First Impressions of Google+

The Google+ Profile Page

After using Google+ for a couple of days, it becomes clear that this is far more than a mere carbon copy of Facebook.

It also rips off Twitter, not to mention Diaspora.

To put it more positively, Google have clearly looked long and hard at what social networking does and why it caught on in the way it did. They’ve attempted to combine the best features of both Facebook and Twitter into one product.

The base is very much like an improved version of Facebook with a more open, airy look and no hint of anything that might be construed as fine print.

The differences begin with how people connect. While Facebook is all about equal two-way relationships confirmed by both parties, in Google+ you can follow anyone and read what they share – as long that is as they’re sharing it with the public. In this way it is almost exactly like Twitter.

From there though the user has the option of allowing you into a more intimate ‘Circle’. This is exactly the same idea as ‘Aspects’ in Diaspora. You can make separate circles for work colleagues, family, clients, etc. So you can decide exactly who gets to see the picture of you drinking beer, and who gets to see the picture of you drinking beer, naked, with your swastika tattoo showing.

Complicated? Well, any social networking system is. Even something as apparently straightforward as Twitter quickly gets confusing in use, as you try to figure out the consequences of one ill-judged tweet being retweeted by two or three people. (One interesting aspect of Google+ is that you can mark things as non-shareable, which is very reassuring.) It is however a fundamentally more simple model than that of Facebook.

Does it add anything new to social networking? Facebook and Twitter are distinctly different, and it would be nice to see a third innovative approach. But while it may be a little to early to say – both the others developed in unpredicted ways and Google+ may yet – it really doesn’t seem to. Quite clearly, Google+ is just the main features of Facebook and Twitter combined and cleaned up.

Which is not, to my mind, a good thing. With Google’s wealth and resources behind it, (not to mention the fact that it integrates right in with your Google search results, your Gmail, etc.), it’s really possible that Google+ will take over the markets that these upstarts created. Rather than adding to the possibilities of social networking therefore it may actually reduce them, in the process giving even greater dominance of the Internet to the company that already bestrides it like a colossus.

But even if comes about such dominance is still a long way off, and for now I like the interface and the control, and I like the fact that Facebook has a competitor. I therefore wish Google+ good fortune and success. Just, you know, not too much good fortune and success.

If you’d like an invite to join Google+, or are already there and would like to follow me on it, my address is: Richard.Chapman@Gmail.com

What Comes After Facebook?

Facebook is great. Apart from the countless things I don’t like about it. I don’t completely trust them with my data. I worry the small convenience I get from using their service is outweighed by the value of the information I give them. I suspect I’m being exploited in ways I don’t even understand yet. I’m concerned that a single commercial organisation has such a crucial, influential role.

You see where I’m going here. Facebook is the new Google. So when, with their new “Google+“, Google try to be the new Facebook, it’s basically Google being the new new Google. Which makes me dizzy.

But I wish them luck. It’s great to see some competition here, and I strongly suspect that I’m going to prefer Google+ to Facebook. It has one clear advantage anyway: You can separate your interaction into separate areas, or ‘Circles’ as they call them, like family, work and friends.

Which was also exactly the idea behind Diaspora… This start-up have (had?) a potentially Facebook-beating idea, but they took too long to become a thing you could actually use. Now someone else has stolen the mantle of Facebook challenger?

Well, yes and no. Google might be better than Facebook, but they can’t stop being Google. There is a prize – a prize almost beyond measure – to be won here, but I’m not sure if either can reach it.

Facebook, mostly by accident I think, created a wholly new thing. Thanks mainly to its ubiquity it has become an online extension of ordinary life, and one’s Facebook footprint a projection of the self onto the Web. And that in turn has the potential to solve another problem, if problem it be: That of authentication.

Google’s answer to this is a fully authenticated Web with no room for anonymity. A friendlier place for commerce and policing for sure, but obviously an unsafe one for the sort of political organisation we’ve seen in the Middle East recently. You may have noticed how it gets harder all the time to open a Google account. Last time I created one, I had to give them a mobile phone number. How long before it’s an iris scan?

Facebook presents a less foreboding form of authentication – not as rigorous as biometrics perhaps, but as good as we have in most of real life: Authentication by social relationship. To paraphrase an old saying, you can tell a lot about a person from their friends. And of course, most people simply wouldn’t go to the trouble of creating and maintaining a fake Facebook identity. So it is becoming almost a universal authentication system. You seeĀ  “Login using Facebook” all over the place now, saving you the trouble of creating a new user account – with a new password – on all sorts of sites.

Which must come as quite a shock to Google, who probably thought they had that market in the bag.

It’s not a straight fight between these two approaches though. The system that will win is the one that can fuse the depth and usefulness of this casual social authentication with the rigour of a biometric one. An unfakeable Facebook(-like) profile would become virtually part of a person, indistinguishable almost from their identity. It could easily become the main way in which we interact with one another, both socially and commercially. And that would be some golden ring.

But if I’m going to (be forced to) use some sort of authentication, I want to do it through an organisation or system I don’t feel is exploiting or policing my thoughts and actions. I don’t think the social network with the complex and constantly changing privacy settings is the outfit for the job. Nor do I think it’s the corporation that seems actively hostile to the concept of privacy. If some system is going to be given the role of presenting me as trustworthy to others, it needs to be one that I trust too.

So it’s too early to give up on Diaspora or other “Facebook killers”. There is a vast amount of money to be made. All you have to do is be nice.

Day of the Social Media Day

Research on Iran. by Negar Mottahedeh Social M...
Well I suppose that's one way to look at it

By the time you read this, Social Media may already have had their day.

That is, if you’re reading after midnight. Otherwise, it’s Social Media Day! So we should all get out and… Actually I suppose we should all stay in.

Do social media really need another day though? They’ve already got most of mine. And while I’m an enthusiastic user and positive overall about their influence and possibilities, I am a little disturbed by the vast power now in the hands of so few. Twitter hasn’t even monetised its success yet; I have paranoid visions that it’s waiting until it’s utterly indispensable to our working and personal lives before sending the ransom note.

Actually this is an apposite time for a Social Media celebration. MySpace, the first great success and first great failure of the sector, was sold on by News Corporation yesterday. I’m very tempted to start using it again just to piss Rupert Murdoch off. There may be several reasons why MySpace crashed, but surely being from the people who brought you Fox News was the kiss of death.

Another good thing happening right now is Google squaring up to Facebook. It would be nice to see some real competition – if you can compete with what looks awful like a natural monopoly – and if anyone has a chance of taking on ZuckerbergĀ¹ it’s Google I guess. Their Google+ system does looks promising. Going by published details that is. No I don’t have invites. Or know anyone who has invites.

Of course I’d prefer if the competition came from someone else rather than Google yet again, and I’m glad to say that the Diaspora alternative… still exists. Any day now, it may start to… begin. OK, it’s taking ages; but even Twitter took years to get it right; when I joined back in 2007 it was just me and two other guys talking about how we combed our hair. And Diaspora are right to be careful, because I think their idea has the potential to be roughly the biggest thing ever.

Hopefully I’ll find some time today to explain why!

  1. Whose name, I’m afraid to say, Firefox thinks should be corrected to ‘C****sucker’. Editorialising?