Thoughts on Google+

It’s been a couple of weeks now since Google+ burst onto the social networking scene with a mighty roar. Overall, I’m very impressed. There are a few wrinkles that need ironing, but for the most part, this seems to be a solid effort by the good folks at Google.

The Good

I think the biggest thing that Google+ has going for it right now is the concept of “circles”. In my social media landscape, I make an effort to keep a certain amount of segregation between services. Twitter is mainly used to stay in the loop in the programming world. LinkedIn is for networking, and Facebook is for friends, family, and posting items of a personal nature. I don’t like to cross the streams, but this leaves me having to maintain 3 separate accounts.

With Google+, I can create circles to represent each of these 3 groups. Obviously, it can get even more granular than that, but from a 30,000 foot perspective, I can create circles for “Friends and Family”, one for “Networking”, and one for “Programming”. When I want to post something of a personal nature, I have the choice of sharing it only with people in my “Friends and Family” circle. If I’m sharing something geeky, I can post it to just the “Programming” circle. It should also come as no surprise that, coming from the company that gave us the concept of “labels” for email, people can be placed into more than one circle.

The interface is another feature that I’d consider a positive. It’s clean and uncluttered. It’s not without a few hiccups. If you happen to follow somebody who is followed by a lot of people (think Robert Scoble or Leo Laporte, for example), you can find your clean and uncluttered stream becoming quite chaotic. I follow a couple of people like this, and regularly see 50 or more comments after each of their posts. It would be great if the default were to only show the most recent two or three, with an option to expand and see the previous.

It feels as if since it was introduced, Google+ has consistently gained momentum. I think one of the primary reasons for this is the way the Google+ team engages with the users. People like Vic Gundotra, Bradley Horowitz, and Dave Girouard, all of whom are in my “People from Google that I don’t know” circle, participate regularly on Google+. They’re accessible to the end users. They make us feel like we all part of the project, and we’re all involved in making Google+ a success.

There are a number of features that I haven’t even had the opportunity to try yet (Hangouts, for one), but so far I’ve been pretty impressed with what I have seen.

The Bad

That’s not to say there isn’t a wrinkle or two. Most of the issues I can attribute to the system being new, and I assume those particular wrinkles will be ironed out eventually. There’s a “Send Feedback” link common to the bottom of every page. Given the level of engagement mentioned above, I’d like to believe that the team is sincerely listening and considering the feedback received.

However, there’s one item that’s too big to ignore. And unfortunately, it’s not specific to Google+ itself, but a bigger issue within the world of Google.

Google Apps users are getting what I believe the kids today are referring to as, “the shaft”. I’m one of the shaftees.

In fact, at first I had little to no intention of signing up, since the service wasn’t available to Google Apps users (and as of this writing, that remains true). I do have a gmail account, but it’s used exclusively for mailing lists, and I prefer to keep it that way. Griefer.com is my public-facing “identity”. I prefer that over gmail.com, as it’s more personalized. Not only that, but I put a good amount of effort into obtaining the domain. Years ago, it was owned by a company out of France. I don’t know why, as it didn’t seem that they were actively using it. I can only imagine that “Griefer” means something in French (probably means “AWESOME”). But eventually they let their ownership lapse and I was able to get the domain. It’s on business cards, friends and family know it… I have little to no incentive to migrate over to a less-personal and more generic gmail.com domain.

I really don’t quite understand why Google offers the Apps product, but then seems to actively penalize those of us who are using it. I understand I’m not paying anything for it (although there are those who do pay for Google Apps), but I have to think that Google’s getting something out of my use. Whether it’s targeted ads in the browser interface for my Griefer.com email, or just being able to harvest my emails searching for keyword trends… they’re offering the service for a reason. And I’m fine with that. But I’m not fine with offering me one service and then precluding me from participating in others.

Another issue I have is the way Google has decided that it knows better than I do who should be in my contact list. With gmail, it seems that my contact list is automatically populated. Any time I interact with somebody, that somebody ends up in my gmail contacts. This is an issue for me specifically because a few months back, my gmail account was hacked, and spam was sent to everybody on that contact list. Since then, I’ve made sure to manually delete entries from that list on a regular basis, should that ever happen again. Usually there’s not too many people in there, since the email address is used almost exclusively to interact with mailing lists. However, today there are 170 contacts. Google has decided that anybody I’ve put into a circle on Google+ is somebody who should be in my contact list. Even people in my “People I don’t particularly like but am circling back because they circled me”. Those people are now in my contact list.

Hey Google… how about letting me be the one to decide who gets put into my contact list? At least give me the option as to whether or not I want to delegate that responsibility over to you.

In Conclusion

Overall, I think the people responsible for Google+ should be quite proud of what they’ve accomplished. I question whether or not Google+ will truly replace both Twitter and Facebook for me, as I can’t see my non-techie family and friends making a mass migration from Facebook, where they’ve spent the last few years and are quite comfortable. Giving average users the motivation to make the move will be one of Google’s biggest challenges, in my opinion.

The other, of course, will be figuring out how to integrate Google Apps into the “real world”, and stop penalizing those of us who have chosen to use Apps. I will never be able to fully embrace Google+ until I can do it with my preferred “identity”. I know others who have chosen to stay away completely for that same reason. I have to think that the combined brain power at Google can do this. If they really want to unseat an established network like Facebook, I think they’re going to have to make that effort.