The legacy of Google+: Google’s Internet backbone for digital identity

aggregate-trends-Q414

The news that Google would be splitting Google+ into Streams, Photos and communication has already led to dozens of articles opining about what went wrong in the search giant’s pursuit of social media. Someday, Google Hangouts and Google Talk may become part of a wireless service from Google.

One challenge for judging its success or failure is that the majority of media accounts and analysis of Google+ always compared it to Facebook. That comparison is not entirely unreasonable, given reports about how Google executives were concerned about the rise of the world’s largest social network in 2011. If Google was trying to “play catchup” after having missed social, and Facebook is the leader, how can someone not compare the efforts?

If you looked at Google+ in terms of the ability of its social stream to attract and retain the attention and participation of a billion users for an hour every day, as Facebook does, it’s hard to argue that it succeeded. If you compared the time people spend on Plus +1’ing, sharing and commenting to Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr or Twitter, Google’s effort paled.

No doubt because of my former colleague Edd Dumbill, however, I’ve always thought of Google+ as a social backbone for all of Google’s products, not simply a destination. Google+ was a way of associating an identity for hundreds of millions of users across applications and services.

When viewed in that context, it may be that Google+ is much more successful than many people have yet realized: according to Federal News Radio, the U.S. General Services Administration has quietly added Google to the list of identity providers that the federal government has authorized to provide secure digital credentials for logging into digital services. Today, it looks like Google will be be part of the federated identity strategy that could allow U.S. citizens to renew passports online, download personal heath data and reserve campground sites in the years ahead.

Even if “Streams” does end up going away, look for Google’s identity layer to endure and mature across all of its products and services, from Documents to Maps. In 2015, being able to confirm that you’re not a dog on the Internet can sometimes be useful, too.

[Image Source: JanRain social login trends]

In a step towards sunlight, United States begins to publish a national data inventory

20130929-142228.jpg
Last year, a successful Freedom of Information request for the United States enterprise data inventory by the Sunlight Foundation was a big win for open government, nudging Uncle Sam towards a better information policy through some creative legal arguments. Today, the federal government started releasing its enterprise indices at data.gov. You can browse the data for individual agencies, like the feed for the Office for Personnel Management, using a JSON viewer like this one.

“Access to this data will empower journalists, government officials, civic technologists, innovators and the public to better hold government accountable,” said Sunlight Foundation president Chris Gates, in a statement. “Previously, it was next to impossible to know what and how much data the government has, and this is an unprecedented window into its internal workings. Transparency is a bedrock principle for democracy, and the federal government’s response to Sunlight’s Freedom of Information request shows a strong commitment to open data. We expect to see each of these agencies continue to proactively release their data inventories.”

Understanding what data an organization holds is a critical first step in deciding how it should be stored, analyzed or published, shifting towards thinking about data as an asset. That’s why President Barack Obama’s executive order requiring federal agencies to catalog the data they have was a big deal. When that organization is a democratic government and the data in question was created using taxpayer funds, releasing the inventory of the data sets that it holds is a basic expression of open and accountable government.