Good Journalism is dead

There simply is no easy way to write this post without reverting to low-value judgments based upon facilely small datasets (well, mainly one). The TechCrunch piece Google+ is Walking Dead just hours after being published has generated a huge buzz on Google+ and become either the joke of the day (amongst those who know better) or a dark cloud building across a horizon that was beginning to look very rosy indeed.

You know already from my title which way I am leaning, just as you know from the title of the Techcrunch piece which way they are. Because nothing has any meaning without some context let’s examine Techcrunch’s.

This is the publication that in 2012 told us that Google+ is dead (click on each image for a larger picture).

TechCrunch Attacks Google+ 2012

A claim it reiterated with its ‘Frankestein’ title in 2013.

TechCrunch attacks Google+ 2013

Before coming out with its TV-hit series inspired title in 2014.

TechCrunch Attacks Google+ 2014


So, Which Is It?

Clearly no one at Techcrunch has heard of the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf but if they have they really don’t care. The stories they write are intended to get as many eyeballs as possible because the metric affects their advertising rate. Their job is not to report the news or even carry out credible analysis any more. Instead they use the platform they have to blog opinion pieces disregarding the fact that the social proof metrics they also covet indicate the exact opposite of what they’re saying.

Their 2012 piece had limited appeal across the board because Google+, while still growing, was not even on the horizon of many of their readers. Their 2013 piece created more of an impact and their latest one has enjoyed thousands of shares plus given them hundreds of citations across the press, on Google search.

Even a fifth grader would get the fact that a dying network that’s being dying for three years would deliver the inverse amount of social proof interest as time went on. A journalist, of course, would think that this is a story in itself, but thankfully journalism is a practice Techcrunch should not be accused of, particularly in this piece.

So let’s go and dissect it a little:

As in practically every piece it runs on Google+ Techcrunch adds the caveat that Google has denied or not verified any of its claims:

A Google representative has vehemently denied these claims. “Today’s news has no impact on our Google+ strategy — we have an incredibly talented team that will continue to build great user experiences across Google+, Hangouts and Photos.”

The practice of quoting an official denial is standard in journalism, it usually precedes a piece that will then go on to use proof of concept logic and facts to take the denial apart, making a point that contextualizes the denial and brings its veracity under question. Needless to say this is not how the TC piece works. Disregarding an official denial it goes on to make a number of assertions that are inherently flawed:

1. Google+ is finished as a product. Google+ was never a product in the way YouTube is a product or Google search is a product. Google spokesmen have frequently called it “a social layer”, and Bradley Horowitz, Google’s VP of products, has gone on record to say that Google+ is Google itself. TC intend to show that the product-as-a-platform transformation is evidence of a weakened and dying (sorry, I will have to use this word a lot here with TC) Google+. Covering the cutting-edge of the tech scene they have not heard of the PaaP movement nor how it transforms a mere product to something much greater.

2. Semantic search does not exist. Now, given how the TC team hustles for clicks and eyeballs, from their perspective, web 3.0 has not happened yet. They are unaware that Google+ is a key component of semantic search. It is integrated in all Google services for a reason and its demise would create a hole in Google’s AI building efforts and semantic search scaling that would be hard to fill and is likely to set the company back years at a time when every second counts.

3. If you do not understand points 1 and 2 then you’re also unlikely to understand that a core product drives brand equity for a company that has a strong halo effect on all its other efforts (like Windows does for Microsoft and Google search for Google) which means that it is unlikely you would do anything that would jeopardize it. That also means you would not let the departure of a single individual affect your business strategy and growth. (I really wonder, at this point, what TC would think of the words “business culture”).

4. Google+ integration in YouTube was a failure. Now, this claim is really interesting to look at in detail because it shows just how deep is the hole under the sea the TC is writing from. YouTube, the second largest search engine on the planet was a wild land of comments inhabited by anonymous trolls and bigots who felt it was their duty to try and outdo each other on the most vitriolic comment. Many YouTube content creators had simply closed off comments. The integration of the YouTube commenting system in G+ not only brought law and order in that mad landscape, it also seamlessly integrated two distinct environments, allowing YouTube comments to be made into G+ post shares, enabling Google+ users to engage on YouTube straight from G+ and creating a much-needed contextual social footprint for videos that are hard to index properly and even harder to quantify in terms of subject importance and impact. The net result of the integration has been a shift away from videos that are just popular to videos that are now important and subject-specific for those who look for them in search. This makes video a powerful, quantifiable marketing aid. This is hugely important at a moment when Hangouts on Air (HOAs) are taking off and the visual web plays large on many people’s screens. This ties in with native advertising and Google+ Post Ads that are now available to every brand page with more than 1,000 followers.

5. The development resources for G+ are being taken away. There is no evidence for that. What the piece is using is the fact that the teams are being moved. Within Google+ moves happen frequently as engineers are moved away to help develop projects that need to get off the ground fast. Google has a culture of throwing talent at a project, getting it to a development stage and then reducing the team so it can throw talent at other projects, Matt Cruikshank who used to work at Google explains the concept.

Ultimately Google+ is tied into so many Google services, delivering data that is critical to their success that to even consider Google without it is like thinking of a car, without wheels.

Starting off from the one known fact: Vic Gundotra’s departure from Google, the Techcrunch piece managed to develop enough logic holes to drive a bus through. It is ironic that at the top of the page TC never displays the G+ social sharing button (you have to use a drop down list to hunt for it), but at the bottom of every article it does. The counter is usually the largest or second largest there, closely trailing or overtaking Facebook. This time though, this writer, will not provide a link, or a share and has uncircled Techcrunch.


What You Missed

Why The Media Likes to Attack Google+


External Links

Why Google+ and Facebook are heading in opposite directions to get to the same space