When Google + was announced I was very much excited at the prospect of using a more open social network that would also bring something different and refreshing to everyone. I do not really like Facebook. It’s not just their privacy policies, or the never stressed enough notion that if you’re not the customer then you must be the product -that also applies to Google +- it’s the website itself. I grew increasingly frustrated of Facebook, I got tired of what I consider to be a lack of elegance (the violet to indigo-blue palette is getting old) and a constant will to confuse users in pushing them to reveal more and more personal data.
For sure I do use Facebook, I am “on Facebook” just like many other people. But I also use Google Plus and Diaspora. While Diaspora aims at being something really different and relies on a fundamentally distributed model, it is in its infancy and I will not discuss it in this post. I will focus on Google + instead.
I had big hopes for Google + and still do. I still believe it is a better built, more powerful and less harmful service than Facebook, but I also believe that while any service has shortcomings of its own its operator/owner tends to correct them over time by bringing in more features for instance, something Google does not seem to be doing, hence my points below:
- Tastes and colours should not be discussed as everyone has his or her own tastes and yet… I still like Google + much more than Facebook for that matter, however, something seems not all right in Google +: could users customize the look of their page(s), or are they condemned to the everlasting white background? (on the other hand you could point out that simplicity in design never hurt anyone).
- Profiles: it’s amazing how hard it is to see someone’s profile. For this Facebook tends to be much simpler and clearer, Why can’t I just access someone’s profile in one click, instead of searching its own activity feed?
- Sharing and circles is probably what Google + does best, although in many ways it was a Diaspora’s concept that was itself hinted in the discussions around the DISO concept (the early days of a distributed social network) but there is something, specifically about sharing, that I do not understand: sharing beyond circles, such as sharing on Twitter or StatusNet, let alone on Facebook is not possible. I know about the hack for identi.ca and twitter that works by sharing with one specific profile but why would I want to share that with this probably sympathetic, yet unknown person? The most surprising part of this is that neither Google, nor Twitter, nor Facebook, seem to be willing to provide that feature (the same goes for sharing from Twitter, StatusNet and Facebook to Google +). This issue alone, to me, is a major one, and I am pretty sure it’s the same for many people. Because of that posting on Google + is somewhat of a solitary exercise; you have to repost specifically on Google +.
- More distributed content : obviously Google does perform data mining on the content we share on Google + and any of its other services, that’s not news to anyone. But while Google does handle data portability seriously (a big plus!) it might benefit from enabling some sort of “sandboxes”, that is, private spaces that could be self-hosted, yet easily connectable to the “central” Google + network. This would also allow many people to both feel more secure and enrich the overall content aggregation scheme; you would be able to use Google + as a content transport layer in between “pods” or peers and still using the big social network itself if you want to.
- A Google Wave like timeline : as people become increasingly aware that their past posts and interactions can be monitored, reused by others or simply by and for themselves, an easy to use timeline, something completely missing on Facebook, might be useful and fun to use.
- A professional page or job search as well as other specific services might also be useful; but it seems that Google + is very much like other services launched at Google: an experiment first, a product afterwards. I am usually fine with this approach, but Google + needs attention and extra features if it wants to stay and grow instead of being dumped and filed such as Google Buzz was. I really hope that won’t be the case.