at context. That contextless numbers game will inflate Google+ into a genuine force in social networking instead of what might well just be a ghost town propped up less by real people who are using it to share than institutional and quasi-institutional presences who are pumping content into it because they show up at every new thing determined to be a first mover.

So, there wasn’t an anti-gravity device. Or if there was, it wasn’t ever built to sustain the weight of Google in 2012. So Google’s hem has touched the dirt and the company looks a little smaller every day.

It’s just gravity.

* I know … I know … “I’m the product.”

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