Google+ & Other Googlets – Forward Thinking, or a reaction to a definitive dip in market share & relevance?

Months ago, news hit the web about Microsoft & Google courting Facebook for access to social data as a means of increasing the relevance of organic search results by adding social proximity to the equation, and as most of us know, Microsoft ultimately won that battle, finally giving Bing a considerable advantage over Google… well, on paper anyway.

Fast forward to today:  Google has released its own social network, Google+, to roaring applause and growth in membership that has never been seen before, but to what end?  Looking at Google+ for the past few weeks has been interesting.  For the first week or so there was a seemingly unending stream of animated GIFs highlighting Facebook’s demise in the shadow of its superior successor.  A new crop of Gurus immediately popped up producing link after link to helpful posts and how-tos as newbies flooded in from every corner.  +1 farmers seeded their crops and consultants started shooting videos.  The streets of Google+ were clearly paved with gold, and lots of it.

I wasn’t invited like many others you’re probably reading on the subject.  I was allowed in by friends in higher places (thank you) and at first, I have to say, I was pretty impressed with what Google managed to do in virtually no time.  They put together a social network designed specifically for “people who hated Facebook”, and it seemed they’d done a very good job of it.

If you messed up a post or a comment, you could go back and edit it.  (WOOT!)  Photo handling seemed light years ahead of Facebook’s…  Google was cleaner and meaner as there were no ads and performance was generally a lot better.  These things addressed the majority of issues folks had with Facebook, but what about the other stuff, like security, privacy and the like?

Was the creation of Google+ about making social networking easier, safer and more, well, social, or was the catalyst for its creation a reaction to the ass-whooping Microsoft had just handed them?

Let’s face it.  For the first time in a long time, Google wasn’t the innovator.  It’s my opinion that they missed the small indicators that would ultimately leave them vulnerable to a significant loss of the search market share, but the bigger issue is how they decided to handle it, and what it means to the average Google user (at least today).

I have had a Google account for years.  In that account there is an email address I don’t use, Analytics accounts, Webmaster Tools accounts, and a great many others that, luckily for me, aren’t pivotal to my ability to function, but this ISN’T the case for a large number of people.  Others have GoogleTV, Google Phone, Google Docs, email accounts they DO rely on, and more.  These accounts were generally created under the terms of service laid out for the first of Google’s services they signed on to.  In my case, that would be Webmaster Tools.  But what many don’t realize is that these aren’t different accounts.  They’re one account with various services enabled.  Google+ is the newest of these services, but how it changes the nature of an individual’s relationship with Google is actually quite staggering.

For the first time in history, emails, information about internet usage habits, searches, photos, etc. are all blatantly being tied to real people.  Names, addresses, credit card numbers, current and past residences, phone numbers, email addresses, shoe sizes and preferences, and even where you’re going on your vacation and if you’re going to see a hooker while you’re there…  This information and more is all available to Google for use or review at any time, which poses obvious problems for Google users.

As a rule, Google+ does not allow its members to use nicknames, company names, or any other name which is not legally yours.  This is new!  Yes, if you were paying for a services, they obviously had this information, but it was never collected with the explicit intent to tie it to private information.  This single change in policy has increased the value of Google’s data significantly, but it has also greatly reduced our anonymity, privacy and the quality of our internet experience.  Google+ users are already beginning to report obvious changes to the ads they’re seeing online, and some aren’t comfortable with the change.

Another big issue is Google’s terms of service and how they enforce it.  I admit that I haven’t looked at it in a while, and I really, really should, but the facts are these:

People who have had their Google accounts for years, using Google Docs, emails, Youtube, Picassa and more, are having their accounts (many of which contain services for which they pay) deleted without notice or even a chance to correct a problem because of TOS violations in Google+.  Years of photos, videos, documents, etc… GONE!  These are Graduate Students and Doctors, Bondsmen who require anonymity, dissidents, etc.  Some of them report that they’re even Google shareholders.  It’s something to think about.

Has Google really thought out the Google+ Business Plan?  I’m not so sure they have.

Facebook, regardless of how you feel about it, or Google+, has always approached their model from a “free to the user” standpoint.  Their bills were always going to be paid with advertising and data.  But Google hasn’t operated that way.  Google has operated on the idea that basic services should be free, but that you should pay for advanced features like additional storage:  Facebook photo storage has always been free, but you have a limited amount of space with Google’s Picassa, as is the case with Gmail etc.  Facebook hasn’t run into legal issues with forcing its users to use its services because, a) You can always post from anything, and b) they never asked for money.  So how is Google going to navigate exclusivity of its offering, a pay model and user choice?  Will they stay the course and hope they don’t get sued, make all (or most) of their services free, will they become a new springboard for business development through an android store type platform for the web itself, or will they simply be made to allow other providers into the mix? In any of these scenarios, I think Google is looking at significant legal and PR battles.

Back to Google+: What’s the problem?

Well, without going into great detail, and outside of the “must use real name” fiasco, Google+ makes too many assumptions about online relationships.  From what I can gather, looking at it for the last few weeks, the current structure makes it near impossible to establish new, meaningful online associations.  This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.  It certainly does, and I can personally say that I’ve found lots of people on Google+ I wouldn’t have otherwise found, but I can also say that people are somehow finding me, and these are folks I’d rather not interact with or read.  This seems to be spurred on by a desire to have lots of “friends”.  Someone adds a person to a circle, seemingly with the intent to blast their crap to the largest number of people.  Then, navigating through that person’s list of friends and willing followers, adds them as well, and this is where it gets a bit blurry and difficult to see what’s actually going on…

A number of those people, feeling obligated to reciprocate (as this is what we’re all taught to do), add that person to a circle.  It’s usually something like, “people who think they know me”, or “people I don’t know” or even “douchebags”.  It doesn’t matter.  The point is that there are now two people that don’t know each other, that have created an association.  Now when I get my “So-n-So has added you to a circle” notice, Google offers a list of people we have “in common”.

Since circle names aren’t public, when I look at the “in common” list, I don’t know if this person is in my friend’s “I don’t know them” list, or “douchbags” (yes, I like that word) list. Yes, I can click on my friends and try to figure out what the nature of that relationship is, but that means time and effort on my part.  So far, I’ve found that most of these with “people in common” g+ users SHOULDN’T be in my circles at all, so I’m made to block them in an effort to keep my stream clean.  Problem solved… or is it?

The bigger problem is that I have to do all of the above with every person that attempts to contact me.  Human nature says I’m NOT going to keep doing this, so what happens to the possibility of new relationships?  Google+, as it is currently designed, isn’t a social network. It’s a network of inevitable clicks, and that’s something I’m far less interested in.

Google can fix it.  It will be interesting to see if they do.  Facebook isn’t perfect, but it’s the devil I know, and it’s one that currently holds hundreds of relationships that I actually value, and I know that with care, those relationships will grow.

I know this probably sounds a bit ridiculous, but…

I like Google as a company.  This post isn’t meant to beat them up or point out flaws.  It’s meant to ask questions about the direction of the company, their products, and their impact on our friends, clients, and of course us.  Google’s search market share is slipping and giving way to niche search products and mobile apps.  The social game is one they need to be in, but I think they can do it better than they are currently, and if I’m to be honest, I get the feeling they’re more concerned about the numbers then they are about the overall quality of the product.  In short, I’m worried about them.

Thanx for listening.  ;-P

Here are some links to recent posts by folks who had their accounts terminated by Google as a result of Google+ TOS violations, and other interested reads on the subject of Google+:

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4 Responses to Google+ & Other Googlets – Forward Thinking, or a reaction to a definitive dip in market share & relevance?
  1. Chris Olsen
    August 1, 2011 | 5:23 pm

    Man, to read about how one person (and a host of others I’m sure) have lost a part of (or in whole) their digital lives, work products, etc., at the blink of an eye, with no warning, and no recourse, that should send shockwaves through everyone’s view the critical need for disaster recovery, redundancy, and re-assembling one’s work if it were to simply go poof. What is even more distressing than this is the fact that when a company as large as Google can’t even respond. I remember back in the 1980s when I was a IBM and Sperry Univac mainframe programmer, and all we had were dumb terminal emulators and everything was stored on the mainframe (not much different than a cloud apart from the actual services and ease of access through standard Internet Protocols), but when the mainframe was unavailable, everything stopped, so when client-server and n-tier distributed platforms with business logic, data being separated from the front end GUIs, and data could be local, on an application server, in a back-end database, or any combination thereof, and when service oriented architectures (SOAs) matured, and things were put where it made sense, all the while providing redundancy and backup on multiple levels so should any one node become unavailable, life goes on. So, when I saw the buzz starting to get louder about cloud computing and the access anywhere, anytime, and I kept seeing these marginal productivity apps provided by G as hooks into it, and hearing the occasional rumor of what happens when the lights go out for one individual user, I made it a point to never store anything of value that I cared about in the cloud, let alone in Google, and to provide redundant systems and processes should I ever experience a point of failure. Even simple things like Norton Ghost, Carbonite.com, mirrored-drives, cd/dvd/tape backups, and using a combination of these things to ensure one’s life simply doesn’t go poof, just seems to become more critical as life goes on.

    Whenever you write something, it’s always very astute, and this post is no different. I think I learned more of the bigger picture (even though it’s one person’s opinion) from this post than I have from all the snake oil salesy types who seem to be pimping g+ on every online street corner these days.

    Do you thing Bing is going to make a dent now that things have changed a bit or ???

    • Jon Hardison
      August 1, 2011 | 5:48 pm

      Ahhh, just hearing about the good old days when pounding repeatedly on one key or another actually had a shot at getting things moving again. Good times. :-)

      To answer your questions about Google+, Google and Cloud computing on a whole… It’s (all of it) really hard to say.

      As a long time supporter of Google, I think they’ll resolve the technical issues, or at least be a little more forthcoming about the interactions of various services, and more specifically their take on the social structure they’ve implemented… yeah, I’m pretty confident about that.

      Google is getting a bit too big for comfort though. This much information in one place is NEVER good for anyone and it’s probably time for consumers to seriously consider this when they make decisions about where they’re putting their data.

      When you combine what Google and Microsoft are becoming with other issues like net neutrality and recent legislation that requires all US ISPs to maintain logs of all their user’s clicks and visits… The world is getting very, very scary.

      As for Bing: I think Google has, to date, done a reasonably good job of maintaining a “friendly” status with most consumers, where Microsoft has had a more “Can’t Touch this” attitude. Both companies are vying for the same type of data and access, and given the choice, based on reputation alone, I believe Microsoft’s chances are slim, but who knows… A few well placed photos of Billy G kissing babies and that could change overnight.

      The idea of cloud computing is a fantastic one, but yes, this word is getting tossed around a bit much. It’s a tool, like anything else, but implementation will ultimately decided it’s value to the consumer, but clouds are not all created equal.

      I’ve always seen cloud computing as more of a substitute for a suitcase. Clouds simply enable me to bring things everywhere I go without having to carry stuff. I go to the office, there it is… Home? There it is! That’s its value to me, and there are always copies of everything all over the place. It’s best summed up in Apple’s implementation. Yes, the cloud can be used for storage and sharing, but at no point will there ever be something in the cloud that doesn’t already exist someplace else, (i.e. an iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC, etc.) So if the cloud precipitates all it’s data for some reason, or if you violate Apple’s TOS, your cloud data becomes unavailable. But their TOS doesn’t extend to your desktop or mobile device(s). It’s just safer and makes a lot more sense.

  2. Lynda White
    August 1, 2011 | 12:24 pm

    I know what you mean about the circles. They can be really confusing. Sometimes I think I ought to start over with the circles while I just have a few in them.

    I’d been using Google’s services as a business (my boss’s) until Google+. Then I changed it to my name. I hope this doesn’t mess up our SEO.

    • Jon Hardison
      August 1, 2011 | 12:38 pm

      Knowing what you know how, it would probably be a good idea to redo your circles, but you’ll discover that the project of “researching” everyone you don’t know is completely unreasonable and could easy take hours, even with a short list. Interface wise, I think it just puts too much of the weight on the individual being circled. As for SEO, I can’t imagine it would, but who knows. That’s actually a pretty good question, and one I hadn’t considered. Thanx a bunch for stopping by. :-)