Google+ The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

July 15, 2011
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I’ve been told that nothing we know about Google+ can be criticized because it is pre-beta.

Okay then. Well, here’s some quick takes after trying it out a bit.

1. The Good

This section is the hardest to fill in for me. We already have Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (and others). It makes it hard to identify an obvious place for Google+. There’s the much acclaimed (and sometimes befuddling) “Circles” (to scope the distribution of updates). There’s also “Sparks” (search) “Huddles” (group chat), and “Hangouts”. Of these, “Hangouts” is perhaps the most unique. It is a way to announce your interest in video-chatting. That’s very much like something we did with Phweet back in 2008, so perhaps that’s why I like it. 🙂

One other good thing? It’s not Zuckerberg. Google’s famous “do no evil” comment has to be something they regret saying by now, but even so, I still feel that Google is a lesser evil, especially when it comes to handling my personal data. Facebook has a simply atrocious record in this regard. The less they have of my data, the better.

David Pogue gives a number of reasons to like Google+ in Google+ Improves on Facebook at the New York Times. I don’t disagree with his points, so I recommend you check out the article. He concludes with:

Until now, Facebook and Twitter have been the Dominant Duo of social networking. But Google’s less sprawling, more video-centric, better-controlled new service is already too good to ignore. Now it’s the Dominant Duo …+1.

2. The Bad

Google+ is too complicated and too geek-oriented. When people share something with Google+, they are going to constantly find themselves asking “who is that going to?”  Twitter suffers from being too confusing to people too. But if Twitter is too complicated, Google+ is going to be like a third-semester Calculus class for many people. Only a tiny fraction of Twitter users ever figure out how to effectively manage notifications or “who sees what” on Twitter. Google+ hasn’t made it any easier. If people are overwhelmed and confused with the Twitter options, their brains are going to explode with Google+.

All the cool features discussed above under “The Good” could be put under “The Bad” when it comes to complexity and learning curve. Features are a double-edged sword. Confusion about how it works keeps a lot of people off Twitter, or at leasts keeps them from using it to share and Google+ appears that it is going to suffer from being confusing too.

3. The Ugly

Google will tell you that the coolest part of Google+ is that it is (or will be) integrated with all other Google services and features. I argue that this is the biggest thing that hinders the chances for Google+ to succeed and not just become another Wave or Buzz that people try for a while and then dump.

This is the “Google Account” problem. It’s the assumption by Google that you have one Gmail account that you use for everything. After jumping through some non trivial hoops, Google now allows you to sign in to “multiple” accounts (up to three, if they’re the right kind of accounts) at once, but one of them is the “primary” account and trying to use one of the others is like dancing a tightrope carrying an anvil in one hand and a sharp knife in the other. You’re probably going to get bloody… or hurt someone. You log out of one, and everything you use on Google gets signed out too, even if it wasn’t using that account. This is why people end up running a different browser for every Google account and for every Google product. I could go on and on about this nightmare.

At the moment, you can’t use Google+ with anything but the “primary” Google logged in account.

This is all fine for people that have exactly one Gmail account and it’s all they use. However, with more and more companies converting to Google Apps and more and more people working from home etc. many people are using more than one Google Account at the same time and using different Google Accounts with different Google services. For example. I’m using Gmail with one (or more) accounts, using AdSense with a different account, using Google Docs with another account, Analytics with yet another account etc.

When it comes to Google+ this problem affects you even if you don’t use multiple Gmail accounts and multiple Google services. Requiring and binding by browser session to a “primary” Gmail account means Google+ is limited to people that use Google and Gmail in that way. This means Google has pre-selected which friends you can and cannot find on Google+. If I look at the groups of people I interact with, I have never segmented them into “those that use Gmail and those that don’t.” That segmentation is not meaningful to me. Google might care, but I sure don’t – it doesn’t help me organize my contacts.  As @sreejitkk2000 puts it:

Google+ Account Problem

One needs to get a Google Account to use Google+ and they have to like it, in that they have to log in with that account and use it for every Google service they will ever use. Quick: What percentage of your friends have a Google Account?  Which ones don’t? Is that a breakdown that is meaningful to you? Is that a group categorization you would normally use to divide up your friends? I don’t think so. And yet, that’s what Google has done for us.

For those of your friends without a Google account, do they know how to get one? Would they want one? Is Google+ so great that you would walk all your friends through setting up a Google Account and Google Profile?  And what about those friends that you’d like to have in a “circle”, but that simply can’t (or won’t) use Google the way Google wants?

I think this is a fundamental mis-judgement by Google. They see the tie-in to a Gmail account and other Google services as a good thing but I see it as a massive albatross.

Summary

Google+ is kind of a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook. It takes some features from Facebook, like rich content, updates longer than 140 characters, and comment threads.  And it takes some from Twitter, most notably asymetrical connections as in “Circles”. Then it brings in a few unique features like “Hangouts”.

It’s too early to tell what will become of Google+. For me, it’s a wait and see. I’m using it, but it has not grabbed me yet, mostly because nobody is there yet. The above “Google Account” problem already means I’m using an identity on Google+ that is not the identity that I want to use with it (because the identity I want to use is not compatible with it). And I see the self-selection discussed above coming into play and selecting for me the domain of people that I can connect with on Google+ (and more importantly, who I cannot connect with). This severely limits how I can use Google+ – until everyone I want to connect with converts to using Gmail as their primary login with a Google+ compatible “Google Account” and “Google Profile” it can’t replace Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for me. Instead, it’s simply one MORE place I have to check. I think this was a key factor in limiting and killing Buzz and Wave and it could easily also be the thing that kills Google+.

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2 Responses to Google+ The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. July 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    EnThinnai shows a technical approach to solve the problem you identify in “Ugly” section. Apart from the obvious business reason, there are no inherent reasons for Google Plus to require a Google identity for bot the “poster” and the “receiver” of the posts. EnThinnai, which was developed some four years before uses OpenID for authenticate both the parties. It has to because it is distributed social networking application and there is no single entity that can issue identity. Accordingly, my ET server will authenticate me using my OpenID and if I do Limited share, I will identify you with your OpenID and you will access the shared data at my server after authenticating yourself under OpenID protocol.

    Of course Google Plus could have done the same thing.

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