In November 2011, we let all y’all know that Google+ was not a social network; rather, our Google sources told us, it was intended to be a unified login system for all Google services, the single key to unlock all your Google-powered apps and accounts.
Then yesterday, some folks in the tech press sounded the alarm: “Google is forcing users to use Google+!”
Well, yeah, duh. We told you that a year ago.
In the words of Googler Bradley Horowitz, aka the Google+ czar, “We think of Google+ as a mode of usage of Google. … It’s easy to think of Google+ as something other than just Google, and I think it’ll take more launches before the world catches up with this understanding.”
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That wording might come across as a little sinister, but think about it from another perspective: You use Facebook Messages, Facebook News Feed, and Facebook Photos. In fact, you might even have separate mobile apps for each service. You might have a Facebook Page for your dog or your company or your softball team, too. But you use the same login and profile for all of ’em. It’s massively more convenient to you, and it’s much more profitable for Facebook.*
In fact, we, the consumers, like Facebook’s single-login system so much, we’ll use it for any number of apps and websites that are otherwise totally unrelated to Facebook. Someday, you might use Facebook to login to your daggone bank. Who knows?
Back to our interview from way back in the mists of time: Horowitz continued to say that Google+, which at the time was slowly being tacked on services like Blogger and Reader, would someday become the way you get access to Google’s web search. And Gmail. And Google Maps.
With Google’s rich cornucopia of online services, Horowitz told us the company was at a point in its product development when it needed a way to manage accounts and unify data — something overarching and holistic that would remove the need for each user to have three or five or ten logins for their various accounts — accounts that have duplicative information about you, your tastes, your habits, and your network of friends and family.
“We have browsers, phones, self-driving cars, TVs,” Horowitz said. “In many ways, these products have grown up very autonomously and have veered off in different directions, and it’s clear that we can now rationalize them and make them coherent and accretive to each other.”
From a product point of view, nothing makes more sense than Google “forcing” you to use Google+ as a unified login. For users, it should eventually be much less of a hassle to get around the sprawling spread of your Google services and apps. And while you can already use your Google account to login to other sites and apps, logging in with a Google+ account might give those sites and apps more and/or better information to customize the service you’re using.
And let’s take a small step back from the violent lingo: No one, dear reader, is “forcing” you to do anything. You can use Yahoo Mail, Bing, Vimeo, Dropbox, and any other number of service if you don’t like Google’s new login system.
*Time for another round of Follow the Money! When corporations do things that users hate or that don’t make sense, all you have to do to sort it out is follow the money. Google makes something like 97 percent of its money from online advertising. It can sell more ads for more money when it can give advertisers more information about who is seeing and clicking on those ads. So, for example, if you have a unified login that syncs data about you from your Maps account, your YouTube account, and your web searches, an ad buyer could tell Google, “I want to show this ad to pregnant women in San Francisco who like Taylor Swift,” and Google could deliver. For a price. A much higher price than if Google could only narrow down the ad viewer by location or music video views or recent web queries.
And that, my friends, is why Google is getting rid of the labyrinth of logins in favor of a single, semi-social login to rule them all: money.
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