Google+ Communities Won’t Go Down Without a Fight

Google+ is dead. Granted people have been saying that much for years now, but this time it’s really true. As of April, Google’s social media experiment will officially go the way of Reader, Buzz, Wave, Notebook, and all the other products that the search giant decided they were no longer interested in maintaining. Unfortunately in the case of Google+, the shutdown means losing a lot of valuable content that was buried in the “Communities” section of the service. Or at least that’s what we all thought.

Thanks to the efforts of [Michael Johnson], many of those Google+ communities now have a second chance at life. After taking a deep dive into the data from his own personal Google+ account, he realized it should be possible to write some code that would allow pulling the content out of Google’s service and transplanting it into a Discourse instance. With some more work, he was even able to figure out how to preserve the ownership of the comments and posts. This is no simple web archive; you can actually log into Discourse with your Google account and have all of your old content attributed to you.

To date, [Michael] has managed to transplant over 40,000 posts and around 270,000 comments into “The Maker Forums“. With a few more weeks until the lights officially go out over at Google+, he says there’s still time to scrape more data out of the service if anyone has suggestions on maker-related content that they think is worthy of preservation. Of course, as all the code for the project as been released as open source, there’s still hope for the non-technical Communities should anyone want to spearhead the effort to duplicate those as well.

Browsing through the cloned Communities, it’s impressive how well everything has transitioned. Discourse doesn’t have Google’s Material Design flair (though whether that’s a bad thing or not depends on the individual’s taste) and lacks some features such as generating previews for links, but all the content is preserved and that’s ultimately what really matters.

When we first brought you word that Google+ was being shuttered, we were specifically concerned about the fate of the technical communities which had flourished on the platform. When companies turn their back on consumers, it can feel like we’re powerless. But efforts like this show the community can take the power back if they’re willing to put in the effort.

[Thanks to Anthony for the tip.]

48 thoughts on “Google+ Communities Won’t Go Down Without a Fight

      1. Sometimes you have to use the prevailing media to point out flaws in that media. Hypocrisy doesn’t nullify criticism. If anything the time we’re all uselessly wasting by having this conversation is evidence for his claim.

        We built a dam over the stream of human socialization and are trying to seek rent on it. We’re slowly figuring out how that is fucking up our society the same way we slowly figured out we were poisoning ourselves with lead and asbestos and pesticides. Maybe it’s bullshit, but maybe we should consider it and make sure eh? And sure, other media have had similar criticisms levied against them in the past, but the sheer scale and power of the internet would seem to make this a special case.

        1. Wow, very impressive and well said!, I lost recently a huge 3000+ member SIC Comic Community, by a “thought to be” Family member /Co-owner by a simple push of a button deletion. It crushed and broke my heart, all of us that have built great community’s threw hard work, sleepless nights, worrying if your going to make it or fail , friendship loss but made it thru to the other side to sit back and say “Wow it was all worth it” Then to have these corporation type better than us (so they think) just rip our pride and joy community’s out of our hands. Without even as much as a SORRY is unacceptable, not to mention all of our great memories and lessons learned , friends and even new family’s we’ve made. It’s a fucked up tragedy, all due to their carelessness dropping the ball not once but twice leaking people’s info out. And here we are paying their over priced tab… Suck’s being the little people, ( what were looked upon by them). Sorry Fam, for the rant but had a bad week… lol. My hat is off to the people that are standing up and taking back what’s very much rightfully yours/ours. Thank you for all this????✌
          G+’s Punisher’s Dog Max.
          ☠????☠????????

  1. “When companies turn their back on consumers, it can feel like we’re powerless. But efforts like this show the community can take the power back if they’re willing to put in the effort.”

    Free things come with a price tag.

      1. There is always a ‘they’ in some way ‘in control of’ something you rely on. Even if that something is the cheese to sate your cheese addiction. The only way you can escape that is to sever all bonds with society, which at this time really would really require leaving this planet.

        1. My name is JDX and I’m a cheese addict.
          I’m not worried about my supply of cheese disappearing, because no one is giving away free cheese and hoping to figure out how to make money off of it later. Not to mention, I live in Wisconsin.
          I’ve certainly learned not to count on anything Google (or anyone else) provides for “free”.

  2. Maybe it’s time to start archiving these new platforms too, so that we don’t have a mad rush when they go away?

    On the plus side (pun intended) I didn’t know about the google+ exporter, there’ now 25 dollars better off and my internet connection is going to be busy for a while

      1. Trust costs big money, and how many times have the big ones faltered?
        Azure alone has had more than a few.
        There’s a reason there’s been a growing sentiment of moving important things back out of the cloud again, because taking down a huge bit barn seems like a ever more popular goal for miscreants.

      2. with the only caveats being (1) “professional” meaning the cheapest paid person they could find to do the job (2) “backed up” but with no guarantee of recovery in case of loss or damage (3) “updated” from windows XP to windows 10 but on the same old tired hardware (4) “reasonably secure” until someone hacks in and steals 10,000+ account details in one go

      3. Not gaurenteed though. I was one of the many that lost all my hotmail e-mail when Microsoft took over.
        Always have a local backup and let the cloud just be a copy for others to use.

    1. always saying that. The cloud is somebody else’s computer. All of the stories about whole data centers being confiscated and gone through by the FBI/NSA/SS because of one system or one account on one system being accused of commiting a crime scared me right quick.

  3. I used to have such high hopes for the Internet.

    Sure, don’t get me wrong. The Internet is great. It’s enabled an open source software and hardware community to form in a way that is far beyond what we ever could have dreamed of limited to the magazines and library books of old.

    The Internet was supposed to be distributed though. Everyone owns their own node and shares what they want to share from that node. No big brother government or company owns your personal content.

    That’s right. I’m talking about hosting your own content. Sure, it takes a bit of technical expertise. Look what was happening in the late 90s. Computers had been a tool for business and a toy for fringe geeks. Then suddenly everyone had to have their own personal desktop, each one a general purpose computer. And people were learning how to use them!

    But hosting content themselves? Well we got always on and relatively fast internet connection in our homes early in the 0s. That was one hurdle down.

    I think it was maybe 1999 when I first encountered the NetMax suite. Basically this was a suite of 3 Linux distros that came out of the box configured to specific purposes. There were very few questions asked and were really intended to be used by people that did not know Linux. If you did need to change something though it was done through a web interface not unlike a modern router. Anyway, One of the distros was a router (you couldn’t walk into a store and buy a router appliance yet, that was a few years out). One was a file server and the third was a web server. It was a web server that almost anyone could use!

    Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that NetMax was the answer, that in some alternate universe where MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.. never existed we would all be using NetMax. It was the earliest proof of concept that I remember seeing. It is likely that other systems would have existed, competed and who knows what we would be using.

    I actually picture it something more like this. Everyone owns a router much like what most of us use today. Only it has an SD slot for storage or maybe a USB slot for USB sticks. It has a couple of extra services running. One is a web server. It’s a very basic webserver so that it presents a much smaller attack footprint. Power users can replace it with Apache, Nginx or whatever. Configuration would be through the web interface just like your router is now, probably very similar to cpanel. Widgets would exist of course for creating blogs, stores, galleries and other sorts of webpages for those that can’t or do not want to write their own code.

    The second service is a sort of distributed chat server/client. This would be your online presence that replaces text/multimedia messaging, email, instant messaging, IRC and maybe even traditional phone calls. It’s just a daemon that’s always on. You actually get your messages or go online for real-time chat by connecting to it from an app on your cellphone or an application on your desk/laptop. When you are not connected it runs to take messages for you. Routing in this distributed system is easy because it’s the always on, always connected daemon in your router that others connect to to reach you. You connect to it from whatever device is convenient wherever you are right now.

    Indexing of course would be more important since everything would be so much more spread around. I imagine that there would be search engines that are specialized towards specific kinds of content or maybe just specialized areas of generic search engines. That way there could be specific fields to fill out to describe content rather than relying completely on full-text indexing of everything. This could be standardized into some sort of protocol thus allowing submitting information to these search engines to be built into the control panel of the router/server device.

    Of course those of us that are more “geeky” could opt to run this stuff on a “real” computer instead of embedded in a router and hack it in all sorts of interesting ways.

    So, there’s my dream of what the internet should have been. Instead it seems to be just a new America Online where a few big companies own all the popular forums and content. We have actually reached a point where most open source software (and even much open source hardware design) is hosted on a website owned by Microsoft! Obviously the internet party is over. :-(

    1. Agreed. I loved the internet. I really thought it would help humanity. I was raised on the internet.

      But it’s time to face the music–the internet is utterly horrible. And the road to hell really is paved with good intentions. Each time I hear a tech startup wax on about how they’re going to help save the world by connecting people I frantically search for a fire escape or something.

  4. Hi, OP here! Thanks for the mention!

    Discourse actually does have a lot of beautiful preview capability, it just doesn’t always preview the same things G+ did. In particular, it implements “oneboxing” and you can see that on some posts. I just “rebaked” the post you showed and now it has a “onebox” https://forum.makerforums.info/t/printrbot-simple-metal-metric-z-conversion-seems-the-end-is-near-for-the-old/40859

    I expect to “re-bake” imported posts after the import is complete, which will bring those links to life all over the site. It’s processing-intensive work and I’m intentionally reserving processing power for the imports until we’re finished with importing. Then the beautification can commence. In the meantime, please pardon our dust!

    Obviously, one person can’t rescue more than 100,000 active G+ communities, of which Edward Morbius has assembled a list: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Pc_QmZE_RsGt2Irvm_BgEbFjRBssUOD9 — so I don’t really scale.

    One of the discourse developers, Jay Pfaffman, was very helpful to me while I was developing the discourse import tool, and he does imports into discourse as his day job, so is available for hire to help do imports for people who don’t have the technical knowledge required to do it on their own. He can do imports into self-hosted, cloud-hosted, and discourse.org-hosted instances.

    I did try to document in detail at https://meta.discourse.org/t/bounty-google-private-communities-export-screenscraper-importer/108029 the details of using my importer — and since I started this just a few weeks ago with no knowledge of Ruby, Rails, ActiveRecord, or Discourse, I think it’s probably not a stretch for one of the great many web developers out there to take what I have written and use it to do their own import. Outside of my core interest in preserving maker communities and bringing them together into a more collaborative space, I encourage other communities to find their own spaces, and Discourse looks like a great way to do it.

    I’d like to give another shout out to the Discourse community for being a friendly and helpful place for a newcomer. Today, another Discourse developer, David Taylor, posted that he has developed new core Discourse features to improve the function of this importer, and pointed out changes in Discourse that will affect the plugin and made additional helpful suggestions.

    Beyond Discourse, Filip H.F. “FiXato” Slagter has developed a toolset for extracting from Google+ and I’d like to give a reference to his repository: https://github.com/FiXato/Plexodus-Tools

    1. Update: The imports into makerforums are mostly done now, other than perhaps a few stragglers after cleaning out some spam-heavy communities. Almost 50K G+ posts, over a third of a million comments, all available for the original authors to manage just by logging in with google auth — though that is not the only authentication option for the site, and users are not required to use it for login.

      We are now “re-baking” the site, so the missing “oneboxes” that incorporate snippets from the target site to show you what a link leads to are being added to the imported posts as a background task over the next few days.

      Finally, others have been successfully using the importer — with no direct help from me — to import their own communities into their own Discourse instances. That makes me happy! I was pleased to help rescue maker information, but without others being able to rescue the content that speaks to them, success would not be complete.

  5. I can not thank Micheal Johnson enough for all the effort he has put into rescuing the communities and importing them into The Maker Forums! When I started The Maker Forums, it was to give people a single point of contact for getting together after G+ shut down. I was elated when Michael and I crossed paths, and he said there was a good chance of importing all the historical knowledge of many of the maker communities on G+ into the forums. Within 2 weeks he shocked me by actually accomplishing the feat. So many innovative ideas have come from these G+ communities, and is satisfying to know that the content has not been lost, and that there is a way of continuing these discussions in real time, not just having boring static archives hosted on obscure servers.

  6. This is already happening. Many Google Plus communities have already migrated to MeWe. Now that MeWe has released their Data Import tool, this will become easier and allow community owners to even migrate their existing old community content from their Google Plus communities rather than having to start from scratch with a blank community.

    But yes, we’re fighting to keep the good things about Google Plus alive. One such effort is at MeWe and starts with joining MeWe and then joining the “Google Plus Refugees” group ( Sign in to MeWe and then click here https://mewe.com/join/google_plus_refugees , note you’ll need the URL to your existing Google Plus profile page to get access. A spam bot prevention measure)

    Once you’ve joined Google Plus Refugees you can meet up with other refugees, find communities that have migrated, announce communities you’ve migrated or found, get and give MeWe tips and tricks, reminisce, etc. Also we’re encouraging every Plusser, no matter their preferred post Plus platform, to sign up at MeWe (it’s simple and they do not use or sell your personal data) and join the Refugees group so you can tell other Refugees where to find you. You can also include this in your user’s profile for the Google Plus Refugees Group. In that group profile, list the places you’ll be. IE your Twitter handle, Pluspora profile URL, etc).

    Google Plus is dead, Long live Google Plus!

    1. Plenty of people, including me, are giving MeWe a very wide berth. It looks like the kind of company which will be trouble down the road: similarly to FaceBook, many people will be happy with it, but many people will stay away.

      1. I think that the whole point of MeWe is for people who WANT a walled garden and WANT to not have their content indexed for search on the public internet. It’s basically more like AOL than like Google+, irrespective of any trivial similarities in UI. This is not meant as disrespect. For people who want that, it’s great that they can have it. I’m all for choice. I’m just not interested in signing up for another walled garden myself.

        MeWe would be exactly wrong for what we’re doing with Makerforums, where the whole point is to conserve community and content together in a publicly-searchable way that invites new people to learn without requiring them to join a community first. Browse first, join if you are interested, benefit from the content in either case.

        I say this with absolutely no disrespect intended to MeWe. Vive la différence! (Yes, I know I’m using that out of context.)

      2. I tried MeWe and I do not like it.
        I have just wanted to save my Gallery in Google+…
        What I did was back it up in the Cloud, transferred part of it to my Google Photo app (which google says they will leave alone) and transferred some of it to my Drive.
        It’s probably apparent I am not at all computer savvy, but I’ve done what seemed best to protect my data.
        I don’t want to jump into another group that doesn’t appeal to me, or that I don’t understand.
        I’ll reevaluate my situation again in a couple of days.
        Wish me luck…
        Jean B

    2. Let’s try and use this as a lesson please: don’t start any new communities on any google platform. They have way too long of a track record of pulling these out from under people and deleting everything, even though keeping data is their whole gig and they have more resources than God.

      Don’t accumulate community and technical knowledge under google. Just. Don’t. There are countless and expansive technical fields where a lot of invaluable knowledge is archived on old forum posts and stuff from the 90s or 2000s or however many years ago, and people are constantly finding those posts on search engines and looking for solutions devised by those who have walked that path before. It’s a gigantic resource on the internet that is basically overlooked because it’s not new, not ML AI IoT or whatever, not monetized. But people need that legacy of information. It’s arguably what the internet is for in the first place.

      If you build a community on google and gather and store knowledge in it, it likely won’t have the longevity to be helpful over the time frame that even old dumb forums have shown. Just steer clear in the future.

      And don’t build it in walled gardens like Facebook et al either. People should be able to view texts written about subjects without an account. FB, pinterest, and all the rest will definitely force people to join their terrible toxic ecosystem trap to use other people’s data which exists on their monopolized platform. All this stuff is basically some form of re-arrangement of those old forums that have been around forever, which by the way were dead simple and relatively easy to self-host–and for what?! It’s all garbage! A thousand new ways every year to basically just text people, being rehashed over and over and over again. Tech has eaten its own tail lately.

      And of course, if you solve an esoteric problem after asking for advice online–POST IT. Post the solution! Don’t just say you fixed it! You never know how many hundreds of people will be finding your thread at the top of a search in ten years wracking their minds over the same issue!

  7. When I checked out MeWe and found out they want to charge for emojis I knew it wasn’t for me.
    I really just want somewhere to transfer my Gallery before G+ deletes it.
    I’m not understanding this site very well yet. Can I transfer my Gallery here ? Are you charging to use this site ?

    1. Jean B: Makerforums is a place for makers. What we’re importing there is public content for makers. It is not a general Google+ replacement. It’s definitely not a photo sharing site; it’s not a place you can transfer your gallery to. You might consider Friends+Me’s Google+ Exporter and, say, an export to WordPress. Or do a Google takeout and move your data to a photo-sharing service.

  8. Just a head up, but you might want to check what content MakerForums took from you (the community) without consent (posts I own, even it it was in a community where the community gave permission). I kinda feel like I gave communities permission to have my content on G+, but not on just any platform they choose…. Thats kinda uncool. See on G+ if I decide I want my content gone, I just either delete my account, or wait till G+ dies. Now I have content “out there” that I dont control? Not cool. I do not want to join MakerForums!

    1. Some people on G+ are posting an explicit license for their content, to make sure it’s clear how the content can be used. My view is, if you posted something on the web, it’s going to be “out there” in various ways – everyone who viewed it has a copy, potentially, and the Internet Archive quite possibly also has a copy. If you wanted your content to be private, it was a mistake to post it publicly.

      Now, strictly, you do own the copyright to your content and you can object to anyone who republishes without permission. But please ask yourself: do you really want to spoil the conversations you were part of, by removing your parts of them? If you were happy to post before, if you hadn’t deleted your G+ account, if Google hadn’t planned to close G+, wouldn’t you have left all that content up there, in public view, for years to come?

    2. You seriously would rather the content you posted to G+, which was not only publicly viewable by everyone in the world but part of Google’s system of generating profit off of you, be lost to time rather than see it utilized by the community?

      They might as well go through and delete your stuff now. Not because of your ownership, but because it was probably all as worthless as this comment. Waste of storage space.

    3. In case anyone is wondering, this comment is clearly from Peter Van Der Walt, a man who has benefitted tremendously from the open source community and is currently employed by OpenBuilds:

      https://forum.makerforums.info/u/peter_van_der_walt

      He’s also the creator of LaserWeb, a software package which has/had a large following on G+ as you can see in the image in this article. By asking Maker Forums to delete his content, he has deprived the community from the support/information he gave out in the G+ community dedicated to his own software. Here is just one example of a thread that is no longer useful thanks to his actions:

      https://forum.makerforums.info/t/peter-van-der-walt-question-for-you/8875

      Peter, you should be ashamed of yourself. Not only have you done a disservice to the community who supported you, but you have the audacity to comment here and attempt to discredit the effort of these people who are dedicated to preserving the information which apparently your ego demands be destroyed.

    4. Peter, At your request, your auto-generated account and all your posts have been deleted. Have a nice day!

      People’s ability to modify and/or delete their own content, and to identify themselves to request changes, was important to my interest in this project.

      Anyone else who is bothered by this, my request is to just log in and either delete or let us know that you’d like our help. You don’t even need to be angry. The login is just to authenticate that you aren’t someone else trying to deface someone’s content that you don’t oiwn. You retain the right to modify, delete, or deface (withi the limitations of the site rules) your own content.

      Thanks all!

  9. Just a quick update on things, the imports were a success and we now have over 52,000 topics and 390,000 posts on the Maker Forums. The content from over 20,000 users has been saved from the google graveyard, and new content is being added daily. :)

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