A Lot of Photographers Are Actually Going to Miss Google+

A Lot of Photographers Are Actually Going to Miss Google+

It's 2018 and I have no idea where I'm supposed to share photos anymore. There was a time though, when Google+ and its booming photography community was the clear answer.

When I got my beta invite for Google's new email product called Gmail, I thought I was just let into some tech VIP club. It was fresh looking, radically different, and arguably about as cool as an email client could be. This excitement was repeated in 2011 when I received my Google+ beta invite from the same friend that hooked me up with Gmail.

The place was bright, full of cool features, and most importantly, lush with creative activity. I had never seen such a high concentration of amazing photos along with meaningful commentary and discussion in the comments. Photographers were viewing each other's work, encouraging one another, and regularly setting up photo walks to get together and shoot.

One of the coolest features that differentiated Google+ early on was circle shares. You added friends or followed people by adding them to groups called circles. These circles could then be shared with other users in a single click. That meant that if active a user took the time to gather a list of amazing photographers to follow, they could then share that list to anyone interested in also following some photographers.

This act of crowd-sourcing suggested users to follow meant active users were being paired up with other active users and effectively jump-starting a lively social network. I began my time on the network as an onlooker mostly just browsing and commenting. I finally reached a point where seeing so many great photos made me interested in taking my own shots and posting them. This came together on Easter Sunday in 2012 when I attempted my fist bracketed HDR photo of the sunset.

The post received some plus ones, Google+'s version of a like, and comments from two of my heroes on the platform Thomas Hawk and Trey Ratcliff. This was a huge deal to me and started me down the path of learning photography and challenging myself to master it. It was a much-needed therapeutic activity that helped distract me from the loss of my father to cancer.

Of all the Google+ photography supporters and evangelists, none were more influential to the excitement and energy surrounding the platform than Trey Ratcliff. As his website's name "Stuck in Customs" references, Ratcliff was an early adopter of a world traveler sharing breathtaking photos along the way lifestyle. His use of HDR was some of the best out there at a time where that style of photography was at its peak popularity. This coupled with the fact that Google+ really did a wonderful job showing off photos made the platform a perfect place for him to flourish and encourage more photographers to join in.

Ratcliff not only shared photos with great descriptions and stories about them, he also hosted and participated in a number of hangouts. Hangouts were ahead of their time for multi user video chat with ease. It also allowed users to record hangouts or go live stream. Ratcliff's technical proficiency and charisma brought him an enormously large amount of followers comparable to the likes of celebrities like Lady Gaga and Madonna. His adoption of the platform really seemed to help steer some focus and attention to photography throughout the glory days of the social network.

As I started sharing photos regularly and interacting with the community my follower count and interaction stats steadily increased. People are quick to knock social media as a waste of time, but I can tell you that the small amount of accomplishment I felt with every successful post was enough to prevent me from dwelling on the loss and feeling down.

Normally not having many followers means you won't get many likes. But the photo community had an answer for that. Almost every day of the week had an open photo theme anyone could post to using a hashtag and mentioning the curators of the theme. Prompts such as #MonochromeMonday and #TransportTuesday were a great way to stay active on a regular basis.

One particular theme I was becoming a regular on was called #LeadingLinesMonday.When one of the curators stepped down there was a call looking for anyone who might be interested in joining on to help. The task simply involved clicking the hashtag or checking your notifications for users submitting to the theme. We would each try and cover a share of the posts and give them an encouraging comment when appropriate. I ended up drawing the line on commenting on every post after seeing my 1000th photo of uninspiring power lines. 

Being part of one of the photo theme teams made me a recognizable face around Google+. It also gave me a great deal of confidence. This confidence and drive to improve finally got to the point where I tried my hand at second shooting a wedding with my wife. We really enjoyed shooting together and I got better with each wedding. Before I knew it, I was able to capture good photos anyone would be proud of and completely shed my fear of photographing people.

One thing I was never able to get involved with was some very large photo walks. I had never even heard of the idea, but the photos and stories from those involved made it seem like an amazing time.

Another thing that took place on Google+ that really deserved attention was the Scavenger Hunt. Photographer Chrysta Rae started a photography scavenger hunt of sorts where 500 users would sign up to shoot a list of the same 10 prompts. A panel of respected judges would then select anonymous photos based on quality and creativity. The photographer's names were always hidden until the very end so there would be no bias. This photo game was very special in the way that Rae was able to rally all of the participants to swarm through and comment on almost every photo. Photographers of all levels were greeted with encouragement and praise. There was almost a family or summer camp feel to the whole thing.

One of our newer writers, Brian Matiash, was active on the social network and was introduced to another talented photographer Nicole S. Young through Google+. They ended up getting married and hold a special place in the magic history of Google+ and the effect it had on bringing together many of its users.

I was touched by the number of tribute posts on Facebook upon the announcement of Google+ shutting down. Many photographers, like me, credit Google+ for helping them to grow into the photographers they are today. I hope that some of the ideas and features that seemed so loved can find their way to another network with a longer half-life. This Facebook post by former Fstoppers writer Michael Bonocore hits the nail on the head. You can really see the impact the place had on people in the comments.

I'll be saying farewell to my largest social following of over 50,000 and a mind-boggling but hard to verify 2,000,000 views via some being featured as backdrops for Google Chromecast. At the end of the day maybe the active photo community was only a few thousand strong, but it was enough. I was happy to be a part of it all and thank Google for trying its hand at a true social network built around a positive user experience.

Trey Ratcliff and Scott Kelby pictured at the one and only Google+ Photography Coherence. Photo by Brian Matiash.

So with the official announcement of Google sunsetting Google+ as a consumer product an number of memories and questions remain. Was it truly some sort of online photography renaissance we were part of or simply a number of lucky people in the right place at the right time? Will another network pick up the ball and run with some of these ideas and feature that made Google+ stand out as a destination for photographers? I'm looking at you Flickr, or maybe even Ello. What do you think? Was this the best shot photographers had at an alternative to Facebook?

Log in or register to post comments

35 Comments

William Faucher's picture

Interesting article! I was never even aware Google+ became a thing. I remember when it kicked off, but there was so little about it that I found appealing or even interesting. Not once did I ever post/upload to it.

You're not alone in wondering where things go from here, been wondering that myself lately. Instagram is not great. For the amount of hours you put into it, the return in investment is minimal. Sure some lucky few manage to kick it off, but overall, I find it to be a copy paste of the same boring stuff over and over and over again.

500px is meh, I can't see Flickr coming back, people are starting to move away from Facebook. What is left? If anything, I've found the Fstoppers community to be more fun to post to. But who knows where things go from here?

Brian Matiash's picture

My money is on Flickr. With Smugmug at the helm and this perfect storm happening with the other players, they have a very sweet window to dust off the cobwebs and provide photographers with a forward-thinking place to share and engage, the same exact way that Google+ did.

SmugMug/Flickr also has the benefit of hindsight to see what caused these other platforms to flail. Don MacAskill seems really keen on restoring Flickr to greatness and I, for one, am rooting for him and the rest of that team.

Nick Viton's picture

Flickr is about to screw over a whole realm of users by ACTUALLY DELETING THEIR PHOTOS.
"Free members with more than 1,000 photos and/or videos uploaded to Flickr have until Tuesday, January 8, 2019, to upgrade to Pro or download content over that limit. After January 8, 2019, members over the limit will no longer be able to upload new photos to Flickr. After February 5, 2019, Free accounts that contain over 1,000 photos and/or videos will have content actively deleted—starting from oldest to newest date uploaded—to meet the new limit."
[ https://www.flickr.com/lookingahead ]

Brian Matiash's picture

Let me ask you something. Do you know how expensive it is to manage petabytes of cloud-based, redundant, on-demand storage for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of users around the world?

Yahoo's idiotic and fatal mistake was giving away 1 TB of storage to whomever wanted it. It was a complete cattle call and it directly contributed to the dredge that Flickr eventually became. Instead of it fostering the growth of a photo community, it became the dumpster where people backed up their photos. Why pay Apple or Google for storage when you can dump it all on Flickr?

So, in comes Smugmug with an opportunity to restore Flickr to a respectable place and possibly make it even better than before. They're the new landlords and, I surmise, they don't like what they see. And as owners, they have *every right* to delete photos of free account holders who exceed the 1,000 image quota.

And stop being so melodramatic about it. It's not like they gave 2 weeks notice as you would an employer or even 60 days notice as you would a tenant. They made the announcement a month ago, on Nov 1st. They gave users three months and five days to figure out whether investing $50/year for Flickr Pro is worth keeping their entire photo collection online or consolidate to the quota.

I want Flickr to succeed. Very much so. And you know what you need to help ensure success? Paying customers. Aside from the perceived value that comes with paying a premium for unlimited access and other pro features, the revenue earned can go back to further building out new, and sorely needed, features like the already announced detachment from @yahoo.com logins and bolstered spam protection.

I sat down with Don MacAskill, Smugmug's CEO to discuss this very topic and I can tell you with complete sincerity that he is totally invested in Flickr's growth. He knows that "1 TB of free storage" is not a sustainable business model, so he did something about it. You want your unlimited storage with Flickr? Then pay the $50/year. When you factor in all the additional features + partner discounts that come with membership, it's totally worth it... to me at least.

Nick Viton's picture

That's fine. Still, they shouldn't be deleting photos. That's wrong.
To answer your question, I do not know precisely how expensive it is to manage petabytes of cloud-based, redundant, on-demand storage for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of users around the world. I imagine it's a lot. What I do know is that screwing over your users is probably not the best way net that capital. We both know there are better ways they could have gone about it.
I've been a heavy Flickr user and supporter for over 10 years, with over 147 million views on my images, almost 9000 followers, and I'm an Administrator for 6 groups. However, I won't be renewing Pro, and sadly, I'm not alone...

Daniel Medley's picture

Couldn't agree more. We should be grateful that Flickr has moved away from the business model of acquiring information of its users to make money from. That's why I was never on the Google bandwagon. Google's main business model is that of data/personal information acquisition to sell to the highest bidder.

No, thanks.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I've only used Google+ to help get better rankings. I find if I don't add a new post once a week, then my ranking can slip a little.

I wonder what will happen when Google+ goes away. (Is there a date?)

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I believe it is set to cease being available after 8/2019.

"This excitement was repeated in 2011 when I received my Google+ beta invite."

And therein lies the crux of Google+'s failure. They wanted to heighten excitement and interest by creating purposeful scarcity and exclusivity, so they launched it by invitation only. Of course we now know that the only way to create social success is to have an ubiquitous as possible an offering. Had Google+ launched to EVERYONE, I have no doubt they would have dominated Facebook, because of their Circles concept.

Brian Matiash's picture

As someone who worked for Google on the G+ team, I can tell you that the beta program had nothing to do with artificially boosting excitement or restricting access. Like most every new app that Google builds, it starts in beta and some of those programs have restricted access in the beginning, like Inbox. Gmail, as another example, was in beta for over five years.

They do these things in beta and limit access initially in order to test features out, monitor resource constraints, and attempt to kill bugs so that, when the doors are ready to swing open, the UX is as polished or possible... or with as few bugs as possible.

Thanks. My problem is that I never knew when it had gone public because the huge story at launch was that it was by invitation only. By the time I found out I could be a part of it, it had already missed the boat. I would have killed for G+ to have succeeded.

I think there's huge market value in just getting it right in secret and going for it. I can only imagine if the iPhone half-launched for a year first for people to try out and beta test and give feedback on.

Brian Matiash's picture

Totally fair. You're 100% right that there was a real "first mover advantage" to those who got in early, but it wasn't designed to be the case... at least not by Google. I think, to a large extent, Google didn't expect G+ to be such an instant success with its early adopters. Fortunately, they had the resources to scale.

The flipside is not as rosy. Look at Vero. Look at Ello. Look at Beme. Remember those guys? Every new player hopes to find some secret formula to attract enough new users with a novel way of engaging each other. The problem is that most don't have a feasible business plan to, ya know, make money. Also, they never reach critical mass and, if they did, it's very likely that they wouldn't be able to scale to accommodate the influx (at least not without further investments or, like the new Flickr, charging for Pro access).

Nevermind the fact that it'd require Herculean efforts to figure out how to escape out of Facebook's and Twitter's gigantic orbits. That was *the most common* reason I was given when I asked someone why they weren't on G+: "because all of my friends are on Facebook."

So yeah. For now, my eyes are on Flickr and Byte. Watch those spaces.

Refrac Sean's picture

Vero does have some nice features although it misses in other ways it's still got a chance to be a great place for photography

William Faucher's picture

Vero isnt dead yet?

Great insights, Brian. Thanks for sharing. You got to admit, though, those Circles were ingenious. I'm still a bit perplexed that it never caught on even with the market saturation of FB.

I’m sorry for your loss. Google has proven reliable in only a few consumer products: search, email, and their free Office Suite, including google drive - or whatever they’re calling that now. I’m surprised Google+ lasted as long as it did. This is a good opportunity for SmugMug.

Julian Ray's picture

Miss Google+? NOT.

Color Thief's picture

Maybe it's time to take a serious look at the wisdom of freely pumping content into someone else's platform (and money into their shareholder's pockets). I suspect the feeling that being a part of such a network is required to be successful in an illusion. While many people were busy cooing over their follower count (which you now know can vanish with the flick of a switch) other photographers were cultivating relationships with photo editors and art buyers and building a more solid foundation for a business. If you want to be a shooter — not a social media darling — there are better role models than Trey Ratcliff and better ways to spend your time than chasing the next social platform. If you’re always looking for some else’s platform to define your success you’ll remain the photography equivalent of a sharecropper.

Brian Matiash's picture

So good. I could not agree more with your insights.

Yan Pekar's picture

Interesting article, thank you for sharing your thoughts. The question is whether Google+ brought you any potential leads and bookings or just exposure? I knew people who had thousands of views of their photos posted on Google+, but zero leads or bookings. If this is the case, what is there to miss if it just eats up your time?

Michael B. Stuart's picture

I would say that since using the platform drove me to get better and helped me learn what works and what doesn't, that Google+ indirectly influenced where I am today. Namely shooting professionally and writing at Fstoppers.

Yan Pekar's picture

That's great, well done! This is another way of looking at it. Personally, I did not see any benefits of posting on Google+, so not going to miss it:)

False — nobody is going to miss Google+. Which is why it's being shuttered ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Michael B. Stuart's picture

It is like talking about missing the band Coldplay. Are we talking original Coldplay, or new Coldplay? Big difference.
No one will miss what G+ has become, but they will miss what is was.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Well, so farewell G+, there where too many changes for the worst, but some of them where necessary. Early adopters got boosts by those Circle sharing games which where quite popular around G+, which helped so called curators get popularity. I skipped circle sharing long before Google killed circle sharing, it produced fake followings, no real increase in interactions a.s.o.

Indeed it's albums and ways of presenting images where class leading, but as Picasa died, albums died too, just a bit later, and collections were fine but ... photographers need to manage and present their images in the way THEY want it, and that's what Google wasn't interested in. Like FB, you get a managed stream, you get things programmes think you need and you could cry loud but it rarely helped (wrote tons of feedback, for what?). After 2014 it wasn't that good as it started, but it was still better than FB in so many ways.

I went to Flickr, but Flickr lacks the cool and easy communication tools G+ offered and still offers. On G+ you could view comments on your posts from nearly everywhere you where logged into some Google App. When they reduced it to G+ and Gmail only, well, it was and still is smoother than at FB, where you get unwanted popups or you have to open extra tabs, and that's what you have to do on Flickr too.

Some of us are trying to make Pluspora usable, but I skipped early, even as image quality is now better than when they started it. Flickr is best fro images.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Thanks for the comment, Richard Kralicek. I remember enjoying your photography there many times. It would be cool if Flickr or someone would take a hard look at what worked on G+ before they overcomplicated everything.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Well, the problem with Flickr is: There's just photography. :D It's no Social site per se. Which is also a good thing, you have to focus on images. I guess, for those who just want to interact with friends and share some images will meet on FB or elsewhere.

I enjoyed your photographic development too, before our ways parted.

Besides, Smugmug will listen, as now we're more clients than data producers for them. ^^

More comments