This Google+ Thing

I seem to be spending most of my time joining social networks nowadays, first Diaspora, now Google+.

I’m a little underwhelmed with both.

As I explained in my blog post on Diaspora, I like some of its concepts. But I’ve used it very little since joining. Part of that is due to the network effect (not many of my friends have pods) but it is also, I think, due to a general apathy towards social networking. Afterall, I hardly use Facebook now either. If I cannot be bothered to check one website that has most of my friends, I’ll hardly take the time to check three of them.

Google+, from a quick explore, looks kinda nice. They’ve got a similar concept to Diaspora with ‘circles’ rather than aspects. It looks generally a bit nicer and more controllable than Facebook. They do however, by default, sign you up to share information to other sites, but at least they let you know during the sign up and let you disable that. Whether Google will show any more respect for users’ privacy than Facebook remains to be seen.

Cartoon from xkcd about Google+

Google+ - just like Facebook? (Image from under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Licence)

The key question for me is interoperability. Will Google make Google+ part of the open web, with proper interfacing to other services such as Diaspora? If so then some of the goodies like GMail integration and live chat could make it interesting. If not then it’s just another walled garden and I have no more interest in that than in the closed web portals of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I don’t want a better Facebook, I want an easy way to subscribe to what my friends are doing, whether it be via their blogs, accounts on places like Facebook and LinkedIn or photo sharing sites. I also want to be able to publish my information, but with control over who sees it (so not via something like RSS). I also want it all accessible via open protocols so I can, for example, view something like the Facebook homepage feeds right from a PIM application like Kontact, or in a desktop widget or dedicated app that can sit in the system tray and notify if something interesting happens.

Google has the userbase, the coolness and the money to be the driving force behind the leading open social network. The question is, do they have the motivation? If Google is right and we really do want to use our web browsers for everything in future then perhaps a walled garden of Google+ and GMail and Google Docs and the like will prove compelling. But for me, it’s looking like Google+ will likely just be another, albeit nicer, implementation of Facebook that I can ignore in much the same way.

10 Responses to “This Google+ Thing”

  • Dan White says:

    Yo Stu,

    So while I obviously can’t comment on the future of Google+ there are a number of reasons why it’s already more open than the Other Social Network. Google Takeout has been up and running since launch, allowing you to easily remove your account from Google+ and export all of your data in a standardised format.

    This isn’t (yet) meeting the ideals of something like Diaspora and it may never do that, I’m not privy to those kinds of decisions. However, Google has a much better record of allowing you access to remove and export your data (we have a team dedicated to making it easy to stop using our products), as well as respecting privacy rather than defaulting to public access (Buzz aside, but that is now the golden example of what not to do here at Google).

    So yeah, this isn’t open in the sense of Android, Chrome, KDE or Diaspora. But it’s definitely not closed in the sense of facebook or Apple.

    — For those who don’t know, I work at Google but these views are mine and definitely not the company’s.

    • Stu says:

      Morning Dan,

      Yeah, I’m just being grumpy really πŸ™‚ I don’t expect Google to make this open source, but interoperability is important. Otherwise it’s instant messaging all over again (where I need GTalk, MSN and Yahoo accounts to cover everyone).

      The apparent email integration looks interesting…

      And yep, the data export options are cool. It’s better, I don’t think there’s doubt about that. And when all my Facebook contacts have Google+ I’ll switch completely. But I don’t think that’s going to happen and neither will interoperability between Facebook and Google+, since that is not in Facebook’s interests unless Google+ starts to hurt them a lot.

  • Kjetil Kilhavn says:

    The thing I like about Google+ (if I have understood it correctly) is that you can define who the information is of interest for. In my opinion this is sorely lacking in Facebook. There should be a box with four choices in Facebook
    [ ] This is interesting information for everyone
    [ ] This is interesting information for three of my friends
    [ ] This is interesting information for me, myself, and I
    [ ] This information is of no interest to anyone

    The default choice would be number two from the bottom – and you should only be allowed to use the upper choice once every day.

    That would allow me to see the interesting updates from my friends, which are now lost in a pile of crap (going to the gym, just finished exercising, pizza in the oven, ahhh…. pizza, bored today etc etc)

    • Stu says:

      Yep, though this was already in Diaspora some months ago (not hat I’m complaining about that, it’s a good feature and Google are right to include it).

  • Omar says:

    Hi Stu,

    Interesting post. I don’t have Google+ yet, but from what I’ve read so far it does not seem to sound all that different from Facebook. I agree that if it is going to be just another Facebook, but with a ‘cleaner’ interface then I don’t really see the point. Also, I don’t see how they will woo the current Facebookers over. As Dan mentioned, Google certainly appears to be much better for respecting privacy, but I get the feeling that the majority of Facebook users don’t care about that.

    To echo your points, it would certainly be interesting to see how other sites will be integrated into this. I wish other forms of communication would be as standard as a telephone or an email: I have your address and that’s it. I don’t need to sign up to /your/ provider to be able to talk to you. Initiatives such as WebRTC appear to have a lot potential . Also, maybe we just need one company, and it may as well be Google, to completely dominate and standardize everything πŸ˜‰

    • Stu says:

      Yeah, I guess there’s an elment of wait and see. Btw, I may have just invited you – not quite sure how that works, but what I just did worked for inviting another guy yesterday…

      • Omar says:

        Thanks for the invite. However, I don’t think it worked because they claim to have exceeded their capacity. I’ll just have to wait and see what all the commotion is about πŸ˜‰

  • I would not expect Google to create and drive the open social network, they don’t do too much of “open” (android is not open, the development process is totally close, most of the userland is closed… chrome is the closed source version of chromium), they usually do “open” when they don’t have a choice.

    Google is interested into locking you up into their services, not in allowing competition to interoperate with them.

    Maybe once they have failed again with Google+ (which they will, facebook has the advantage of 500m users, so if you want to connect with your friends, you connect to facebook). They will go and try to team up with an open technology (like diaspora), like they did with gtalk, so that they can form an alliance with other people to defeat facebook. But for now, all they are interested in is to try to replace facebook and to get the full market for themself, and they are not interested in getting only a small piece of it.

    • Stu says:

      Sure, Google will do what looks best for them commercially and making it not-open has some appeal in that sense. However, I agree with you in that I just don’t think even Google can really have a big success with this as a closed system. Sure its better, but buzz is i some ways better than Twitter but no one really cares about it.

      Therefore I thought maybe it would be smarter to have some interoperability from the start to make it more appealing right away. I guess only time will show whether Google can make a success of this anyway…

  • The User says:

    β€œIf Google is right and we really do want to use our web browsers for everything in future then perhaps a walled garden of Google+ and GMail and Google Docs and the like will prove compelling. But for me, it’s looking like Google+ will likely just be another, albeit nicer, implementation of Facebook that I can ignore in much the same way.”
    No, Chrome OS everywhere, that is kinda a worst case scenario, what should be worse for freedom and free software? You will not be able to ignore that when everybody is using it. Currently it happens more often to me that I have to open Google Docs than a MS Office document, and that is not an advancement, that is a threat.