Ordinarily, the announcement by the world’s largest tech company that it is arbitrarily shutting down its signature service would send out shockwaves on a scale not seen since the millennium bug, two decades ago.
The fact that hardly anyone seems even to have noticed that the plug is being pulled on Google Plus indicates how big a turkey it was.
In just over three weeks’ time – right around April Fool’s Day – Google will remove the personal pages, photos and videos put there by its millions of users – many of whom will be unaware that they had ever done so.
That’s because in its attempt to take on Facebook and become masters of the social universe as well as the search engine, Google made the creation of a presence on its own site almost automatic. Very few of the pages that resulted are actively used.
The result is that in nine out of 10 cases, there is no need to take any action to save your data before Google empties it into the big waste paperless basket in the cloud. Rest assured that your other Google services – Photos, YouTube, Maps and so on – are unaffected.
The extent to which Google Plus had flopped was already apparent, because it had since last year been embroiled in a data scandal similar to the one that has seen Facebook’s reputation trashed. The developers of third-party services had discovered they could access not only the data of users but also those of their friends – who had most certainly not given them permission to do so.
Fearing a regulatory clampdown, Google decided to not to tell anyone for several months, and it is a mark of how few people were actively affected that no-one seemed to notice. Its decision to throw in the towel and shut the whole thing down illustrates the paradox of a service hardly anyone used yet which compromised the privacy of almost everyone.
It is not the only sharing service to have begun deleting its users’ content. Flickr, which allows photography enthusiasts to upload their pictures and share them with professionals and like-minded hobbyists, has reduced its quota on unpaid accounts from around 200,000 pictures to just 1,000. Those who do not either prune their collections or upgrade their accounts will see the rest disappear into the ether.
Flickr was formerly operated by the pioneer internet search engine Yahoo, but was acquired last year by SmugMug, another photo sharing platform, which offers no free option at all. It said it was scaling back the free Flickr offering because the cost of so much disk space was “staggeringly expensive”.
If you are affected by the decision, and you don’t want to lose thousands of your pictures, you can download them in batches of 500 – though there is no need if you have copies on one of your own hard drives.
If you need an alternative service, the closest match may be Canon’s Irista website, which was designed for users of its own cameras but is not exclusive to those. A free account includes 15 gigabytes of space – far less than Flickr’s former free offer, but ample for showing off just your best shots.
Instagram is also an option, although it’s intended primarily for viewing on phones, not desktops. And of course Google Photos offers unlimited private storage for both stills and videos. At least, it does for now, but given what Google did with its social networking site, who is to say whether the future of free storage in the cloud is pie in the sky?