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Some initial thoughts on Google+

July 22, 2011

Like a lot of folk, I’m a little late to the invite party on Google+. I’ve been using it a lot over the past few weeks, and I’m both impressed and crestfallen.

Google got a lot of things right, but it also got a lot of things wrong. Or, maybe, not quite right.

Like many other things I talk or rant about, I’m probably in the minority, but I’d like to offer my initial thoughts on the service, before it morphs with new features. Remember Facebook in the first year? Yeah, it was pretty lean, too. A lot of gripes here may be gone before the pixels dry on this post.

Also, I haven’t clicked every button or fully explored every feature yet. So, some things below may be flat out wrong. Leave a comment if I’m on drugs.

I’ll say up-front that I’m happy with what I see so far. The rest of the post may seem to be very critical, but that’s because I want to focus on the things that are askew.

At least, in my opinion.

Sign-up

Very easy, but it could have gone just a bit smoother with a smarter wizard. Google knows it’s competing with dozens of other social networks out there, and allows you to hook those accounts in, but doesn’t do the obvious things, like ask to query those accounts for folks you’re connected to in those services who also have accounts on Google+. When I hook up my LinkedIn account, I should be asked something like the following: “Can I access your contacts? If you say yes, I’ll automatically add contacts who have opened accounts on Google+ and connected them with their LinkedIn accounts to your business Circle.”

Signing up isn’t the headache. It’s filling out your profile and adding all your contacts…again. That’s the headache. Make it easy for us, and you’ll have us forever.

Running in Circles

Ok, bad joke. The Circle concept isn’t bad. The interface is a little clunky, though. At some point, managing Circles through a drag-and-drop interface is going to be a non-starter. Even worse, in my opinion, is the lack of an interface to see all my contacts, and all the Circles I’ve placed them in. I may have left someone only in my Friends Circle, who is also a co-worker. When I post something only to my Business Circle, they won’t get the post. Managing this through the current interface isn’t that great.

Dude, where’s my Tweets?

The decision to not hook other services like Twitter directly into my stream is disheartening. Now I have to double-post, or give up a service. Guys…c’mon. Just fix it. Facebook did.

If Google is really interested in serving businesses with G+, those businesses will demand the ability to have their posts in other services show up in their streams. Or, have what they post to their streams posted to their other services. Double-posting sucks, and it’s the one thing G+ needs to get right.

Like, Reddit, AddThis, Plus 1…frak.

In a perfect world (at least, my perfect world), the Plus 1 button should be smart enough to know that I’ve hooked up my Facebook account to G+, and when I Plus 1 something, it should also automagically Like it as well. This would allow Google to play nice with other social networking services, and still have their own button. Like the Twitter issue above, this is about not forcing users to give up the investments they’ve already made in other services in order to use G+.

Yeah, I know…all the other social networks would freak if Google did this. There are also technical problems. But this is an adoption barrier that will get worse as social networking services proliferate, and there has to be a solution that doesn’t involve lawsuits and gnashing of teeth.

“Your permanent URL is a crazy 75-character alphanumeric string you’ll never be able to fit on a business card”.

I hope this is something that will be improved down the line. If I can’t put my G+ url on a business card, it’s not much use to me.

I’ve been using the service for awhile, but don’t quite know how the url structure works, or how to permalink to anything. Has anyone else figured this out?

Free data

The data export feature is sweet. I love the fact that I can opt out, and bring my info with me.

But. Google could have chosen better formats.

Contacts are exported as .vcf files, which is awesome. They hit that one out of the park. Love it.

Everything I “Plus 1”, though, is exported as an old-school, HTML 1.0, smelly, old Netscape Bookmarks file. When was the last time anyone coded an HTML tag in uppercase with no closing tag? The code doesn’t validate as XML, even though it has a doctype. I quickly reformatted that page as valid XHTML, and it imported fine into Firefox, although I haven’t tested other browsers.

Profile information in JSON format. Well, it’s ok, but that’s the most important data any user would want. And most of the millions of users on Google+ don’t know JSON. But most have some form of spreadsheet or word processing application. A csv or rtf file would have made more sense here.

The rest of the files are in standard XHTML, but with a lot of weird stuff. It’s not really proprietary, but it could be better organized. Somebody could parse it, if they really felt like it, but that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here.

I am glad that I get my data back. But if I need to do a lot of cleanup on it (and be a programmer to do it), Google hasn’t really done much for me. I don’t want this feature to go away. And the point I really want to make is that this is an opportunity to work with standards bodies, governments and other corporate entities to start standardizing the way this information is stored and shared.

And it really is an opportunity. Standards like this would outlive Google+, and be of far greater value in the long-run to Google itself. Google+ may eventually die, but Google will most certainly replace it, and allowing users on third-party services to jump on because they’re using the same data format is a…well…plus. If I deactivate my account, export my data in a standard format, and decide to jump back on…well, that data can be imported at the push of a button, no matter how old or stale it is, without converters, transformers, or any other software.

Google, as a company, I think this is one of your great opportunities to improve the web. Embrace it.

Events

No events. Ok. Just a little gripe, here. I can’t imagine this feature staying out for long. I know Google had said they will soft-launch ‘business-oriented’ features later, so this is just a heads-up that I’m expecting it.

Blogs, sparks, and streams

I can’t understand why these aren’t consolidated into one single page. If you post something to your G+ blog, will it be shown in other user’s streams? Why can’t I see all my sparks in a single view?

This is one area where I’d like to see some form of consolidation between streams, messages, Buzz, tweets, sparks, and email. A single dashboard should be the goal.

I hope these things get worked on more. In isolation, they are good features, but consolidated, they are a killer feature.

That’s enough for now

There’s a lot of hype about G+ right now. And I’m sure the service will come out of beta looking very different. I wish Google luck with this. Like I said, I’m not unhappy with the service, and will probably continue to use it. But the devil is in the details, and I hope some of these little gripes get ironed out.

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