I should confirm: I left Facebook over a year ago; my Google profile did not reflect this because until the advent of G+, no one ever looked at peoples' Google profiles so it reflected my employment status from the last time I updated it, which was years ago. I have now rectified this.
Secondly, I do have a non-trivial financial interest in Facebook's success. However, since I've left, I am now free to sell [via secondary markets, etc], so I can potentially diversify away from Facebook if I think that e.g. G+ is about to crush it, and even go long on Google itself. This puts me in a very interesting position: my financial interests now depend more on accurately gauging the viability of G+ vs Facebook (if the two are in fact in conflict; see last paragraph), rather than merely shilling for Facebook. It's unlikely that I could sway a market of a million users, but if I predict it correctly I can choose where I want to put my money, including moving it entirely out of Facebook. This makes my personal interest in this a bit more complicated than just being a company shill. You will notice that, for instance, actual current Facebook employees are conspicuously silent in public forums about this issue; I am no longer an employee. I am also in touch with a large number of ex-Googlers, some of whom have worked on Google's prior attempts at social.
One of the sources of information I have access to is the fact that I was at Facebook for a long time and am therefore privy to how all of Facebook's attempts to introduce "friends lists" (i.e. Circles) to users played out. I can't sway the actions of millions of users, but I have observed them under a variety of A/B testing conditions. As with G+, the friend-lists were very popular with power users (prior to Facebook, they were a proven and key feature on LiveJournal) but outside of a tech-literate minority, either incomprehensible to regular users or simply not worth the effort to learn/use. More accurately, users aren't dumb; they are drunk
- see http://blog.bumblebeelabs.com/the-5-guerrilla-user-test/
which explains it much more clearly, in that users are not so much unintelligent as they are distracted and indifferent.
It's worthwhile to note that the userbase for the G+ field test consists of self-selected individuals who especially value privacy controls and are willing to put in the time to configure and explore them. I'm no exception: I'm here to explore how well G+ works as a Facebook-killer because I want to know if I should sell my Facebook stock. But the average user has a lot more things going on in their life, and as we discovered at Facebook, they just want to share-and-forget, and their attitudes towards privacy exist in a strange tension between exhibitionism (people want comments and approval, even from strangers) and discretion (they want to avoid awkward embarrassment).
Interestingly, because I wasn't here specifically for the privacy controls (I was here for the insider information), I initially couldn't be bothered to sort all my friends (only 50, a tiny subset of my FB friends) into buckets but because I eventually realized that I needed to get the "real" G+ experience, I dutifully sorted everyone into buckets and learned how to work all the selective publishing controls. I realized that if I waited any longer to do so, I would soon have way too many connections to be able to sort them all at once. Afterwards, I found the experience of sorting all my friends mentally exhausting, especially trying to decide certain border cases. And there's always the nagging worry later about whether some key "border" person is in the wrong bucket or not.
If you'd like to experience this from the viewpoint of a regular user, try out circlehack.com
, a site that uses Connect to give you a way to sort all your Facebook friends into circles, whereupon you can then use FB's own selective publishing tools to publish to a subset of them. I have ~800 friends on FB; most people have around 200-300. Do you want to sit around and make sure everyone's in the right bucket? It's not because G+ has a better UI (though it does); it's because it doesn't have users yet - if you don't do the sort right away, you'll never get around to it - the energy barrier is too high. If anyone with more than 250 friends successfully uses circlehack.com
to sort their friends into friend lists, send me your email address and I will PayPal you $5.
It's tempting and fun to mock people who fuck up and say that it's their own fault that they didn't know how to work the privacy tools, as many of you have done with me here. We did that sometimes at Facebook, when there was some privacy "violation" in the news that was actually due to user error (90% of them were). But ultimately it's not helpful. People to whom privacy "violations" (gaffes) are going to happen are a biased selection of people who don't
pay attention using privacy tools; they just use the defaults because they are either busy, not careful, actually dumb, or (most often) actually drunk. People who are willing to explore and use the tools don't have problems in the first place. This is why all of my G+ posts have been public - I'm not oblivious, I'm simulating the "dumb" (drunken) behavior of normal, indifferent users and how they'll perceive G+ when it's fully opened up. Do you think that, when regular users join the site and make such gaffes, your mockery will endear them to the service?
Lastly, the reason I'm saying that Google doesn't get social is that they seem to be targeting G+ as a more-private Facebook killer. In this, they have made a laughably poor clone. It looks
like Facebook, but it doesn't function like it. In fact, it functions a lot like... Twitter. A lot of people understand Twitter, and Twitter provides its own unique value, but one of the things it doesn't provide is privacy. If, in fact, Google is trying to position G+ as a Twitter-killer
but trying to employ misdirection to take Twitter unawares (for example, I know that the "flaws" I've pointed out were the result of deliberate product decisions), then they are strategic geniuses
. (I am not the only one who has advanced this possiblity: http://venturebeat.com/2011/06/30/google-could-make-twitter-the-next-myspace/
) But I don't think that's really the case.