It was quite a ride there for a few years. My own experience was that I was fairly active in Flickr Groups from back in the day, along with that crazy Russian accountant mentioned above, Ivan Makarov. For me that was the earliest online "photo community," for lack of something else to call it. We were doing books and meetups and trips. Flickr redesigned groups really moving conversation to the background and right about that time Google launched Google+.
For me Google+ seemed ideal for the photo community. It was very visual giving photos high visibility on the platform. At the same time posts really became conversations. Hangouts allowed people to interact in real time. And most of all Google seemed very interested in promoting it. From what I'd read in the Wall Street Journal and other places, they certainly poured a lot of money into it.
The nice thing about Google+ was how much the online interaction led to offline interaction around photography. There were contests and hangout shows and I loved hunting for interesting new photographers to add to my photography circles on G+.
Many of the people I'd known for a few years from Flickr and other online photography flocked to Google+. Ivan helped organize a book. There were worldwide G+ photowalks. There was an epic trip to go shoot Death Valley that Luc Asbury helped lead.
I still remember that dinner on New Year's Eve in Yosemite with you and others Trey. The photowalk at Google i/o that Trey mentioned where we gave away a pair of Google Glass was another super fun event. Little did we know in just a few short months Google+ would be killed.
It was sad to see it go. I pretty much knew it was dead when Vic left. Vic was the ultimate Google+ cheerleader at Google. He was one of the top Google execs on the executive committee. He presented at i/o. Seeing him go it was only a matter of time before you saw Google pretty much completely disengage. I think they would have killed it earlier but they'd already had a reputation for starting social projects only to kill them. Orkut, Dodgeball, Wave, Buzz. So when they really went ALL IN with Google+ when it came time to kill it, they couldn't actually do that but rather just put it out to pasture and probably figured when it wasn't as tender a subject that they could always just kill it later. And that's pretty much what they did with this recent privacy lapse.
I still think they gave up too soon leaving social 100% to Facebook.
I'll always remember it as a special time for online social and photos. Similar to DMU at Flickr or FriendFeed before Facebook bought that and killed it. As far as I'm concerned nothing's taken its place and we've been left with the fractured ad-centric Facebook and I suppose Twitter a bit. I've been hopeful that Flickr would try and revitalize groups and reinvigorate the photo community on the web through that, but I'm starting to think that's not in the cards in the future either. Time will tell like most things I suppose.