Thursday, July 21, 2011

Get Off My Lawn, Google Plus!

I keep grumping about Google+ on Google+, so I thought I'd join the fray and compile my thoughts here, especially since it relates to my earlier post about Facebook.

The short version is: I don't get Google+. I mean, I get it; it's Facebook. And I already have Facebook. This isn't like saying "I already have Friendster." Right from the start Facebook offered something different. Google+ looks and functions exactly like Facebook. I'm all for competition, and would never say "Why do we need Apple if we already have Microsoft?" but like it or not, a social network isn't just an individual choice like picking a PC or a cola. It's only as good as the people on it, and if no one is on G+ then it's basically useless. I can't see a lot of people wanting to maintain both, or abandoning Facebook entirely, which would be required for G+ to reach a usefulness tipping point.

A lot of people are making the "it's a fresh start" argument. Well, a) A fresh start from what? If you're a Facebook Hoarder it's nobody's fault but your own. And b) If you're a Facebook Hoarder, won't you also be a G+ Hoarder? I've never understood this idea that Facebook is work. It shouldn't be. If it is, maybe you shouldn't be on Facebook. I've always only accepted friend requests from people I actually know. It's not that hard. I don't feel bad at all saying no! Even so, because I used to freelance, I picked up new coworker "friends" at a pretty alarming rate, so I have a pretty big Facebook network. But you know what? If something shows up in my feed from someone I barely know, or I get invited to someone's show I'm never going to see for the millionth time, or something offends me, I block or unfriend that person in the moment. It's not a project, it's not hard. I'm already getting Google+ notifications on my work email that I've been "added" by people I barely know who have obviously just dumped their entire Gmail contact lists in there. A fresh start it ain't.

As for what I share, if someone is my Facebook "friend," it means I have already decided that I'm okay sharing with him. So if a slight acquaintance seems something personal I've put online, well, I chose to put it online. In my current job, I started getting friend requests from work colleagues outside of my actual office, and because of how I use Facebook in a personal way, this was a line I didn't want to cross. But under the circumstances it also seemed rude to say no. So I made a list called "Professional" and set some privacy controls on it, and now whenever I get one of those requests it goes right into that list. It's two clicks.

And speaking of lists, you know that's all "Circles" are, right? Granted, the drag-and-drop interface is sexy, and I get how if you have 500 Facebook friends you're not going to start putting them in lists now, so the newness is appealing there, but, you know, this is something you can do on Facebook too.

I keep getting notifications that new people are "following" me (see above re: the random work contacts I've met once). These are not friend requests. I can't say yes or no to them. So it looks like Facebook, but it's really Twitter? One thing I really like about Facebook is how you get to decide who goes in your network. (One thing I really like about Twitter is how it's open, but they're not the same thing and don't serve the same purpose, and I don't think I want a hybrid.) So I don't have to put these people who follow me into Circles, and I suppose I have the choice to never share anything with them. But the default setting for posting on G+ is Public, and do you really think all those people who wind up on Failbook are suddenly going to understand how to change that? (Can you even change the default, or is it only on a per-post basis? I've looked and can't find a setting.) I do like that it shows up as a big bright button under the post, but hey, click on the padlock icon on Facebook - it's the same thing. Given how few of my very smart friends seem to know that all this stuff exists on FB, I have to question how, once it fills up (if it does), Google+ will be any different, since most people aren't that smart.

I think people think G+ will be the answer to their privacy concerns with Facebook, but Google hardly has a good track record with that, after the Buzz fiasco. Plus, they already have your search history and, for a lot of you, your email, calendar and reading habits. Add a social network and they basically know everything there is to know about you, and if you don't think they're going to find creepy ways to monetize that, you're insane. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm all for making money (off of services we don't pay for directly!) and I'm on record saying that you can't expect anything you post online to be truly private. I'm just saying Google isn't in this for philanthropy. On the iPhone app (which I will grant is very sexy, way better than Facebook's useless app), if I click on "Nearby," I can see a whole list of people I have never heard of before, with their locations. Wanna bet they didn't know they were sharing that with the world? Like I said, if you're concerned about privacy, don't share things online. I'm not blaming Google for that info being there. You shouldn't be posting your location without understanding how the service works. My point is just that your privacy isn't Google's concern any more than it's Facebook's or Twitter's or Foursquare's.

I was on Facebook pretty early, too, when it was still only available to schools. I had an alumni email address from my college and a bunch of interns who insisted I join. I didn't use it for a year, when the next summer's batch of interns found me there. By then it had developed a bit and I got pretty hooked. So I'm fully willing to eat these words a year from now (or less) if enough people do make the switch and the network becomes more useful. I'm not saying it's a bad product (and it's in beta, so anything could happen), just that it replaces something that I don't think needs replacing, without offering any compelling reason to switch. I also expect Facebook to copy G+'s best features, because that's how these things work, and there really won't be any reason to change.

I guess, also, I don't want to start over. The whole point of a social network is its network. I like mine! I like the random assortment of high school friends (and high school enemies) and family and colleagues and real people who I see every day. I like finding random unexpected connections between those people. I like when people from disparate parts of my life get into a conversation in the comments of something I've posted. Starting over makes all that go away until I build it up again. And then G+ will be exactly the same as Facebook in every way, not just the cosmetic ones.

UPDATED: I caught up on some reading this weekend and it turns out Farhad Manjoo said almost the exact same things I said about Google+ in Slate. Nice to know I'm not alone in this! And from what I can gather from his columns, he's an early adopter extraordinaire, and a big fan of Google.


Sam said...

I'm sort of in the same boat as you. I got a G+ invite, and invited some of my friends, but it's otherwise not really doing anything for me that facebook and twitter don't already do. Plus, I can't seem to cross post easily, so it's an extra step. I'll probably keep the account for a while to see if it hits critical mass, but it's not particularly exciting.

One correction though - your "preference" as to the privacy setting retains the last option you selected. So if your last post was public, the default for your next post will be public. If you change it to friends only, the next time you post something it will also be friends only unless you change it again. At least that's my understanding of it. I don't like the fact that you can't change the privacy level once you've posted.

Adam807 said...

Ooh, that's good to know, thanks! I wish that were clearer/more intuitive, but it's good to know that's there.

Alice said...

Thank you! This perfectly sums up how I feel. I kind of don't understand the point, other than that it's new and shiny.

Apparently, I am old and set in my ways.