Google Latitude and the Squandered Potential of Google+

Google keeps demolishing good services and making Google+ more bloated.

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Yet another service has succumbed to the all-consuming Google+, with Google announcing the imminent shutdown of Google Latitude next month.

The features that Latitude users enjoyed aren’t going away. People can still share their whereabouts with fellow users and “check in” to local establishments. But as of August 9, they’ll have to do it through Google+ instead of through Google Maps.

This is the opposite direction in which Google+ should be headed. Ideally, Google+ would layer itself on top of Google’s existing services, letting you share certain information (such as your location, in the case of Latitude) with the social circles of your choosing. Instead, Google keeps demolishing these services and stuffing their features into an increasingly bloated Google+.

“Circles” are Google’s way of letting you categorize the people you know into groups. For example, you could have a circle for family members, one for college buddies, one for co-workers and another for your closest friends. While Facebook also offers groups and other ways to limit sharing, it seems like an afterthought compared to Google+, which lets you tightly control the privacy settings on everything you do.

When Google+ debuted in 2010, I was optimistic that the underlying circles concept would weave its way into other Google services. Imagine, for instance, being able to share private YouTube videos with specific circles, or to invite a circle of co-workers to collaborate on a fully private document in Google Drive.

Google+ Menu

Google

Three years later, the integration of Google+ has been inconsistent from one product to the next. Some products have been shut down and jammed into Google+ itself. Others have varying levels of Google+ integration, from thorough to nonexistent. Here are some examples:

  • Calendar would benefit by letting you share appointments or entire calendars with your Google+ circles, but today it’s not possible. Google+, meanwhile, would benefit by letting you sync its “Events” with your Google Calendar. Right now, neither service talks to one another.
  • YouTube and Drive have some basic Google+ integration, in that you can create a link to your video or file, and then share that link with your circles. But those links can technically be passed along to anyone, so there’s a risk of unwanted parties being able to see your stuff. There’s no way to share on Google+ from these services in a totally private way.
  • Instead of making Picasa as good as it can be, Google has created a new photo editing and sharing service on Google+. Photos that you upload to Google+ appear on Picasa, but photos that you upload to Picasa don’t automatically appear on Google+. If you’re on one service and know people who use the other, it’s a mess.
  • To find restaurants or other local businesses on your phone, you must use Google Maps. If you want to find them on your laptop, you must use Google+ Local. Same feature, two locations, another mess.
  • Most notoriously, Google+ integration came to Google Reader in late 2011, but instead of complimenting the friending and following features that Reader already had, it replaced them entirely. Less than two years later, Google Reader was shut down for good, reportedly because Google is more interested in having people share directly on Google+ instead.

When you look at Google+ now, it’s clear that Google wants it to be a hub of activity for communication, events, photos and local happenings. The problem is that outside of Google+, that type of activity already exists, through services like Gmail, Calendar, YouTube and Maps. Instead of using social circles to enrich those services, Google is just poaching the best features and shoving them into the Google+ website and app, where they’ll be ignored or forgotten.

Latitude is the latest victim. If Google wanted to add Google+ integration, it should have offered sharing to circles as an option within Google Maps, instead of making people switch to the Google+ app just to get the same features. It makes me wonder how many other services will suffer the same fate. And I’m not the only one:

15 comments
timmyb73
timmyb73

I would be happy to have Google+ location as an overlay on Maps - that would make sense, but by locking it away in Google+ - that's just stupid.

Google+ should be the glue that links all the apps and services, not become a standalone product in it's own right, maps functionality has been diminished and for what?

I've tried Google+ location sharing and it takes away important features like time at location, web access and the dashboard. At least it's forced me to look at Alternatives (like I do with reader - found this post on my own Tiny Tiny RSS installation), I've found the app "Life360" which suits me fine, so I can move away from Google on this service too now.

vlzimmer
vlzimmer

Agreed!  I was an early adopter of G+ but found that my Picasa albums were defaulting to G+ format with no way to separate or return back.  Except to cancel G+.  So I canceled G+, and I'm not interested in returning for exactly the reasons stated above.  I like the functionality and the separation of the existing tools (I even pay for extra storage on Picasa), and if google  is going to require everything to be a part of G+, then I will opt out of G+. 

I'm dreading having to move all of my photos off of Google, cancel my Gmail account, etc, but I'm also expecting it.  I've moved photos and canceled accounts before, Google, and I'll do it again if your services aren't meeting my needs.



mattjenkinson.nz
mattjenkinson.nz

Although I agree it is taking a while longer to transition certain features and aspects that I would of liked, your article is factually incorrect in many ways:


1.Calendar and Google+ Events are tightly integrated already. Maybe you're using difference accounts? Events I accept or start are automatically added to my Calendar/Google Now.


2.With Drive you and select Sign In Required to stop the sharing of private files, currently this is selected via EMAIL/Google account, NOT Google+ username/Circles, I imagine this will change soon. You're right selecting via Circle/G+ Username AND having it locked to those users would be awesome.


3.You find local businesses and places on Google Maps with both Desktop AND Mobile, it just happens that the actual Pages themselves are stored/managed inside Google+ (which is good for business owners). It is not a mess, it makes perfect sense to have businesses and points-of-interest inside Google Maps.


I also disagree regarding separate apps for similar things. People are less likely to check-in and/or Review businesses if they have to open a different app for that. Currently it is a little bit iffy because there is no Check-In option within a businesses Card on the Google Maps App, this might be an oversight that is added in the next update - there should be a Check-In option within the Google Maps app for sure - but having Check in within Google+ (And hopefully Google Maps) makes sense from a user point of view - having to open Latitude is just an extra step that people simply don't do --otherwise you'd see a Facebook checkin app as well.



cssmaciver
cssmaciver

The thing is, average Joe user can not wrap their mind around a 'wave' type communication platform. Most people awake today think that FB, Twitter and Linked in are 'the internet'. I'm thinking here of the time when 'google' 'Twitter' and 'fb' etc. have receded far enough into the past that they are taken for granted via standardization (I know!) and it won't bloody well matter the question of 'where', you will just 'be'. 

cssmaciver
cssmaciver

Now that's out of the way: Suffering is Life.


frankemailbox
frankemailbox

The features are not the same, either.  You are currently able to see everyone on a map.  Now, you have to view each person's location individually on their G+ profile.  Not as useful as it was.  A need an alternative.  Anyone with suggestions?  

bruce.tedesco
bruce.tedesco like.author.displayName 1 Like

As I was forced to do so by google, I have moved all of my latitude folks to google plus. So far it sucks. While it still shows me where they are, that is all I get. Cannot see how long they have been there. Cannot navigate to their location. Cannot ping them for check-in. Cannot individually control the level of sharing from one friend to the next. GOOGLE IF YOUR GONNA FORCE ME INTO YOUR FACEBOOK BY DROPPING YOUR FEATURES THAT I LIKE AND PUTTING THEM INTO YOUR FACEBOOK THEN AT LEAST SUPPLY THE SAME LEVEL OF SERVICE FOR THOSE FEATURES IN YOUR FACEBOOK!

royley
royley like.author.displayName 1 Like

I'm with Jared on this one. Can't speak for the US, but in the UK Google+ has woefully few subscribers - I was an early adopter via invite, and gave up after 12 months as nobody was using it as they don't see a compelling reason to move from Facebook. I've always been a Google fan because it offered a range of discrete applications that offered functionality that I wanted to use for standalone tasks. Sadly, Google seem to be increasingly talking only to a small minority of users (in global terms) who want to share everything they do via social networking, rather than the majority who want to use specific tools for specific tasks so they can maintain separation between them. I use Picasa to store / catalogue all my photos (numbering in the tens of thousands), access them on the move, and share / collaborate with individuals on particular albums - ended up closing down my Google+ account as there was no way of shutting down the integration between the two, and I don't want them on a social network site. After closing down Google+, my favorites list on YouTube disappeared - apparently that's now handled via Google+ (still seems to work on the Android app though). I use Latitude with a few close friends that I meet up with several times a week, so we can see where we are, if we're running late, etc - we don't want  to share the location with anyone else, want to shut off sharing quickly at particular times and then switch it back on again, and don't want to have to manage it via a social network. Yes, I know you could probably achieve the separation / security via +, but I don't want to be running another social network account (which has tumbleweed blowing through it), with another set of privacy tools, simply to achieve functionality that I used to get from discrete apps. In an age of mash-ups and integration, I simply can't understand why Google is bucking the technological trend, and trying to shoehorn everything into a single app / service, ERP style.

Mr_DMM
Mr_DMM like.author.displayName 1 Like

Instead of thinking it as "bloating", why not perceive it as rearrangement and growth? Latitude on it's own wasn't very popular, practically no one I knew even noticed it on Google Maps. That type of location service is a social device, it fits better on Google+ than Maps. It's kind of obvious that the integration examples you gave might be more complicated for Google than what appears at first glance (perhaps policies, user agreements etc.), otherwise they would have implemented them already. I'm fairly certain that Google is working on it, a little patience maybe?

marcellorazia
marcellorazia like.author.displayName 1 Like

Why the assumption that morphing this into G+ is a bad thing? Oh right, because its more trendy to dislike G+ than to actually consider Google might have an efficient long term plan. 

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@marcellorazia No. As stated in the article says, the Google+ app and website are increasingly bloated, and Google+ is better off augmenting existing Google apps and services instead of bloating things up even further.

marcellorazia
marcellorazia

@newmanjb @marcellorazia Right, which is to suggest that you have a better idea than Google about the long term ramifications of this plan...despite Google having all the data. Maybe you are right, who knows, although I'd bet on Google. 

But let's not kid ourselves, this article doesn't even pretend there is a possibility that Google may in fact have the better long term plan. I don't disagree with everything you wrote, but this one seems to me to be just another attempt to discredit Google's plans with G+ before we've had a chance to see it fully materialize. Consider that Facebook took 4 years to even catch MySpace, so perhaps calling out G+ at its second anniversary for not integrating everything perfectly is a bit premature.

marcellorazia
marcellorazia like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@newmanjb @marcelloraziaTo be fair, let's also not forget about all the huge successes Google has had when entering a market and facing a tech giant:

Search v Yahoo
Gmail v Hotmail
Maps v Mapquest
Chrome v Explorer
Android v Iphone
AdSense v Eveyrone Else

Google has the habit of tweaking things until they get them right, even if at times it means retreating from changes they have made. They have the data so they know what works and what doesn't long before any of us could hope. So I think it would be a shame if media folks like you who have influence deter people from trying out a quality service like G+ simply because you're don't grasp the meaning of their process..

All that said, I'll step back from insinuating your intent was merely to write a trendy article as I did in my original comment on the basis that you took the time to defend your article twice now by replaying to my comments, and thanks for doing so. But I am sticking to my guns and betting on Google on this one. 

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@marcellorazia @newmanjb I'll gladly admit that I'm not always right. But let's not delude ourselves into thinking that tech companies always act in the best interests of their users, or always make the right decisions. If they did, none of them would ever fail, and Google wouldn't have a huge graveyard of aborted social networking efforts behind it.