Recently Google announced that the free storage of high quality images in their Google Photos service is coming to an end. The free storage of “unlimited” photos has been going for five years, so as you can imaging this announcement has upset some people.
Personally, I’m not surprised by this move. I am surprised that it took five years to get here. Storage isn’t cheap so it’s pretty cool that it’s been as long as it has. Rather, what has me concerned is the fact that this change once again reminds me that Google has a very long history of just killing off apps.
Most recently, the highest profile app they killed off was Google Play Music. While I didn’t subscribe to Play Music, the ability to upload all my personal music to the cloud and then stream it (or, more often, just download those albums I felt like listening to) via my phone was brilliant. While it had its shortcomings, it was pretty easy to use and it did exactly what I wanted it to; gave me easy access to my music.
When the migration to YouTube Music happened, I tried it out.
All the music playlists I’d made were mixed in with YouTube playlists. It took me ages to find the music I wanted as I’d have to wade through a sea of YouTube suggestions. No, YouTube, I do not want to listen to Taylor Swift, I want that weird synth/Turkish mysticism fusion band I love.
Needless to say, I dropped YouTube Music pretty quick. Now I just use MusicBee to organise my music on my laptop then import whatever I want onto my phone. Sure, it’s a few more clicks but it’s a lot easier than navigating the mess of YouTube Music.
Of course Play Music is far from the only service Google has sent from this mortal coil. A few years back they killed Google Reader, which was an amazing service. They knocked out Google + in 2019. Also that year they shut down Indox which was set to change the way email was used. They also shut down popular services such as their URL shortener, Chromecast Audio, Picasa and many, many more. So many in fact that there is a whole website dedicated to mourning lost Google apps and projects.
Now, obviously technology moves on and services are replaced by other, better things. That’s the nature of tech. But the regularity with which Google knocks things dead, and seemingly out of nowhere, is the worrying part.
I’m pretty embedded into the Google environment, for my sins. I use GMail, I do the majority of my writing on Google Drive. All my photos are synced to Google Photos and both my websites are built using (New) Google Sites. If those services suddenly shut down I’d be in a bit of a spot.
To be fair, I doubt Google will close GMail, Drive or Photos any time soon. They seem to be their three big projects at the moment (speaking as someone who has no knowledge of Google outside using their systems). Google Sites, though, I don’t feel as confident about.
While I’m pretty happy with the two sites I’ve built using Google Sites, I have had to game the system a bit to get them how I want. Google Sites has next to no customisation options. For example, you can’t choose what colour your site’s background is. So, how did I get the cool black and yellow theme for my portfolio? Well, I had to ‘trick’ Sites by using two background images, one pure yellow, one pure black. Yes, you can have background image in Google Sites, but you can’t manually set the colour using HTML or anything like that.
Similarly, my collections site is really image heavy, as you would expect. But there is no way to import images easily from Google Photos and have them look nice. You basically can only do it individually, and then if you click them on the live site it doesn’t take you to a full-sized image. If you want to do that, you have to add the images to Drive, import them from there, and then link their thumbnails to the full size version on Drive. It’s so unintuitive. Why can’t you just import an Photos album?
To add to this, Google Sites is hardly ever updated. The functions that have been added in two or so years I’ve been using it have been the ability to add an index to a page, collapsible text and templates. Not exactly flowing with options. Given this seeming lack of commitment to Sites from Google I do wonder how much longer it’ll be around for.
And that’s the problem. Every time Google announces something, my immediate reaction is “will it still be around in a year?”
They seem to shutter things before they’ve really had a chance to grow and show what they can become. Or they close things that are perfectly good and people love. How is one supposed to invest time and money in a company when they just ditch things on a whim?
That collections site took me a bloody long time to get it to where it is now and it isn’t even finished! I shudder to think of the day Google closes Sites and all that work has gone to waste. Maybe I should just start looking for alternatives now?