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In 2011, Google came up with a plan to unite many of its services through a single social networking website called Google+. It wasn’t meant to be a Facebook clone, where users would go to connect with their loved ones or to share annoying viral videos, and it also lacked the instantaneous gratification that came with posting a tweet about a current event. Instead, it quickly found a home among passionate people who shared common interests. Whether those interests meant technology, photography, music or basically anything else, Google+ was, and still is, a great place to go to talk with like-minded folks about anything and everything.

While the core of Google+ has basically stayed the same over the years, many aspects of the social network have change dramatically. The way we use Google+ today is different from the way we used to, and that’s not a bad thing at all. So let’s take a look at how far it’s come, where we are now, and what we can expect in the future.

The past

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A couple of years after Google+ launched, Google created a master plan to rid YouTube of nasty comments forever. Prior to 2013, anyone who wanted to post a comment on YouTube, whether it be productive or spammy, could do so under a custom screen name. This of course meant that folks were much more inclined to speak their minds in the comment section without any real repercussions. Google set out to fix this by requiring everyone to sign up for Google+ if they wanted to post a comment on a video. You see, by requiring a user to attach their real identity to their comments, the thinking went that the best comments would rise to the top of the rankings, while the spammy, nonsense comments would sink to the bottom.

This didn’t really work, though. Videos were still spammed with terrible comments from users who didn’t care whether or not their real names were attached to their profiles. Instead, Google’s decision left many people more upset than anything, which ultimately gave Google+ a worse reputation from users in the long run.

YouTube comments are the most specific example of Google+’s dark past, but that’s not the only way the social network was forced into our lives. Around this time, you couldn’t access any Google service – whether that means Gmail, Search, Android, Google Maps, Google Play and more – without being just one click away from Google+. Some of these Google+ integrations are still here today, though the company is finally realizing that users don’t want to be forced to use a social network.

Where are we now?

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The way Google is approaching its social network is changing

Google+, as a whole, has gone largely unchanged over the years. But the way Google is approaching its social network is different, which is a good thing. In a recent announcement, Google vowed to eliminate the requirement to sign up for Google+ when uploading, commenting, or creating a channel on YouTube. You’ll still need a Google account to access these features, but the G+ requirement is no more. This is big news.

Not only is this a good thing for YouTube commenters and video makers, this is a smart move for the social network as a whole. Just think – there are some people who, even in 2013, haven’t yet heard of Google+. When they visit YouTube and try to comment on a video, they’re forced to sign up for a new social network that will display all of their comments on their profiles that they never had any intention of using in the first place.

This is just the start, though. Google has also announced that YouTube is just the first service to become de-coupled from Google+. More services will follow in the coming months, though we’re not exactly sure which services are next in line.

Google also launched a new Google Photos application at Google I/O 2015, which essentially took the Google+ integration out of the photo backup service. Not only did the mobile app and web interface largely improve once the G+ integration was taken out, the service as a whole got much easier to use, and much less confusing.

The future of Google+

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Google+ is unlike any other social network to come from the company, mostly because it has yet to fail. It’s been made clear that there’s a place on the internet for Google+ and that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Google wants to succeed at social networking, and it now knows forcing users to sign up isn’t the way to go about it. With that said, the future of Google+ is incredibly unclear – much more so than it ever has been.

With the big YouTube de-coupling announcement the other day, Google assured users that Google+ would stick around as a social network, though it didn’t give any hints as to what we can expect from the service in the future. We’re not sure if it will ever grow out of niche service territory, or if this is the beginning of the end for Google+. One thing is for certain, though – now that the company is no longer forcing people to use it, Google can finally start winning back users who once thought poorly of the social network.

What are your thoughts on Google+? Do you use it? If so, where do you think it’s headed? Be sure to let us know in the comment section below.

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