Google Plus

I’ve been playing with Google+ for the last couple days, and am finding it pretty interesting. To share some observations that will be tedious to anyone not interested in plus, UI design, and such geekery:

Things to like, or at least things that make me feel better about it than the other general-purpose social networks.
1. Google already knows everything about me. No, seriously, everything – Phone (Google Voice), email (gMail), shopping habits (parsing out from email), browsing habits (Chromium + DNS + Google Reader)… They haven’t done anything terribly nefarious yet, and I might as well get more features out of it.

2. Data export and deletion. It appears that google actually removes (or at least de-indexes) things when you hit the “Not yours” button, and thanks to the Data Liberation Front folks, there is an easy export option to extract your information from Google services in an (at least marginally) human and computer readable form. Hopefully that means when they fuck something up, or whatever service supplants it comes along it will be easy to escape or transition with data intact.

3. Good group management interface is good. I still abide by the “Everything on the internet is public” tenet, but being able to direct messages and read chatter based on how you know people makes sense in a way that most social services don’t seem to grasp. Really, the whole presentation is spectacular, as is most of google’s UI revamp.

4. Borderline-magical chat features: Select people, press button, video chat. Bandwidth management happens automatically. NAT traversal happens automatically. Voice, Video, and Text all commingle in a way that works a lot like an in-person dynamic. If nothing else, google has the first general-function telepresence system that doesn’t suck too much to use.

5. Not founded and run by irresponsible frat boys.

There are a couple things that piss me off:
1. Can’t link to public Plus content from the real internet. I wanted to link Andy Hertzfeld’s post laying out responsibility for the various parts of Google’s new look and UI features. I can link His profile’s posts page, but (as far as I can figure out) not a particular post. AOLization of public content is still not OK.

2. Information granularity issues: Somehow, google knows where I live. Probably either through google checkout or by parsing it out of order confirmation emails. If I let Plus broadcast where I live, it shows a map that will get you to within three houses, and the only other option is no geographic information. I can has “City, State” only option?

3. “Circles” doesn’t go far enough. Just like everywhere else, the reality is that you don’t give a shit about most of the people and content affixed to your account. I would like to be able to keep certain “circles” out of my main “stream.” Likewise, it doesn’t need to leave stream droppings every time you use the (amazing) built-in video chat.

Things I’m not sure about:
1. “Sparks” looked amazing at fist glance: in concept, making your list of interests do something is correct. In practice, it seems to just do a keyword search for news articles. Maybe it will get better with time and more users.

2. I want screen-sharing in the hangout chat system. It should be there, and it probably isn’t terribly technically difficult to make happen.

Will it overtake facebook as the dominant social network? — Hell if I know, I never understood why anyone put up with facebook. Will I use it? — probably, if just for the amazing chat mechanism, and categorized low-commitment people tracking.

Hopefully what it will do is fragment the social networking ecosystem (yes, I gag a little bit when I say that) enough to get rid of the idea that using the social networking flavor of the week as a universal identity – imagine if pages built in 2002 had depended on friendster for login information the way various things use facebook now.

Even more, I hope that it doesn’t stall the development of open, distributed alternatives. As far as I’m concerned, the only acceptable eventual end for social networking is a open protocol over which social networking is performed (Think email via SMTP or chat via XMPP) rather than a series of disposable proprietary services. If we use Google’s participation in the Jingle process with Google Talk as a guide for how things will go, Google+ isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the emergence of open standards.

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