On The Inevitable Death of Google+

So, Google+ is going away. Now what?

Just before my unplanned absence from posting regular servings of nonsense, it was announced by Google that they would, at long last, be ending their experiment in social media by shuttering Google+. This came as no real surprise to most people; as an original beta invite user, I recall a nearly endless stream of “ghost town” comments and predictions of its demise in the face of the enormous reach and momentum of Facebook dating back nearly to the beginning. However, things changed very recently when Google adjusted their plans to conclude G+ service in April 2019 instead of the announced October 2019 date. They’re closing down G+ six months sooner than expected.

This means, of course, that the great OSR presence on G+ will be coming to an official end sooner rather than later. While I am a latecomer to the G+ OSR scene in many ways (previously having used G+ solely for personal socializing and that sort of thing), I have a lot of thoughts about what the future holds for the OSR community, the G+ diaspora, the legacy of the service, and more. I’d like to share those now, and hopefully encourage some discussion.

Part One: My Relationship With Google+

A self-indulgent background moment, for context: I came to G+ at launch by way of an invite from a friend who was a Google employee at the time. In that immediate influx of folks I met thousands of people and formed a close group of friends, most of whom I keep up with even now. I met my wife because of G+, through friends I met on G+. I spent more hours in Hangouts than just about anyone I know of, because my wife and I spent three years over 2000 miles apart and so we had a Hangout up and live on laptops or desktops nearly round the clock – including while we slept. I posted or commented tens of thousands of times on my personal account there, with friends from around the globe. As a group, most of us largely dropped G+ as a social network sometime around 2016, though most of us been using it progressively less and less since 2014-2015. I think that’s probably true for most of the original users; it was clearly losing folks pretty rapidly in that time period as people tired of the service, its constant state of UI flux, or simply moved on. Our motley crew was present for every iteration of the UI/UX missteps, the various changes to Hangouts video chats, the introduction of Hangouts On Air, the deintegration of Hangouts/Gchat, the real name policy for Youtube and other Google services, and everything else under the sun for five or six years. It was a great period of time and I really enjoyed G+, vastly more than its competitors. It was, by and large, my internet home.

Awhile after I had stopped using G+ for personal social media purposes, I came to learn that it was the home of the OSR. Or, rather, that had become something that mattered to me. I had long ago sidestepped internet discussion of RPGs due to the toxicity of nerds around the time of the whole 3.5E-4E-Pathfinder edition wars, so while I had been interested in OSR products, I lacked any inclination to participate in any sort of online RPG community myself. Earlier this year I decided it was time for me to Johnny-come-lately my way over to G+ and get involved. Of course, in so doing, I got to talk to a lot of great figures in the scene, and I found my interest in G+ increasing again. I had very little to announce there, myself, but I had lots to read and interact with. I was excited. I’ve been able to meet new authors and artists I’d never heard of who produce work I now adore, and of course talk to some folks whose names are well-known to everyone interested in OSR works. That’s a great boon.

So, of course, Google announces they’ve had a data whoopsy and they’re calling it quits on G+ as a whole sooner than planned. Google+ is headed for the Old Yeller treatment, right as I get back into it.

Part Two: What Now?

Coming up on the horizon are a number of options to supplant G+ as the OSR’s meeting place. At the time of the announcement by Google, folks began a very rapid series of setting up backup plans to stay in touch. Some of the choices:

1. MeWe:

Somewhere between Twitter and G+ in functionality, with the capacity for groups and personal posts. Very responsive to the influx of gamers and excited to work on various features to better suit our various communities. This seems to be the lead horse in the post-G+ race, largely because it was one of the first options to gain momentum in the panic after the announcement of the impending death of Google+, and it seems like a fairly good fit in some ways. The Android app is alright, but becomes a notification warzone the minute you start joining groups and their associated chatrooms – get ready to turn off a lot of notification settings individually.

  • Pros: Large chunk of G+ exodus landed here, replicates some functionality/flexibility of G+ post abilities, involved developers, no ads.
  • Cons: Mediocre app, closed audience, might eventually cost money one way or another, somewhat ephemeral, notifications can be obnoxious.
2. Twitter:

The extremely well-known digital version of a crowded coffee shop. Suitable for short messages only, its brevity is often one of its strong points. The same limitation can also sometimes become one of its flaws, such as when important topics need deeper discussion. A sizeable portion of the OSR (and the rest of our hobby) chats on Twitter, myself included. It’s got a broad cross-section of the internet present, so you have to cultivate a careful follow list to avoid nonsense but you also have a great chance of meeting new people and getting folks involved in gaming who didn’t realize they were there to chat about RPGs. No matter what style of app interface you prefer, it’s available in one form or another thanks to huge third party software support.

  • Pros: Massive and diverse audience, handles multimedia pretty well, many publishers and creators represented here, tons of app selection on all platforms.
  • Cons: Character count can be limiting, signal to noise ratio has to be managed judiciously, quite ephemeral.
3. Discord:

Discord is fast becoming the default chat app for millions. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s basically a centrally-hosted, modernized version of IRC with much better integration of multimedia support, and voice chat. The software was aimed at video game players initially. Servers are user-created and can play host to many individual chat rooms and voice chat lobbies within. It has become the application of choice for just about anyone who wants persistent chat rooms, voice chat, and even some video chat functions. Our hobby has jumped onto the Discord bandwagon too, with innumerable RPG servers ranging from general interest to game-specific – and the OSR community has a couple of their own.

  • Pros: Great multimedia functions, voice chat and video chat for game hosting, bot and extension support for dicerolling/etc.
  • Cons: Chats on popular servers can move way too fast to keep up with, zero room for long-form writing, the literal definition of ephemeral, notifications can be a pain, servers are centralized and hosted by Discord, and the desktop app needs to update nearly daily ever since they added the video game store service no one asked for.
4. Mastodon et al:

Lumping together instanced networks like Mastodon and Diaspora for simplicity’s sake. These are decentralized, user-controlled social networks which are sort of like personal walled gardens. These feel largely like an also-ran at this point, and their instanced nature removes much chance of interacting with the larger community or enticing outsiders to come play our games. At their best, these are structured, controllable networks for specific purposes to talk amongst themselves. At their worst, these sorts of things are liable to be investment honeypots by cynical devs which provide users with a boring echo chamber. Not a big fan of instanced “next-generation” social media yet.

  • Pros: User-defined rules about content, very targeted, several flavors available to choose from.
  • Cons: Very closed ecosystem, ephemeral, very little third party support.
5. Reddit:

Reddit is the default content clearing house for a large segment of the internet community at large, for better or for worse, and plays host to tremendous traffic each day. Its user interface constitutes a war crime and it has had plenty of trouble with its moderation history, but it is also home to some of the busiest places to discuss our weird dice and books on the entire internet. Zillions of subreddits exist for every imaginable subject, including specific subreddit forums for RPGs by title and style. Even one for the OSR, r/OSR, exists, though it is a bit slow-moving compared to the busier general interest areas like r/RPG and r/DnD and so on. For the foreseeable future, it is reasonable to expect this to be the central location for spreading the word about RPGs, RPG ideas, and game products.

  • Pros: Huge established audience, ability to specialize subreddit by interest, supports long form writing.
  • Cons: UI/UX horror show, lame apps, mediocre handling of multimedia, mediocre search at best, mediocre short form writing.
6. Tumblr:

Well, if you haven’t heard the news, Tumblr’s in the midst of what will probably be its death throes as the Yahoo-owned service is in the process of scouring all sex, nudity, and not safe for work content after years of lazily ignoring rampant porn bots and seedy creeps using the service to spread inappropriate content. What’s more, they’re doing so very poorly, in keeping with their tradition of laziness, and marking the wrong content as illicit while missing plenty of what they want to remove. The user base is fleeing, the parent company’s stock price is plummeting, and the censorship is at an all-time high. Given that the OSR often creates weird stuff, and some of that is being destroyed by distributors as it is, this is probably not a great option to choose as our new home.

  • Pros: Handles media well, ability to tag posts, supports long form writing, visually customizable.
  • Cons: Comment/interaction system is awkward, somewhat ephemeral, bad app, unstable management, risk of censorship.
7. Blogs:

The blog ecosystem preceded G+ and remained a pillar of the OSR community during the height of G+. It is my hope it will continue after G+, renewed by the shakeup, and emerge as the preferred method of long form writing. Here we have immense customization and specialization at our fingertips, affiliate revenues for the popular blogs which helps support the writers we appreciate, and the option to write as much or as little as we want and have it stick around for later, to be rediscovered by old readers or found for the first time by new readers. Several host options exist to suit all levels of expertise.

  • Pros: Stable, good search/tagging, good multimedia support, endlessly customizable, great support for long form writing, proper comment structure, RSS support.
  • Cons: Less centrally-located, much more effort required to set up, some host options result in cost.

Part Three: So, Which One?

So, now that we know what we’re currently pondering as follow-ons to the G+ era, what is actually going to come next? Well, it looks like MeWe is the leader. It got a big push early on in the frantic moments after Google delivered the bad news, and that momentum was bolstered by responsive developers seizing on the opportunity to reach out and interact with the big potential user influx and courting the RPG community successfully. MeWe appears to be here to stay, for now at least. It’s an okay platform. I’m not in love with it; I think it holds a little too close to the closed ecosystem side of things at the moment, but who knows what the future holds?

For me, though, my vision of the future is a little different, and I hope you’re open to an alternative idea.

I think it would be great to see blogs make a full comeback, with creative DIY nerds running blogrolls and managing their own content and presentation. I think it would be cool to have the control more in our hands, and the openness of the platform allows newcomers to find us and join us and become part of the community. The OSR has been built by being accessible and imaginative and exciting and I worry that hiding that away in various obscure corners will diminish the ability of the hobby to continue those wonderful qualities for years to come.

For my money, I’m hoping we settle into a mixture of three services:

  1. Blogs, for long-form writing and the lasting footprint. Searchable, taggable, customizable.
  2. Twitter, for short-form chatter. Quick, huge, open to the public, established.
  3. Discord, for running games and projects. Good chat app with tons of features valued by our hobby.

It keeps us from repeating the G+ exodus all at once, too — if we’re interacting across blogs, we should always have a home to be found at even if other stuff goes away; if the blog somehow dies, we have the social media and chat options to reach out to our friends and re-establish ourselves.

I think this is the safest, most productive route, and I think this is what I will focus on. Of course, it’s pointless without the rest of the community to interact with, so please let me know what you plan to do. I can definitely change course! I would love to know what everyone else is thinking so I can blindly follow like a herd animal make an informed decision about where to concentrate my attentions.

Part Four: The Legacy of Google+

Here we are the end of the G+ era for the DIY D&D folks and I have just a few thoughts to wrap it up. It may take a few years to be properly understood and appreciated, especially by those outside of our little corner of the hobby, but the impact of G+ on the OSR scene will eventually be remembered as absolutely critical to the resurgence of old school rules and style. It was a place where people could coalesce, learn from each other, organize projects, play and test their creations, and share the word all in one fell swoop. Its value cannot be understated in terms of what it enabled. Many of the partnerships and relationships that we see today in the OSR might not have been possible without G+, and if anyone writes some crazy sort of history of all this weirdness down the line like they do from time to time about Gary and co., there’s no way that book gets written without a nod to Google+. It’s a tragedy to see so much content and the tiny stepping stones that led to that content being erased from the world, but I guess that’s part of the strange melancholy of the digital era. What will remain, though, is a myriad of products, some of the award-winning powerhouses, which inspired countless games and creations and ideas, and deep down, Google+ had a hand in providing a place where those things could happen.

So, farewell, Google+. You’ll always be weirdly important to me!

Thanks for sticking with this long-winded article with no real point. I hope you’ll contact me in the comments or on Twitter @dungeonspossums and tell me your thoughts on what comes next – where you’ll be focusing your efforts, what platforms you’ll be using – and also about your thoughts on the lasting impression of G+ on the OSR.

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