Why TechCentral’s Google+ review is the worst I’ve read

Craig Wilson has written the worst Google+ review I have read so far. This isn’t because the review is critical of Google+ or questions whether it has what it takes to compete with Facebook and Twitter, but because the review is factually inaccurate in some respects, misleading in others and reads a little like Wilson has no idea what has been going on in the Google ecosystem. I really shouldn’t have read this review so early this morning, it just put me in a bad mood. I left a comment on the post a little earlier and thought I’d deal with the specific issues here instead.

Referring to Google+ as a Facebook-killer is possibly one of the more unimaginative categorizations a journalist can come up with. Actually, most of these “-killer” descriptions are sensationalist but I suppose that is what attracts readers, as tired as it is. Moving along …


But Circles does have its flaws. Most importantly, the suggested contact list is populated from your Gmail contact book, which is fine if you’re an Android user and all of your contacts are up to date, but less so if you’re not and they aren’t.



This is not a criticism of Circles but rather of users who don’t have up-to-date Contacts in Gmail. Circles does suggest new connections based on your Contacts and if your Contacts are not up-to-date, well, perhaps you should update them if you want better recommendations. Circles also makes recommendations based on your connections and these recommended connections may not be in your Contacts.


Fortunately, this time around Google didn’t automatically add all contacts from users’ Gmail accounts to its social platform (as happened when the disastrous Google Wave was launched). But it would still be great to be able to import contacts from elsewhere. No doubt this, along with other minor failings, will be addressed in updates.



Two things here. First, the “disastrous Google Wave” was really Google Buzz which launched with poor privacy controls in place. When Buzz launched last year it initially automatically populated your Buzz connections with your Gmail Contacts and made those connections publicly visible. It was a terrible decision, in retrospect, because Googlers who had been testing Buzz internally didn’t realise that making those connections public by default could be a bad idea. That decision probably doomed Buzz, to a large extent, and has haunted Google since then.

Second thing is that Google+ does allow you to import contacts from Hotmail and Yahoo!. The option is clearly marked:

Circles  Google+


After all, Google+ is only in its infancy so there are bound to be a few kinks.



Google+ is not complete by any stretch of the imagination. It is in a limited field test which is Google’s way of saying that it is really really in beta. It has bugs and its features are being tweaked, added and removed on an ongoing basis. The team behind Google+ is listening to feedback us early users (read: testers) are submitting and is iterating pretty rapidly.


Perhaps the best feature of Circles is that it’s possible to opt to prevent people in your Circles from re-sharing content you’ve shared with them.



This is also incorrect and a cause for concern on Google+. Users can limit what they share to specific Circles or individuals (or combinations of both). One of the early concerns was that a user could share something intended for a limited audience, publicly, and effectively negate the privacy Circles enables. Google has addressed this in part and while it still allows you to reshare posts (still a concern), it warns you that doing so may not be what the original poster intended and you should think twice before doing so.


Still, for the paranoid there may be other privacy concerns. Like Facebook, Google+ wants to encourage people to share as much information as possible, including making your Google+ profile public, if you’ll allow it.



Google has said that all Google profiles will be public and, as Wilson points out further in the review, private profiles will be deleted at the end of July. If you want to use Google+ and any other service that uses a Google profile beyond that point you will need to disclose your name and gender at a minimum (this is pretty much what Wilson has on his profile – name and gender with a profile photo). Google has not given any indication that it expects or wants users to expose more profile information beyond that to public view. This isn’t Facebook.

You could probably have a Google profile with only your name and gender and nothing else and it would be fine from Google’s perspective. That said, as Jeff Jarvis pointed out recently, social is for sharing, not hiding. If the thought of disclosing personal information on the Web really doesn’t appeal to you then you probably wouldn’t want to use Google+, Facebook or Twitter (I believe Facebook also requires that all profiles have a name and possibly a photo or gender in public view. Twitter profiles disclose whichever name you use for the profile and whatever you add to the bio section, I believe. This minimum disclosure requirement is not unique to Google+).

That said, there may be other privacy concerns looming. This is bound to happen as services like Google+ and Facebook struggle to find a balance between persuading users to share more and enhance the network’s value, on one hand, and protecting their right to choose how much to share with who, on the other hand. My view is that Google is off to a good start, even with some of its initial mistakes which are being picked up and addressed in this limited field trial.


Furthermore, a look at Google’s terms of service suggests that “by submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and nonexclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post or display on or through the services”.

So if you are, say, a professional photographer, you may want to think twice before using Google+’s photo sharing capabilities. But then, Facebook’s terms of service are equally draconian and alarming. For most users, however, this isn’t anything to be worried about, unless they have something to hide — or plan to in the future.



This is a convenient alarmist approach which typically has relatively uninformed users and journalists shouting that the service “owns” their content. We just saw this with Dropbox and we have seen it in the past with Facebook. It is misleading and just designed to attract traffic rather than accurately inform users about what is going on.

What users need to bear in mind is that social networks like Google+ and Facebook take broad licenses from users to be able to run the service. This license is broad, so is Facebook’s, and the question is how far the licenses go. Twitpic’s terms of service, for example, go further than is required for the service to be operated and the service has assumed the right to sell users’ content. That is unacceptable and people should think carefully before using Twitpic. In fact, I think Wilson’s comments are dead-on when it comes to Twitpic. As for Google’s license terms, professional photographers should think carefully about adding their work to any social network because their work is their livelihood. That said, Google’s wording doesn’t include the right to sell the photographs, just reproduce and manipulate them.


Sparks, meanwhile, seems far less refined than other Google+ features. Essentially an aggregator that uses all of that information Google has about you to suggest content you might like, Sparks is somewhat underwhelming in that the content it suggested to us was neither particularly relevant nor interesting. Still, it’s early days, and we have no doubt that the more time we spend on Google+ the better its suggestions will get.



Sparks is actually a very interesting product. The idea is to run a search for topics which interest you and Sparks will give you curated content (not ordinary search results) which you may find interesting and which you could use to spark a conversation (hence where the name comes from).



As far as I can tell Google+ doesn’t base the content in Sparks on personal profile data at this stage. I have a spark for “industrial design” which I haven’t really mentioned much and isn’t listed in my profiles. Google gives me articles which I may find interesting without reference to my profile data. Sparks is really smart because it gets around the question of who to follow for interesting content and instead works to present better results. It is almost a counterpoint to feed readers where you are the curator or have to rely on other curators to identify the best sources.

As unimpressed as I am with Wilson’s review, I want to reiterate that this shouldn’t be regarded as a slight on TechCentral or on Duncan and Candice who I regard as two of South Africa’s best journalists. TechCentral is one of a couple innovative and excellent local news services and I have tremendous respect for the work being done there. With the exception of Wilson’s review.

Google+ is part of a grander Google strategy which seems to be intended to reinvent Google as a social search and marketing business. Google has been working on this strategy for a while now and has made a number of changes to existing services pretty much under the radar. Google+ has attracted huge attention because it is a credible threat to Facebook and Twitter. With enough users it could be the next big social service on the Web but it faces an uphill battle against both services which are fairly well entrenched in their respect markets. I don’t know if Google+ will ever supersede Facebook and I’m sure if it has to do that to be regarded as a success. What I do know is that it has been very well received already and I love using it. It is sticky, stimulating and very well designed and developed. It also keeps getting better, as buggy as it is sometimes. It should feel pretty slick and compelling when it becomes publicly available.

If you would like to read some pretty good articles on Google+, here are a few I have been reading lately:

12 responses

  1. After you make a post there *is* an option to “disable reshare”, accessed from the drop down menu to the right of the post. 

  2. Hi Paul,

     

    Thank you for your comments on my Google+ article. Like you
    I am not particularly fond of hyperbolic phrases like “Facebook-killer” which
    is why the headline was phrased as a speculative question rather than a
    statement.

     

    I submitted half a dozen possible headlines with the piece
    and that just happened to be the one that ran. My favourite was Google+: Hands-on and thumbs-up. I
    mention this because on the whole I think Google+ is a great product, despite
    my criticisms of it.

     

    I also agree with your assertion that it isn’t Google’s
    fault if your contacts aren’t up to date, but I think it’s important to note
    for non-Android users. I only made the effort to tidy my contacts when I first
    used an Android phone, and for those who’ve never had the need to sort out
    their Google contacts it’s alarming when you’re suddenly presented with
    hundreds of contact suggestions, many of whom you don’t know because you may
    only have emailed them once or twice.

     

    In terms of Google’s contacts-automatically-added debacle, you’re
    quite right, I did mean Buzz rather than Wave. That was simply an error and I’ll
    see to it that it’s corrected accordingly.

     

    As you point out, “Google’s wording doesn’t include the
    right to sell the photographs, just reproduce and manipulate them,” and perhaps
    I overstated the issue, but it was precisely the Twitpic uproar that prompted
    me to note it. I’m sure we both agree that creative professionals should keep
    their work off social media if selling it is their livelihood. Still, an
    amazingly large number of people don’t realise this.

     

    I’m sorry you felt my piece seemed poorly researched. I’ve
    been playing with Google+ since last Friday when I first got access, and spent
    hours reading about it over the last few days. However, with all of the
    articles about it out there already I wanted to offer a simplified look at the
    product, and a look at why it might work.

     

    Thank you again for your comments, it’s readers like you
    that keep writers like me on our toes and continually trying to produce better
    work. Hopefully my next piece on Google+ won’t leave so bad a taste in your
    mouth.

     

    All the best,

     

    Craig

  3. Good article, being into IM myslef i was wondering if this wasnt possible a ploy for them to de-rank the importance of backlinks as a possible  Page rank factor and then add Google+ into their algorithm, well we have allready seen Google+ tools pop up with the guys farming Proxy sites and spoofing ip’s.

    I also suspect that thier highly paid algorithm calculator people says that my friends share the same types of interest, this “sharing” Google+ links to my contacts, thus it will deliver relevent content to people. This is to my knowlage Google’s main aim is to deliver search results or websites that you find relevent. I think they are trying to recreate human behaviour in their system…well im sure they are.

    Never the less great article thanks

  4. The functionality has been changing constantly and you can even restrict whether people can be tagged in limited posts, or something like that.

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