Google+, first impressions

There was an interesting white paper from Paul Adams, a former UX googler and, I assume, one of the earlier G+ team members: Real Life Social Network.

It is a paper full of interesting concept, made public around July 2010 and I had high expectations on the incoming social network of google.

In short the paper describes how the current social networks (à la Facebook) are not good models of the real life relationships.

Now Google+ is here.

Unfortunately the implementation is a bit disappointing: away from the original concept (at least, as described in the paper) and seems more yet another social network:  the anxiety for Facebook that pervades google (or their ad sellers) took over.

In fact the end result resembles very much Facebook, with its standard concept of main feed – my profile – my friends and I’m pretty sure soon will arrive the rest: games, polls, quizzes, ….

Until now, it looks more like the logic of “we need to have a social network too” won versus the “we should do something that does not exist” one.

It remains to see if they built something that was already existing, but better.

For example, Google knows a lot about me and my interests. They could show me or prioritize the feeds interesting for me among all the ones shared by my friends.  If Facebook is relations, Google+ could be interests.

It doesn’t look like this is achieved, for the moment.

Strong and weak ties

On slide 97 of the paper, you can see the following diagram:Social Relationships diagram

It shows which kind of eco-system of relations a real person can have: different “circles” of friends (e.g. the college friends, the family) and among those other circles, with stronger or weaker ties (e.g. people we communicate with frequently vs. infrequently).

Typically you might have 10 strong ties and up to 150 weak ties (150 is not a random number).

You might even have only temporary ties (the person who answered your question on a surfing forum but who does not belong to the “surfing” circle of friends.

People with strong ties with us have also a bigger influence and deserve a different design and possibilities, i.e. they could help us deciding which new digital camera to buy or which university to choose because we trust them.

At the moment, G+ doesn’t really consider the strong ties.  Sure, I could double or triple all the circles and call them “strong surfing friends”, “weak surfing friends” and “temp surfing friends”.

But this is cumbersome; and G+ knows which people I most talk / chat / interact more. The strong/weak division could be done automatically.

Maybe one day it will come, I don’t know. It would have been great to have it from the very beginning though.

Personal information and privacy

The following diagram Privacy (taken from slide 193) shows that the privacy needs precise boundaries and the possibility to greatly customize them.

You want to give some personal information based on the recipients. Some of your “surfing friends” can get your phone number, some even your address, some none of them.

Sometimes people need to be anonymous

Period. It was even in the original paper (slide 186).

We will see. It’s a good first step (still, I’m surprised it took so long to come out with so basic functionalities) and many functionalities (APIs anyone?) are missing. Technically and functionally it’s also not bringing anything really new. But the interface is nice, the mobile application functional and it seems to scale very well.

It remains to see if they can build a good social product.

To quote Paul Adams, from his blog (after leaving Google for Facebook!):

Google is an engineering company, and as a researcher or designer, it’s very difficult to have your voice heard at a strategic level. Ultimately I felt that although my research formed a cornerstone of the Google social strategy, and I had correctly predicted how other products in the market would play out, I wasn’t being listened to when it came to executing that strategy. My peers listened intently, but persuading the leadership was a losing battle. Google values technology, not social science.

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