What is it?

Google+ if you aren’t already aware is Google’s latest social networking and app consolidation effort. I’ve been on it now for a couple weeks I think.

Why bother?

Well, simply put, I do not like or trust Facebook at this point. FB has an established track record of trying to mislead or trick its users into exposing posts and other content they have entered into their service.

It would be one thing if a user of a given product didn’t configure the product properly and exposed their content. However, in the case of FB, even if the user takes care to arrange all of their account privacy settings, the company has changed the function of the privacy settings several times resulting in exposed content if the user hadn’t noticed the changes and made the corrections. FB never discloses the ‘risks’ of their changes which leads me to quickly conclude they intend on the results.

This is unacceptable. A user shouldn’t have to be constantly vigilant to maintain the expected level of ‘privacy’ of their content as a development staff of hundreds makes random changes to a code base.

The FB motive in this appears to be to expose user data to the internet at large. This is very different from what I’ve so far seen from Google.

Why not Diaspora?

Well, I’m still in the Diaspora camp so to speak. The project is making some decent progress lately to clean things up and add new features. It however isn’t done yet and has a fair amount of time left to go before it is a more fleshed out platform.

One of the big wins with Diaspora, at least at this point is that the privacy settings of the aspects feature are tighter for sure than the Google+ circles implementation.

Google+ likes and features.

Circles - Circles are a list of friends. In G+ a user can have many circles to divide friends into different categories. People can be in multiple circles as well.

The function of circles is to allow a user to post content and share content to a defined audience. This is important and significant because it would allow one to post content to a circle called friends that may not be appropriate for a group called coworkers or grandparents.

This is possible to do in FB, but they have intentionally made it convoluted and difficult to maintain the lists and categorize your posting targets to match. G+ has the fundamental principle of separation of your audiences built right into the interface.

Also with circles you can read the categorized posts of a particular group of friends filtered out of the general stream of all posts. This is useful when a user has broad circles of people they follow. This makes it easy to quickly view posts only from family as a good example, in case you miss them in the torrent of other information.

The mobile app for Android is really pretty well done too. With mobile app integration I get updates about postings as they occur though this is a bit buggy still. This gives me a more Twitter like experience but without the insane character limitations of using Twitter. As you can tell from this posting, I’m not a fan of brevity when I have something to say. I find it crippling to try and express anything of consequence in the Twitter constraints.

These are the primary reasons I like Google+ , particularly when contrasted with Facebook.

Some bugs and issues

As alluded to earlier, there are some snags with circles as they are currently implemented. Right now, one cannot have a circle of circles and this is nagging once you have, say over 100 users. I have multiple categories of ‘friends’ that I’d like to post to for common contexts and with the current implementation it requires me to select a good handful of circles to do so.

Privacy controls in circle postings are not fully rational

Right now if you post to a particular circle or even a specific person, the content is fairly easy to rebroadcast by the other party. The main issue about this isn’t that the receiver couldn’t just cut/paste and repost, it’s that they could unintentionally reshare to an unintended audience.

It’s not a risk of intended malice as that is always possible, it’s more of an unintended risk of exposure of content. The receiving users may not realize the reason a sender intended on limiting the audience. Right now when posting I can restrict to a person or circle, then after the post is posted, I can return to it and disable re-sharing. However, this means the post was already unleashed first and exposed before I restricted it further.

Once a post is loose it can’t be undone. So if I post something, let’s say a link that wasn’t what I really thought it was originally…an article headline that was catchy but turned out to be off topic or spam etc. after I finally read it. If I delete the original post, if anyone had re-shared this, it would remain shared and attributed to my account.

This same issue applies with making a post and then going back and preventing re-sharing. If the post was already shared, I cannot undo it at that point, no matter what the settings are set to. I believe the poster should own their posting content so at any time, if they choose to revoke the posting, it should be revoked globally.

I’m not sure if this is a bug or if there was intent here. I’m leaning towards bug as the logic involved in use cases gets to be rather vast with such a large application. I’ve submitted feedback on many aspects of these issues so we’ll see what happens as releases begin to emerge.

In my opinion, the restriction on re-sharing should be implied and the default when the scope of a posting is limited to circles or people vs. a public tagged posting. Otherwise, what would be the point of filtering on your targets?

I’ve put a fair amount of thought into privacy with regard to posting on any social media format and it’s been a bit vexing at times for sure.

A lot of the risk can be readily avoided by using common sense and applying one’s brain as a pre-filter. However and I believe increasingly, consumers of social media are not in that mindset and expect the services themselves to be a good part of that filter. When considering the damage that could result it poses interesting questions for sure.

Some quickie examples where my own filter would save me, but for others, maybe not.

You hate your job, and you find a new one. You select your circle of friends, some of whom are co-workers, many are not. You post your announcement I’m finalizing a deal right now for a new gig and I’m very happy. One of your co-workers in your friends list re-shares your posting… with it now going to other co-workers that you are quite a bit less friendly with. This could happen completely innocently with your co-worker friend not even realizing the issue. This isn’t going to end well :-).

You have been out at the bar and come home half in the bag and decide to rage on about something in a way you generally would never do. Done, posted. What you posted pissed off a pile of people and upset others. You cannot revoke this post the way the system is configured now. Not only that, but as you add new people to the circles you posted this to, they will see the full history of postings you have made. You are now stuck living with the real-life hangover of your mistake.

As mentioned earlier, doing things like this are something I’ve pre-programmed myself to avoid, but I’m not so sure the newer generations or less technically savvy consumers of social media have trained themselves the same way.

Just look at the scandals of immensely public figures and their Twitter postings as obvious examples. People who totally SHOULD know better, still falling victim to their own words. The general public is far less clued.

All this considered, do take a look at Google+ and Diaspora, if for no better reason than to add competition to the pool.

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16 July 2011