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    • treyratcliff

      My friend Chris MacAskill invited me over here to Cake to start a panel discussion about this hot subject! Now that Google+ is officially going as extinct as the dodo bird, it seems like a perfect time to have a discussion about it. I'll invite a few of my Google+ friends that want to participate in the panel.

      I thought it'd be fun to get started and talk about all the positive, awesome aspects of Google+, especially in the early days.  And speaking of early days, look at that screenshot I dug up. It's funny that back in 2011 that the #1 most followed person on Google+ was Mark Zuckerberg. I bet the Google team was scratching their heads wondering why their #1 competitor was #1 on their own network! 

      It's also interesting to look at the growth of the network from the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2013. And these were all real people, as opposed to some networks today like Instagram where one can easily buy hundreds of thousands of followers/likes/comments from bots. All these new people flowing in allowed people that had never been "discovered," say a photographer in Australia, to suddenly have a sizeable audience. This was very exciting for so many creatives around the world.

      But it really wasn't about the followers, it was about the simple fact that Google+ was a SHEER DELIGHT to use. It touched a nerve that Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter could not. Now that it is gone (well, it was basically mostly gone 4+ years ago), we are reminded how other social networks are FAR from being a "delight" to use. They all have their problems.  Hey, sure Google+ had a few issues in the beginning, but the team was so nimble and quick to make fixes and add new features. I think all the early adopters really felt like we all were building a sharing platform together that creatives have been longing for. 

      I met so many awesome people and was truly inspired. I think it fueled a very creative period for a bunch of us. Personally, I think the entire creative cycle ends with sharing the creation with the world. It was absolutely the best place to share creations, get feedback, and inspire people. Even better, I personally got to be real-life friends with amazing people from all around the world. It was really tangible when we had public photo walks. I remember one that Thomas Hawk and I did in San Francisco where about 500 people showed up. Awesome pandemonium!  These events reminded us all that we're all in this creative game together

      So, what are your thoughts on what made that early period of Google+ so exciting? 

    • Chris

      One of my fondest memories was meeting a finance guy working at a big accounting firm who was a great photographer by hobby, kinda like @thomashawk . He came to SmugMug to show off his Plus One Collection book, which he put together with a group of his G+ photography friends.

      It made the evening news!

      We were so impressed we hired him and all these years later he's the VP of Finance for SmugMug & Flickr. 🤩

    • Gino

      When the Mighty Mighty Trey Ratcliff, the autodidact of HDR digital photography and Chris "Big Papa" McCaskill come calling you got no choice but to respond, especially on a topic so relevant as the demise of Google+.

      Man, what a time. What a place.
      G+ felt like Camelot for a slice of time. So many great voices and so much talent on the cusp of stepping onto a bigger stage were gathered.

      Looking back at all the names that I became aware of, and learned from, and admired, it is incredible.

      I am going to list just some ...

      Gilmar Smith, Eustace James!, Karen Hutton, Kerry Murphy, Scott Jarvie, Vivienne Gucwa, Angela Pan, Catherine Hall, Jan Kabili, Jaime Ibarra, Jordana Wright, Jessica Lark, Al Ebnrreza, Sly Vegas, Kimberly Pemberton, RC Concepcion, Michael "Big Sexy" Bonocore, Athena Carey, Lotus Carroll, Tamara Pruessner, Kelli Seeger Kim, Gordon Laing, Cliff "Blaze" Baise, Mike Shaw, Don Komarechka, and, of course, the infamous Kim.com!!

      I can go on and on.
      One thing I noticed looking back at the names was just how influential the female voice was to the Google+ experience. At least for me it felt like a real meritocracy and the women had a strong and important voice that I think is still missing online in general these days.
      There wasnt a lot of conflict or ugliness. It really felt pure and organically healthy and I think the strong female presence helped to inform those good vibes in a very real way.

      At the time it felt like G+ meant something. It was going to be something important. It felt like we had gathered at Haight and Ashbury in the 60's and good things, real things were going to spring out of it somehow.
      In the end the memories and the connections are what remain.
      Perhaps that is good enough.

    • Daria

      Hey Trey! And… Cupcakes? 

      What a topic. What a conversation this’ll be. Google+ in it’s earliest days was the internet’s greatest speakeasy. It was a private club and we had the secret handshake and the password. We didn’t have an in because we were already insta-famous or well-connected. We each got our invites like golden tickets in Wonka bars on the street. An overheard conversation. A friend passed on a link. An article mentioned Google was wading into the social biz. Internet nerds got word through some kind of early-adopter alert system… I got a call, from my big brother, while getting soaked, lugging my guitar and amps through a torrential downpour, into an IRL club to play a show for three people. He thought it might help my career if I got on a new social network early, “Maybe you could be one of the first musicians on there.”

      My love story with Google+ has been chronicled in songs, and books, and keynotes, and posts and TED Talks. It’s origin story got intertwined with mine in a mobius-strip of a digital-Cinderella-story. Girl from the woods, in-the-middle-of-nowhere, sings for a million people on a new social network. It was all true. And all as remarkably accidental and unexpected as it sounds. 

      For me it was all about Hangouts. Ten-way video chat with whoever shows up. Thinking back on it now I realize how adorably innocent and naive it was. Hangouts, especially right at the beginning, was a sweet and totally revolutionary cultural exchange. The first night I opened one I sang for people on multiple continents at once. I strummed while watching the sunrise in Norway, when it was early evening where I was playing. I made friends and fans one-by-one, then eventually, with their help, we streamed it and gave the private club windows for thousands to look in. Before I knew it I was getting flown out to meet with Google. When does that kind of thing ever happen? 

      It was that innocent. Were we a bunch of people who were genuinely excited to discover each other and I think we wrote a little tiny chapter of internet history together. Trey’s photos. My Hangouts. Moritz’s code. Vic’s posts. Ron Garan’s view from space. Cliff’s live paintings. Alida's stories. Carter’s fiery discussions. Everyone clicking “join” when a Hangout popped into their stream. We shaped the culture of Google+. We built our own little utopian soap bubble. I didn’t realize it at the time, but something like that was fragile and precious by nature. How could it withstand being opened up to the entire public and a giant corporation with too many chefs in the kitchen and too many different visions. Some wanting to build something brand new, some wanting to compete with Facebook and some who never wanted to get into this social thing in the first place. 

      It was gorgeous and I loved every second of it. But yeah, what was the question? Hangouts. Hangouts and the people I met in them. That was the best thing. Ever. Hands. Down. 

      Ps. I had a camera going during that first Hangout. I actually caught the moment my life changed. But I was such a noob I didn’t know how to screen-cap. So I just have this footage of a video of me. Reacting. 

    • Daria

      Gino! So so true. I never stopped to think about it that way but it was a meritocracy and that did give a chance for female voices to grow and thrive. Yay for ladies! And yeah, there's no where else where that feels as true online to me, yet.

    • FrederickVan

      It just goes to show that even with unlimited funds, talent and motivation even the best ideas sometimes just can’t get traction.

      I have my own list of loves and frustrations when it comes to Google+, most of which are centered around Hangouts. Hangouts in many ways served as the springboard we used on my podcast to make the leap from audio-only to live streaming. Google made assembling a webinar-like event brain-dead simple but it was definitely not without it’s issues… for example the rapid pace of “innovation” when they rolled out new features caused us to lose several shows — some episodes were lost DURING the show, meaning they failed to record. But the negatives were small in comparison to the great tool Hangouts was (is).

      I think it’s very hard these days for photographers to put their trust in any single online tool. Especially after all of the noise Google put behind G+, I was sure it was the Facebook-killer, and with Google’s deep pockets, the service would be around forever… like Gmail. But, just like that, what *was* a promising new platform has gone the way of Wave and so many others. When you’ve been hurt so many times before, trust becomes harder and harder to elicit.

    • FrederickVan

      Maybe I need a coffee! :) I wasn't intending to be harsh at all, sorry if it came off that way! I loved using the service. And wish it would continue! My point was that it's hard for photographers to trust and use services that seem permanent and promising, only to have them killed off, or aquired and neutered.

      It makes believing the marketing hyperbole that much harder for the next start-up. "Trust us! Give us all your photos!", then boom... the dreaded "we got aquired and are ceasing operations next month". e.g. Astro Mail, I LOVED that email client... then it got bought by Slack and now it's back to the drawing board. I realize the short lifecycle is the price of admission in tech, but still, over the years it makes it hard to get excited about new innovations, spend time and effort building up a presence, or incorporating it into your daily workflow only to have it yanked away. It makes me feel a little like Charlie Brown. But the geek in me keeps falling for it!

      Is it better to have loved and lost? Or to never have loved at all. —Alfred Lord Tennyson

    • Chris
    • FrederickVan

      WOW! Over 1/2 billion invested! I wonder what would would have taken to make it a success? Or was it simply impossible at that particular time given Facebooks momentum.

    • Gino

      Yeah man. I get you.
      There was a point where 2 or 3 times a year I'd get someone saying, "You aren't on "X" yet? Its the new FB." I'd rush out to grab my early adopter cool name and inside a year I'd never use it again because it just wasn't relevant in any way.
      It seems like G+ was in fact, to your point, the last time I bought all-the-way in.
      I caught G+ at a bar with another guy and now I'm Jon Favreau in Swingers. I just cant get back on that pony like I really mean it anymore.

    • Chris

      Or was it simply impossible at that particular time given Facebooks momentum.

      I wrote a story about that with eBay because I had a ringside seat to Yahoo and Amazon trying to crush them with unlimited resources and reach, and they got nowhere.

    • treyratcliff
      Trey Ratcliff

      Daria, you are kind of the perfect example of what the platform could do for creatives! And how cool was it that a few years later, you and I were having breakfast with Ron Garan, the astronaut, in Austin, Texas? G+ made so many good connections possible.

      I think G+'s big advantage was they helped people to connect over passions much better than Facebook. FB always seemed (and mostly still is) about friends and family. But, on FB, you're still kinda "stuck" with friends from your high school that you may or may not like anymore, and who most assuredly do not share whatever passions you develop later in life.

      G+ was always, to me, a very positive place. Compare that with all the energy-vampires on Facebook. I don't need that in my life. I think it's much more healthy for creative people to be around other positive, giving souls.

      I was always excited to open my G+ feed and see what fresh goodies had been served up by people I followed. It's the total opposite of Facebook. I think staring at your FB feed is the exact same as staring into the refrigerator when you're not even hungry.

      But yeah, those Google Hangouts, what a killer feature. I loved doing those live shows and meeting all kinds of new photographers and stuff. That tech on top of G+ was a real game-changer!

      Here's one of those hangouts we did that @Gino was referring to above with Kim Dotcom and lots of other photographers at

    • Gino

      Wow.

      Half a Bill invested,

      Users who look back and almost unanimously feel like it was the one platform that they felt personally invested in it and loyal to it.

      All the name recognition that being Google brings.

      All for nothing.

      There's a serious study that needs to be done investigating how this happened.

      I don't want to hear "None of my friends/family were on it." Everybody uses Google and/or uses Gmail. There's NO WAY that Google can look itself in the mirror and explain how they blew this hand so badly.

      Was it hubris?

      Did the people at Google (Vic?) simply believe that being Google would be enough?

      Was it lack of boots-on-the-ground recognition of what was happening, for good and bad, on their own platform?

      I didn't know one person on G+ that didn't think it was the real deal. Everyone felt like Google wouldn't let it fail.

      How did Google get dealt 4 Aces and still lose this hand?

    • Chris

      Gino, it's a fascinating question and I'd love to have some insight. One thing that bothered me was Trey's screenshot of the most followed people in the early going and how many friends they had:

      It makes me wonder how much the top Googlers—Larry, Vic, Sergey and Matt—really used it when their leading competitor was. It seemed to me that they used it like Twitter for mass broadcasts and then just stopped in 2015 when they still had good engagement in their broadcasts. Mashable wrote this a few months after it launched:

    • Gino

      Whoa! That article brings in even more questions with the benefit of Hindsight.

      Google publicly stated that G+ was to be a major face for the company, even plastering the name Google on it in a big way, and they massively funded it. But, somehow, those who stood to benefit the most from it's success didn't even bother to use it, or at least act like they were using it.

      To me this speaks to my original thought. Hubris.

      They thought they didn't even have to try. People will use our new platform because we are Google and we just dropped a 1/2 Billion with a "B" on it.

      If we are really being honest with each other, we will admit that there remains a certain set at the top that considers Social Media in general to be a tool that is used to influence the unwashed masses. It's for the mob. Not for the senate.

      I think Google brass never used it because they weren't using social media in general.

      The next question is, would it have made a difference if they had?

    • treyratcliff

      I know the press made a big deal about Google management not using it, but I never was worried about that. A lot of those managers are just not "public" kinda people like us, who bloviate nonstop and are constantly creating photos and stuff to share. Many of those execs can't really use social media like us because the press and Wall Street hangs on every word.

      I was flummoxed why I could get more of my Facebook friends and family over to Google+. It was clearly superior in almost every way and I had every logical argument laid out. Still, not many came over. They were comfortable on Facebook and they weren't "power users" in that they didn't really see the faults that Facebook had. Facebook has fixed a lot of those faults by now, thank goodness, but I think one thing that sours most of us is how people love to use it to complain about everything.

      And back on a positive note, another great thing about Google+ photos that were different/better:

      1) The photos were huge and looked cleaner in the G+ interface

      2) There were no advertisements

      3) There were "View Counts" so you could see which ones seemed to be most popular. I still haven't figured out why Facebook doesn't show view counts.

      4) It was blazing fast!

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      but I think one thing that sours most of us is how people love to use it to complain about everything.

      Trey, I listened to a debate on NPR during Trevor Noah's early days about whether he would make it. One of the media veterans said something I've never been able to forget: audiences want to see blood. This was something, they said, that tortured Jon Stewart but he eventually had to cave to get the ratings he needed. No one wants to be made fun of, but they want to see Tina Fey draw blood with her parody of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live.

      Do you think we're seeing some of that on Twitter and Facebook? The burns, the justice served to the company that did a perceived evil, they tend to go viral there, no?

      For people like you and Daria, who are so incredibly positive, it sounds like Google+ was a big draw because it was so positive. I'm just wondering if a larger audience wanted more edge.

    • Daria

      Trey, "I think staring at your FB feed is the exact same as staring into the refrigerator when you're not even hungry." is now my all time favorite explaination of Facebook. So so perfect! I totally relate, G+ was kinda a thrill to open up every day. I never knew what gorgeous photo would be floating down the stream, or whether someone ridiculously famous or outrageously interesting was going to comment on something, and then those "Join Hangout" buttons popping up at all hours of the day and night made every mintute into a possible meet-cute or adventure. Facebook is just, ugh. I don't open it at all any more.

      And yes, brunch with you, Uncle Ron The Astronaut (which is what I call him now, by the way, we should get him on this thread! We were just texting about G+ yesterday!) and Vic at The Driskill in Austin Texas on my birthday was mindblowing. There's so many stories. That's actually another one of G+'s magical-fairy-dust-features: It made stuff happen in real life! Friendships, parties, concerts, relationships, fandoms, opportunities, connections, photowalks, and totally hilarious stories. No other social network has so effortlessly translated into real life experiences like that, at least not that I know of and not for me. I think it was again a side-effect from Hangouts. When I would meet people in person who I'd hung out with often, they already felt like close friends. We'd go in for a hug without even thinking about it. When I got to play shows around the world my Hangout friends would be my personal tour guides! Tel Aviv. Scotland. Chicago. London. LA. It was crazy.

      Speaking of funny stories... Trey, remember when we went around that Zeitgiest cocktail reception arm-in-arm introducing ourselves as completely different people to everyone we met?! I think you told one lady you were a goat farmer. And you tried to talk me into saying hi to Malcolm Gladwell but I was too nerd-struck. And then you totally walked up to Azaelia Banks and told her, "I don't know who you are, but you're fabulous!" Yeah, so many priceless moments online and IRL.

      Ps. I just found these pics on Google+, their trusty search bar still works! Just made me realize I gotta go download all my photos and stuff offa there!

    You've been invited!