Referring to Google+ as a Facebook-killer is possibly one of the more unimaginative categorizations a journalist can come up with. Actually, most of these “-killer” descriptions are sensationalist but I suppose that is what attracts readers, as tired as it is. Moving along …
But Circles does have its flaws. Most importantly, the suggested contact list is populated from your Gmail contact book, which is fine if you’re an Android user and all of your contacts are up to date, but less so if you’re not and they aren’t.
This is not a criticism of Circles but rather of users who don’t have up-to-date Contacts in Gmail. Circles does suggest new connections based on your Contacts and if your Contacts are not up-to-date, well, perhaps you should update them if you want better recommendations. Circles also makes recommendations based on your connections and these recommended connections may not be in your Contacts.
Fortunately, this time around Google didn’t automatically add all contacts from users’ Gmail accounts to its social platform (as happened when the disastrous Google Wave was launched). But it would still be great to be able to import contacts from elsewhere. No doubt this, along with other minor failings, will be addressed in updates.
Two things here. First, the “disastrous Google Wave” was really Google Buzz which launched with poor privacy controls in place. When Buzz launched last year it initially automatically populated your Buzz connections with your Gmail Contacts and made those connections publicly visible. It was a terrible decision, in retrospect, because Googlers who had been testing Buzz internally didn’t realise that making those connections public by default could be a bad idea. That decision probably doomed Buzz, to a large extent, and has haunted Google since then.
Second thing is that Google+ does allow you to import contacts from Hotmail and Yahoo!. The option is clearly marked:
After all, Google+ is only in its infancy so there are bound to be a few kinks.
Google+ is not complete by any stretch of the imagination. It is in a limited field test which is Google’s way of saying that it is really really in beta. It has bugs and its features are being tweaked, added and removed on an ongoing basis. The team behind Google+ is listening to feedback us early users (read: testers) are submitting and is iterating pretty rapidly.
Perhaps the best feature of Circles is that it’s possible to opt to prevent people in your Circles from re-sharing content you’ve shared with them.
This is also incorrect and a cause for concern on Google+. Users can limit what they share to specific Circles or individuals (or combinations of both). One of the early concerns was that a user could share something intended for a limited audience, publicly, and effectively negate the privacy Circles enables. Google has addressed this in part and while it still allows you to reshare posts (still a concern), it warns you that doing so may not be what the original poster intended and you should think twice before doing so.
Still, for the paranoid there may be other privacy concerns. Like Facebook, Google+ wants to encourage people to share as much information as possible, including making your Google+ profile public, if you’ll allow it.
Google has said that all Google profiles will be public and, as Wilson points out further in the review, private profiles will be deleted at the end of July. If you want to use Google+ and any other service that uses a Google profile beyond that point you will need to disclose your name and gender at a minimum (this is pretty much what Wilson has on his profile – name and gender with a profile photo). Google has not given any indication that it expects or wants users to expose more profile information beyond that to public view. This isn’t Facebook.
You could probably have a Google profile with only your name and gender and nothing else and it would be fine from Google’s perspective. That said, as Jeff Jarvis pointed out recently, social is for sharing, not hiding. If the thought of disclosing personal information on the Web really doesn’t appeal to you then you probably wouldn’t want to use Google+, Facebook or Twitter (I believe Facebook also requires that all profiles have a name and possibly a photo or gender in public view. Twitter profiles disclose whichever name you use for the profile and whatever you add to the bio section, I believe. This minimum disclosure requirement is not unique to Google+).
That said, there may be other privacy concerns looming. This is bound to happen as services like Google+ and Facebook struggle to find a balance between persuading users to share more and enhance the network’s value, on one hand, and protecting their right to choose how much to share with who, on the other hand. My view is that Google is off to a good start, even with some of its initial mistakes which are being picked up and addressed in this limited field trial.
Furthermore, a look at Google’s terms of service suggests that “by submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and nonexclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post or display on or through the services”.
So if you are, say, a professional photographer, you may want to think twice before using Google+’s photo sharing capabilities. But then, Facebook’s terms of service are equally draconian and alarming. For most users, however, this isn’t anything to be worried about, unless they have something to hide — or plan to in the future.
This is a convenient alarmist approach which typically has relatively uninformed users and journalists shouting that the service “owns” their content. We just saw this with Dropbox and we have seen it in the past with Facebook. It is misleading and just designed to attract traffic rather than accurately inform users about what is going on.
What users need to bear in mind is that social networks like Google+ and Facebook take broad licenses from users to be able to run the service. This license is broad, so is Facebook’s, and the question is how far the licenses go. Twitpic’s terms of service, for example, go further than is required for the service to be oper
ated and the service has assumed the right to sell users’ content. That is unacceptable and people should think carefully before using Twitpic. In fact, I think Wilson’s comments are dead-on when it comes to Twitpic. As for Google’s license terms, professional photographers should think carefully about adding their work to any social network because their work is their livelihood. That said, Google’s wording doesn’t include the right to sell the photographs, just reproduce and manipulate them.
Sparks, meanwhile, seems far less refined than other Google+ features. Essentially an aggregator that uses all of that information Google has about you to suggest content you might like, Sparks is somewhat underwhelming in that the content it suggested to us was neither particularly relevant nor interesting. Still, it’s early days, and we have no doubt that the more time we spend on Google+ the better its suggestions will get.
Sparks is actually a very interesting product. The idea is to run a search for topics which interest you and Sparks will give you curated content (not ordinary search results) which you may find interesting and which you could use to spark a conversation (hence where the name comes from).
As far as I can tell Google+ doesn’t base the content in Sparks on personal profile data at this stage. I have a spark for “industrial design” which I haven’t really mentioned much and isn’t listed in my profiles. Google gives me articles which I may find interesting without reference to my profile data. Sparks is really smart because it gets around the question of who to follow for interesting content and instead works to present better results. It is almost a counterpoint to feed readers where you are the curator or have to rely on other curators to identify the best sources.
As unimpressed as I am with Wilson’s review, I want to reiterate that this shouldn’t be regarded as a slight on TechCentral or on Duncan and Candice who I regard as two of South Africa’s best journalists. TechCentral is one of a couple innovative and excellent local news services and I have tremendous respect for the work being done there. With the exception of Wilson’s review.
Google+ is part of a grander Google strategy which seems to be intended to reinvent Google as a social search and marketing business. Google has been working on this strategy for a while now and has made a number of changes to existing services pretty much under the radar. Google+ has attracted huge attention because it is a credible threat to Facebook and Twitter. With enough users it could be the next big social service on the Web but it faces an uphill battle against both services which are fairly well entrenched in their respect markets. I don’t know if Google+ will ever supersede Facebook and I’m sure if it has to do that to be regarded as a success. What I do know is that it has been very well received already and I love using it. It is sticky, stimulating and very well designed and developed. It also keeps getting better, as buggy as it is sometimes. It should feel pretty slick and compelling when it becomes publicly available.
If you would like to read some pretty good articles on Google+, here are a few I have been reading lately:
- Inside Google+ — How the Search Giant Plans to Go Social by Stephen Levy (must read);
- Why yo momma won’t use Google+ (and why that thrills me to no end) by Robert Scoble;
- Why yo daddy won’t use Google+: no noise control by Robert Scoble;
- Google+ by Marco Arment;
- Google Yawn by Dave Winer;
- Page’s Mistake by Dave Winer;
- Alt Text: Google+ Is the New GeoCities on Wired;
- When Google Circles Collide on TechCrunch;
- Google+ vs Flickr vs Facebook vs 500px vs Twitter by Thomas Hawk (a professional photographer);
- This is just the beginning by Paul Adams;
- Why Google+ won’t hurt Facebook, but Skype will hate it by Om Malik.