How to plan an exodus
As with most projects, planning an exodus of 100, or 100,000,000, of your closest friends, takes some planning, coordination, awareness, logistics, experience, and luck.
We've got little if any of those, so let's get cracking.
- A refugee, generally speaking, is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely.
An information service refugee doesn't face the same stark hazards as many political, economic refugees, but the general situation is similar.
For those of us who've been using Google+, we:
- Are forced to leave the place we'd called home, for years.
- Are faced with the loss of connections and institutions we'd come to rely on.
- Have to find a new place of refuge, on either a temporary or permanent basis.
- Have to decide what we can, or cannot, take with us.
- Have to re-establish old, or create new, relationship and institutions in our new homes.
Again, it's the process rather than the scope of the experience we're comparing.
The responses of the 2,000+ members of the Google+ Mass Migration forum, and others throughout G+, show several distinct responses.
There are those who are crushed and gutted.
There are those who are appealing to reverse the decision to cancel the service.
There are those who are seeking to establish a new relationship under different terms, with its provider. In this case, opting for a paid rather than free offering which will include continued access to Google+.
Some, mostly commercial or business entities, are simply abandoning the platform entirely.
Some, mostly individuals, seem committed to curtailing use of social media, going off-grid, or to a quieter, lower-level use of technology.
Some with established presences on the major commercial sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Medium, Wordpress, etc., seem prepared to retreat to those.
And there is an active contingent seeking out ways to transfer at least some of the Google+ experience and community to a new home -- whether on an existing, commercial, Free Software, and/or Federated platform.
A few have stood up to try to help organise, inform, and research these options, as well as explore the possible options ... and to identify those which appear to not be feasible.
Leaving a place and finding a new one is difficult. When this happens at large scale, a previously unified group often divides, though it can retain connections across the multiple new communities it settles into. History has a record of such communities forming the basis of exchange, trade, commerce, information, academic, and financial networks.
If elements of the G+ community are to survive, a significant portion of the old will need to set up operations in ways that allow them to readily interact with each other. The goal of this wiki is to facilitate that.
The essential step is realising that you have to go. Next, to decide when you need to do so. This is influenced by your own needs and capabilities as well as external factors. A large unknown at this stage is what Google's commitments to continuing G+ functionality leading up to the planned August 2019 sunset date are. It is possible that certain site functions and features will cease before that time.
Preparing and practicing in advance, and making an earlier rather than later exit, may be the better option.
Collecting others' contact information and leaving your own is among the critical steps to be taken at this stage.
Deciding where to go
Of all the steps, this is the most difficult. Information services are complex, opaque, difficult to assess, and choices amongst them are deeply consequential. Choice and discovery are hard, they are expensive.
For many, decisions will be driven strongly by where friends, or business and commercial associates, go. You need not go to the same service, but you'll likely want to go to where you can interact with the service(s) they choose.
In the case of major commercial offerings -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, etc. -- there is no easy option for data interchange. These are data silos, roach motels. You may choose to join them for convenience, or even out of necessity. But your options for remaining apart from them or communicating with other outside platforms is also limited.
Federated, open standards, or relatively independent systems, including blogs and email, offer higher levels of loosely-specified interconnectivity, including RSS/Atom newsfeeds, email, and comment systems. Blogs such as Wordpress provide a common platform for a large number (TODO: how many?) of individual sites, and surprisingly high-quality content. The emerging set of Federated and Fediverse platforms offer even greater interactivity, between numerous independent instances, and even networks. Self-hosting or collaborative hosting by groups of from 1 to 1,000, or more, are possible on modest budgets.
Sorting out the offerings, capabilities, limitations, risks, migration plans and paths, is going to be a large part of this process. That's information we hope to provide in the coming days and months here.
A temporary or permanent home?
Depending on how suitable the options are, how difficult the decision process, and the degree and speed with which needs are specified and met, it may be necessary to find a temporary home before finally settling in a final one. The key considerations here are:
- What is a sufficient temporary home.
- How much effort will be spent in establishing that.
- How much data -- relationships and content -- need to be fed into and retrieved from that system.
A temporary home should either provide for easy and useful data import and export, or be usable with minimal configuration or data input (especially of contacts).
It should also be reliable, secure, expected to remain in operation, accessible, usable, and a host of other factors. It need not offer all features that would be desired, though it should offer enough to provide for the interim.
What to take, and how?
As data refugees, and from Google in particular, we're blessed with one advantage: data is relatively easy to move, and Google makes accessing it fairly straightforward. It's not completely without concerns though.
- Archives can be large, especially if images, audio, or especially video are involved.
- There are a range of services, options, and formats to select from.
- Archive creation may fail or be incomplete, as may retrieval.
- Archives are available online for only a limited (though reasonably generous time).
These and other considerations will be addressed in a separate article.
In general, prioritise critical data, attempt exports earlier rather than later, research import capabilties of potential target platforms, and always request JSON rather than HTML formats.
It's apparently possible to save Google Data Takeout to Google Drive, which may be a convenient storage option during the move.
If you choose to delete your Google or Google+ account, or it is deactivated by Google, your archive will be the only record you can access of that data. Keep it safe, back it up if possible, and recognise that it may contain sensitive information about you, or others.
(And there's always the possibility that other copies exist, in a file server somewhere in Utah, or Moscow, or Beijing, or Tel Aviv.... But that you cannot access.)
Keeping Informed and Connected
Staying on top of, and ensuring accurate information is another challenge. There will be (and are) those who simply have incorrect information, distract with irrelevancies, or are intentionally seeking to persuade, mislead, or confuse. Independently verify information or claims from all sources, including this Wiki, if at all possible.
Contact points, including at interim destinations, will be vital.
Maintain several distinct modes of contact if at all possible, on fully independent services. Publish these, at least to those who need to know. Maintain "out-of-band" communications channels where possible.
By communications channels, we are referring to email, social media sites, blogs, microblogging services (Twitter or Mastodon), phone or voice chat, messaging, and even postal mail with close contacts, if you chose.
The good news is that reestablishing communications, even after serious disruption, is frequently easier than you fear. You may not recover all contacts immediately, but a core group can often re-acquire one another with surprising efficiency, something we've observed many times over decades online.
Individuals, sites, groups, hashtags, and keywords will all help you reconnect at new sites. We've been watching this process occur at Diaspora over recent days, with a large fraction of the immigrating users re-establishing themselves. The
#googleplus hashtag is being attached to new-arrival's first posts, and to many of the posts being sent to the community. Reports from other platforms suggest that a similar re-acquaintance is occurring there.
Exported contact information may be of limited utility depending on how people choose to identify themselves at new platforms, and changing usernames, especially dropping use of "real name" practices, can confound this. Even so, a few highly-visible and distinctive connector-role individuals can serve to reconnect even a largely disrupted group.