Thursday, August 18, 2011


I've been on Google+ for a few weeks now. It's another "social network" like Facebook, Mixi, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on; a place to connect with people and follow them. It's still invitation only (though see below) but it's surprisingly useful already; there's plenty of interesting people1, and some friends and acquaintances of mine are already active there as well.

You add people to follow them. Unlike Facebook, but like Twitter, you can add somebody to see what they're saying without them having to add you back. Many of our relationships are not symmetrical, and G+ recognizes that.

Unlike Twitter you're not limited to 140 characters of text. Your posts can be as long as you want (though it tends to favour shorter posts), and you can add links, pictures and video right in your posts. And people can comment directly in each post so the conversation becomes much easier to follow.

And G+ is different from both Facebook and Twitter in that you're in control. You can easily, naturally decide who can see what you write, and you decide whose posts you want to see in turn. Your friends won't see work-related posts, and your boss won't see any embarrassing party pictures or posts about your vacation. And nobody can spam you with posts you don't want to see.

Tai Kamaboko

G+ does this with circles. You add people to one or more circles, or groups of people. You can have as many or as few circles as you want — you can have just a single circle with everybody in it if you don't want to bother. People know if you add them, but they don't know to what circles. You could put them in "Best Friends Forever!!!" or in "Crushing Bores" and they'll have no idea.

You choose what circles can see each post. I have a circle for my Swedish-speaking contacts , for instance, where I can post in Swedish without bothering anyone who can't understand it. I have another circle for Japanese, a circle for other scientists and so on. You could have a circle for co-workers to post internal work matters in private, a circle for family members or whatever. You can easily put people in more than one circle — my brother is in both my Family circle and Swedish circle for instance.

These circles also determine whose posts you see. Your stream of updates will only show posts from people that you have added. Nobody can add you to one of their circles to spam you with messages you don't want. If somebody adds you it just means you could see their posts. You won't actually see them unless you add them in turn.

You can choose to post "Public" instead of to particular circles. Anybody who has added you will see those posts, and they will also show up on your front page. If you go to my page and you aren't a member, or I haven't added you, then what you see are my public posts. It's like a blog post or a Twitter update. On the other hand you can post to just a single person; that would be much like a private email.
Midōsuji Line, Shinsaibashi

There's group chat and there's a nifty-looking group video phone which I haven't really tried as I have neither webcam nor headset — though my brother did show me my new niece through his webcam so I know it works. It seems to be really useful for quick meetings or family calls. There are no "brand" or company pages yet — not a bad thing — and no advertising. That will no doubt change eventually. Games have recently been added, but mercifully they've kept on a separate page so you won't see any posts at all about them unless you choose to go there.

Google has decided to disallow openly pseudonymous accounts. This is a serious mistake, I think; there's several important, ethical reasons2 not to use your off-line name in online forums. They allow celebrities to use pseudonyms rather than real names ("Lady Gaga" is there, not "Stephanie Germanotta"), and real-sounding names go unchallenged unless someone reports them. I hope they'll see sense and revisit and change this at some point, perhaps once they allow brand names and company accounts.

It looks good so far. It's still partially unfinished, there's some rough spots, and the misguided "real name" policy is a cause for worry. But if they manage to steer clear of any major mistakes this looks like a real winner. If you want an account, all you need to do is to follow this link: Google+ invitation.

#1 With Linus Torvalds on one hand and Paris Hilton on the other, you're spanning a fair chunk of the industrialized world already.

#2 A couple of examples:

- You're a woman harassed by an abusive ex-husband, and want to participate online without him finding you.

- You have a position of some authority — a teacher, say — and want to participate in political or religious discussions without people accusing you of being partisan and trying to push your beliefs onto your students.

- You work with animal experiments or in an abortion clinic — or working against animal experimentation or abortion; you volunteer to help illegal immigrants; or any other sensitive or controversial field that you want to discuss but you don't want potentially unhinged people to easily find your family or friends.

- You are part of a despised minority or you've had a particular (perhaps psychiatric) disease, and you want to discuss this with others without potential employers or your family finding out about it.

- You simply want to hide your gender or your ethnic background in order to avoid the sleazeballs and racists that always crop up wherever you go online. Note that Google allows you to hide your gender in your profile page, but still require your real name, making it pretty pointless.


  1. uhm that sounds interesting^^

  2. Click that link and join ^_^

  3. I joined Google+ recently too.
    Still getting used to it.
    I can't see it overtaking facebook anytime soon, but things change...

    I agree with all the reasons for having not real names.. but what is to stop you just making up a name, or using John Smith ?
    How does Google know it's not your 'Real Name' ?

  4. Hi Jon,

    Can't really speak for facebook as I don't use it. But that's a small kind of indication in itself; I know several other people that never took to facebook or used it but left that find G+ to be just fine.

    "[…]but what is to stop you just making up a name, or using John Smith?"

    Often, nothing. But we do know that if somebody challenges your account name then Google will ask for verification (send an image of a picture ID) and depending on what you've been up to, or how many challenges you face they may take that process more or less seriously.

    So you can use a real-sounding alias if you want, but you will always be just one step away from having your account - and all contacts and history - revoked. It's not a viable solution when your online reputation rests in part on having a stable long-term identity.

    It also doesn't solve the issue for those who already _have_ a highly respected long-term pseudonymous identity; they can't bring their own selves over to G+, but have to start from scratch.

    And as so many people have pointed out there is a screaming double standard at work: if you're an off-line celebrity you can use your pseudonymous name on G+ all you want.

  5. Hi Jan,

    As you describe it, it seems interesting.
    I've hesitated to join FB or twitter. Infact, I got an account on FB but completely hidden, without anything.

    I am a very private person and really dislike the almost total loss of control I feel there. You got me interested in joining G+.

    Cirles are great for what you say. Separating work (school) mates from close friends, for example. Rather than the friend system where everyone is the same.

    I just applied, and If I can enter, let's see...

  6. ah ha. I was not aware of the challenge and verification process. I wonder how scalable that is ?

  7. Hi Jon,
    I applied for info, but nothing new. The Spanish page says G+ has "temporally exceeded capacity".

    Let's see when they open it.

    I also joined tweeter after an impulse and well, nothing special. After an hour messing I got bored of it... I agree with what Jan wrote a few months ago.
    I dislike the character limit. A person who wants to write and express itself well needs space!

    George (the same as Anonymous above)

  8. Jon, it seems it's scalable enough, as they're rolling out account verification. Let's see where it leads; if proving your identity becomes a prerequisite of using the service then I will quit.

    George, just retry. Should work eventually.

    I've noticed that I have "150 invites left", and while it slowly goes down it seems to get refilled from time to time.

  9. /msg nickserve mycompletelyanonymousnick identify
    /join #someneattopic
    rant away

    IRC is so awesome.
    behind tor and vpn, i am almost identityless.


Comment away. Be nice. I no longer allow anonymous posts to reduce the spam.