Aug 21, 2011

Why the current Google+ is disappointing, at least for me

It seems that Google+ is cross between twitter and Facebook. Although Google+ encourages the twitter mindset of sharing and following, it is also enforcing Facebook policy of real names. This policy of enforcing real names when sharing publicly can be disastrous especially for activists, including political activists under oppressive regimes.

The concept “who can access what” is an old concept to be found in the different texts about [information] security. At first, I thought that Google+’s idea of “circles” should cover that, but day after day I am more convinced that it is just a gimmick supposedly to better target one’s audience/contacts.

Google+ seems to be some kind of a crossover between twitter and Facebook, among other platforms. However, its implementation requires a serious makeover if it is to widely succeed. Why?

Generally speaking, twitter is built on the idea of public sharing or tweeting. Actually, when you are on twitter, you would normally feel flattered when someone retweets your tweet. I bet it must be an honor for the serious users when a tweet makes it to the “top tweets” and after being retweeted by people they don’t even know. You would feel good when people you don’t know start following you. The reason is that all this are helping your original objective - sharing publicly. The good thing about twitter is that you need few seconds to create an account and you don’t need to provide any name or personal information if you don’t want to. So unless you are a celebrity using your real name, theoretically speaking, people follow you and retweet your tweets because your tweets are interesting to them.

On the other hand, Facebook is the complete opposite. You are sharing with your friends, or at least with people whom you know. Unless you made your Facebook wall public, you are not sharing with strangers and you don’t expect strangers to read your statuses. Since you are only sharing with people you know, you need them to know who you are; otherwise, they might not approve your friend request in the first place. In other words, people follow you, i.e. accept your friend request, because they know you and want to be in touch over Facebook; they don’t accept your friend request because your Facebook statuses are necessarily interesting to them. I am sure you can think of a bunch of your Facebook contacts with not-so-interesting status messages.

Then we have Google+ where they decided to cross these two beasts! However, there is a catch: you must give your real name if you want to keep your account and you are encouraged to fill your profile as you do on Facebook. So the user fills in his “correct” information like any law abiding citizen and starts sharing with his friends as he would do on Facebook… only that this is not Facebook. A post originally private can be reshared by any contact publicly. If you try to apply Facebook’s mindset i.e. sharing with people you know, then you don’t know when you are going to shoot yourself in the foot as one of your private posts becomes public!

So, the safe choice on Google+ for now is to treat it as twitter and alternate between “public” and “extended circles”... This is good until you realize that you are using your real name; posting publicly, while using one’s real name, is fine as long as you can voice the same opinion publicly in your everyday life. Practically speaking, this means you should think twice if you want to criticize your employer, for example. On a more serious level, under oppressive regimes, voicing your political opinion online, with your real name attached, is a recipe for a prison sentence or worse. Etc. I wonder if the guys behind Google+ are safe in their ivory towers, or maybe they are just not very familiar with political activism in the third world. Or maybe Google+ is meant only for the happy citizens of the world...

Last but not least, I really like Google, but let’s say that Google+, in its current form, is simply disappointing.

Now before you start “correcting” me, here are few notes:
Note 1: Yes some people tweet privately, but this is not the general norm.
Note 2: I know, some people run a public profile on Facebook and add people they don’t know. And yes, you can create lists (same as Google+ circles) on Facebook.
Note 3: Finally, I know that you can “disable resharing” (recently renamed to “lock this post”) on Google+, but seriously, are you going to do that every time you post something private? :)