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Google Plus - screenshot from introduction video, courtesy Google

Google Just Myspaced Facebook

31

Reflections

Reflections

So after much hubbub, Google launched its fourth attempt at social networking, after the fails of Buzz, Wave, and Orkut. As invites to the semi-closed trial were being screamed for all over the net yesterday, I started to play with it, and have three lasting impressions. My takeaway: Google has just leapfrogged Facebook by ten years.

We’re all used to seeing an activity stream from our friends by now. While the concept of an activity stream was Facebook’s “aha!” moment for me — as I realized that the cost of keeping in touch with hundreds of people had just shrunk dramatically — it’s old news at this point. I had been looking forward to Diaspora, which promised to do two things:

1) Decentralize social networking. Just like with mail, you would be in control of your data. (Facebook is generally seen as evil — not Sony evil, but still evil.)

2) Put more focus onto the different roles you play in your life (as in when you interact with family, friends, colleagues, professional connections, etc). Diaspora called this aspects.

It seems Google has done a near-perfect job of the latter, and nobody really cares about the first, as long as Google stays reasonably good. (But that’s a big as long as.) For now, this attitude from Google is a major promise: “For any who wish to leave, please remember you can always exit and take your data with you by using Google Takeout. It’s your data, your relationships, your identity.” That’s miles and eons from Facebook’s attitude towards its community.

But Google’s accomplishments go way, way beyond playing catchup with current ideas. The real innovation is in the social interaction. Google has hit a moving target several years in the future.

There are three things that strike me as I toy around with Google Plus.

One: The Interface. This is by far the most important epiphany. I didn’t realize it until I tried Google Plus, but Facebook — and pretty much every other web application — is completely adapted for using from a stationary computer with a mouse and keyboard, or possibly a laptop. That makes sense in its time; Facebook came onstage for real some time 2006.

The contrast is striking and stunning as you toy around with Google Plus and everything is manipulated using symbols that you drag around on screen for real-time interactions and very few buttons. The interface is slick, intuitive and unlike anything on Facebook.

This is for tablets.

Yup: this is tablets. In large and small form factors, from phone to pad. Connected, mobile tablets. Google is not building this for 2008, it’s being built to hit a moving target in 2013. We’re coming there quickly. In contrast, Facebook already feels old with its keyboard-based entry fields everywhere.

I mean, have you seen Facebook on Android or iPhone? It is so obviously not made for that kind of interface. I practically refuse to use Facebook on my mobile because it’s, well, unusable. One year from now, what kind of devices do you see people using in cafés and other informal workplaces? It’s not going to be the Alienware Area-51 Ultimate Desktop. There’s the uptake for you already, right there. Remember how Myspace became unusable?

Two: It’s Already Operational. One hard thing can be bootstrapping a new social network. I was genuinely surprised to see a stream full of activity practically as I went into G+. Again, it contrasts wildly with both Facebook and Twitter, which took me a month or so to get going and useful. Now, I have no idea how this happened, but my stream is already full of my friends’ activities, despite G+ officially being in beta, closed, invite-only, and whatever. It has become an overnight drop-in replacement for Facebook for me.

Three: Synchronous planning. What Google appears to have really nailed is group video chat, what they call “hangouts”. This is a far cry from Wave’s stationary-based “multiplayer notepad”, and rather, it is what Hollywood sci-fi flicks have looked like for the past twenty years when people are in meetings. Except it’s on your Android tablet or phone, and not in a movie. This looks like a piece of the social puzzle we’ve been missing for quite a while.

Fourth and last: Facebook has been mistreating its community for years and getting away with it because there simply wasn’t any alternative, and the latest XKCD sums it up well:

Of course, time will tell, but I haven’t seen this strong a promise in a very long time, and my first “aha!” experiences were far stronger than those with both Facebook and Twitter.

UPDATE: Added Google Orkut to the list of failed attempts. Thanks, @mmasnick.

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About The Author: Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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31

  1. Falkvinge on Infopolicy: Google Just Myspaced Facebook:
    So after much hubbub, Google launched its fourth … http://tinyurl.com/6yt9ew6

  2. 2

    This looks very promising indeed. I am a fan of FreedomBox and Diaspora, but this could be the thing to use until then.

    If anyone has an invite, feel free to send me an email johan [at] kveras [dot] se.

    • 2.1

      I used to be a big Diaspora fan. The aspect idea was brilliant. But, after that, they falled into a Facebook cheap ripoff. This is really lame. They even implemented messages.

      We already have our contact list/address book with groups: it’s your XMPP rooster. I really believe that a decentralized social network should be built on top of that. See for example : http://buddycloud.com/ or http://onesocialweb.org/

      All in all, I strongly believe we should extend our email, not building “yet another service” (which is why OpenID or Diaspora fail). See http://ploum.net/post/building-your-web-identity

      Google understands that. Everything is linked to your gmail account.

    • 2.2
      Erik S

      The largest problem that FreedomBox has, is that it’s full of people with ideas and only a very small hand of doers.

      Also, you want to slap someone hard after hanging around the mailing list.

    • 2.3
      Sasha

      Please send me some too oleksanr.v(at)gmail(dot)com

  3. 3

    Well, not so good experience for me. I’ve received an invitation but Google refuse to accept it, saying that it is already over-crowded. Well, not a big deal.

    But in the mean time, I receive all the notifications of the person who sent me the invitation + multiple reminders that I have an invitation.

    It is filling my INBOX. Hopefully, there’s an unsubscribe links in each mail.

    Guess what: that unsubscribe is broken and returns a 404 error.

    This is *very* annoying. My INBOX is currently filled by this SPAM and I will have to make a manual filter to get rid of it.

    I consider that as a big fail, really.

  4. 4
    BL

    As usual the paying Google customer are left out.
    I have Google Apps, so i’m unable to try this out, just as I could not use Buzz or Google Profiles.
    Had it not been becasue gmail with apps is way better than any other alternative, I would probably moved already, but sometimes being a paying apps customer is really annoying.

    • 4.1

      Personally, I think Google is wise to put the long-term community over the short-term profits. This was not something that existing customers paid for, nor had any reason to expect.

    • 4.2
      Stefan

      Google Apps is not the same as a gmail/google account. It’s mainly meant to be used as a business communication suite and it really excels at that. Why not use a private gmail address for social networks and stuff?

  5. 5

    Testing cache purging, ignore.

  6. 6
    ANNM

    I think I’ll keep avoiding “social networks” until there is one that uses actual end-to-end encryption, so only the people I choose can see my data. ONLY them. Not the service provider and all the government and private organisations the invite to trawl through their database, not anyone snooping on my or one of my friends’ internet connection.

  7. 7

    Testing cache purging again, ignore.

    (WordPress does not fill in fields for you anymore. That’s because it doesn’t plant cookies anymore. That’s because I’ve installed caching that gets a 95% hit rate as soon as I turn off the cookie monster part of WordPress.)

  8. 8

    @BL, upgrade your premium service to the latest updated gapps service (at no cost) and you’ll be able to hook it up to g+, pending an invite!

  9. 9

    Oh, mycket lovande! Skönt att använda osv. På tiden, väntade också på Diaspora faktiskt men man kanske ska ta o köra med Google+ då ^_^.

  10. 10
    wertigon

    Personally I don’t think Google+ is the long-term solution I’m hoping for.

    Let me explain. Back in the late nineties, the “social network” to be in was ICQ. Then came MSN, followed by MySpace. Then MySpace got pushed out in the cold by Facebook. And now FB is getting left in the dust with Google+.

    What does all of these have in common? Closed and centralised islands. You cannot in any way, shape or form move your contacts elsewhere (except by tedious copy/paste). And thus you have to start anew every time the switch happens. New contact lists, new photos, new friends. And this, I feel, is not how it’s supposed to be. Google+ is leaps and bounds better than FB, but still – unfortunately – centralized, and still a closed island. It’s better – where facebook let everyone have a 10 m² walled garden, Google+ lets everyone have a 1 km² walled garden with a free gardener to boot, with the option of taking all your plants with you should you for some reason leave – but it still has those walls, and those walls will mean a migration headache when FooCo Ltd offers a 100 m² garden with walking dinosaurs in a few years.

    That’s why I’m hoping XMPP + FreedomBox manages to do something *really* cool and create a library to easily tie your XMPP account into the web. That’s what I’m *really* hoping will happen. All the pieces of the puzzle are already there, now all we need are something that glues them together.

    Imagine going to a website, logging in to it by entering your email/xmpp address, getting a popup saying “Someone is trying to log in to the website http://www.example.com using YOUR account, do you wish to allow this? Y/N” and then simply press yes to be logged in. Then all your contacts are handled by your XMPP client. It’s more and more obvious that we are going to start needing some real web identities pretty soon. Read the book Ender’s Game for a way of how that could work without jeapordizing personal integrity too much…

  11. 11
    Mrhama

    I really hope it works good in MeeGo, since I am planing on buying the N9 when it comes in september and might transfer over to g+ then. I always like to consolidate my e-services to as few places as possible in order to have better control over them.

  12. 12
    Magnus

    You will still get spying for free at google, that _is_ evil. It is dead fish that floats downstream.

  13. Awesome :) >>>>> RT @falkvinge Google Just Myspaced Facebook http://is.gd/bSEckK #googleplus

  14. 13

    This is one of the most awesome articles and headlines written lately. Thank you Rick for awesome article, Google really did surprise everyone with this and it rocks!

    Video alone is a killer…

  15. 14
    Magnus

    I recently heard Christian on RT about leaked cables around FRA and the swedish spying/wiretaping, Sweden rats out Russia’s internet to US, now for Assange and remembered the project up in Luleå where Facebook is said to invest 5 billion in server location. I suspect a connection here.. Now if google succeeds in a grand scale getting on board all the dead fish flating downstream, i guess they can get cheap server location built by Facebook and still comply with those taking advantage of the “get spying for free concept”.

    In the Facebook case the “get spying for free” has become accepted, accept beeing spied upon or be closed out from your friends. Google on the other hand have adopted the “don’t be evil” policy, but we also know that the chinese hackers that hacked google a year ago used bakdoors put in place on orders from the american security complex.

  16. 15
    Jenny D

    I most emphatically do *not* agree that Orkut is a failed service. It’s got a couple of hundred million users, and it’s still growing.

    What it is is a success that is outside of your own demographic – it’s successful in South America and large parts of Asia, less so in North America and Europe. In other words, you’re making the classic mistake of calling it a failure because its success is among people who don’t count.

    I really loved the title of the post, though.

  17. 16

    Having been recently kicked out of Facebook because my activity there was not “real” enough — after being a long-time user of Facebook since almost its very beginning, when their policies were different, and Zuckerberg couldn’t care less about who subscribed to their services — I suppose that this biased me towards Google+. I wonder if I would have been so eager to try it out if I were still active in Facebook, which, frankly, I never really liked, but had no option to use it because, well, “everybody is in Facebook”.

    I got an invitation to Google+ while there was still an active “hack” allowing people to register even though registrations were closed. As you mention in your article, and unlike all other social networking tools I had logged in before (including Google Wave and Buzz!), this was already crowded with activity from all my friends, most of which weren’t even aware I had also registered to G+. Just that made a first positive impact! Also, this feels completely different from Wave or Buzz, and somehow makes everything more fun; being cursed with outdated hardware, Wave was simply too slow for me and too hard to use, although I also had big hopes for it when it was launched.

    Google is good at making existing services better and better, but they haven’t had exactly a stellar record in launching new services: a lot of them have completely failed and are now absolutely forgotten. But this time they might actually have done something right.

    I absolutely agree with you: it’s the interface. It’s something designed for this decade. I don’t own a tablet yet, but I’m looking forward to Apple’s soon-to-be-released Mac OS X Lion, which brings the “tablet era of interface design” to an operating system on a common personal computer: drag, drop, pinch, zoom, all with your fingers on a surface — no more point and click to links and constant page redraws. Google anticipated that experience by launching a whole new way of doing social networking: this is precisely what all tablet/smartphone users wish to use — it’s so much more natural — and what all Apple users will have in a month (I’m sure that Microsoft will do something similar for Windows 8 or 9 or 10… they cannot afford to be left behind).

    So if Google’s strategy is to become the #1 social networking platform on tablets and smartphones, they have already won the battle. They might also very quickly become the #1 social networking platform on future Mac OS X Lion users, because it will so nicely fit with the “new” model of interface design. Put together, that’s possible half a billion users — enough to get Zuckerberg worried — and more to follow as soon as there is enough traction.

    We seem to be living in interesting times. The dragon was just sleeping, not hibernating.

  18. 17

    Don’t forget Google Lively. It was another “social” product from Google. But then so is Gmail, isn’t it?

  19. 18

    According to an update posted by Rockstar on its official website from
    Dec. Just look at youtube, worth over 1 billion dollars and
    is no more then two years old. However, this system does require
    at least 2 hours of time per day to implement,
    so be prepared to make this time investment if you want to try
    Dominating CB 2.

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