Google plus is awesome, PLUS it could be even better

Yesterday I posted some thoughts on G+ (A GOOGLE I CAN FALL IN LOVE WITH, link below) and today, encouraged by +Matthew Levine, I want to build on that a bit by sharing some thoughts about how the user experience could be even better.

Circles: I use gmail, so Google knows a lot about my contacts and how I interact with them.

Contacts by priority: Google, if you know enough to create a priority inbox, you should know enough to prioritize my contacts based on the kinds of interactions I have with people. You should be able to create a prioritized list based on the people I email most often.

Contacts by affinity: You should also be able to see which of those people are most often grouped together, for example people that I have cc'd or copied as I write emails. I also manage and am a member of several Google Groups, so why not allow me to pull those groups into Circles as a circle? That would be a nice smooth transition because I have already done the work of organizing them. While you are at it, what about my contacts from other social networks, such as Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and so on. There is a lot of public information about who I interact with and how often, who I am in groups with and so on. Even within the "Googleverse" you can look at who subscribes to my Youtube feed, who reads/comments on my blogger blog, and so on.

Circle wizard: I'm not a big fan of wizards in general, but imagine that you offered to sort my contacts into circles using the information you already have about my social networks, by analyzing my email etc. You could offer an initial sort based on your best guesses, kind of like the way Amazon offers me "books I might like."

I realize that some of the above might seem "big-brotherish" to some, but you could give me the option to let you do this for me or not. Some people like the granular control of building things themselves, but others like you to do it for them.

Hangout: Hangout is a real winner as far as I'm concerned. Possibly a Skype-killer. Because it is kind of a new thing, there are some social norms here that need to be thought through.

Hangout etiquette: If I am hanging out, how do people know they are welcome to join? What's the etiquette there? Yesterday +Brynn Evans and +Matthew Levine (both Googlers) were hanging out, I saw that and joined because I knew Brynn but not Matthew. Another friend, +Aaron Silvers, saw the hangout but didn't feel like he should join because it might be an internal, Googler-only kind of chat. The fact that Aaron and I saw things differently is an indicator that the etiquette might need to be made explicit for first-time users. My suggestion here: "If you can see a hangout, you're invited."

This is similar to coming upon friends in a real-life hangout such as a coffee shop. You see a friend in conversation with someone you don't know. Should you approach? Is it a business meeting? Is this stranger someone you should know, or is this a conversation you should not interrupt? In the real world it's difficult to say, but online you can do all kinds of things. Think about Skype status. Imagine a red flag says "this is private" or something like that.

Hangout for work teams: I mentioned this in the last post, but one of the persistent problems with online meetings is that you can't see people's faces. Hangout has the potential to be a powerful business tool for distributed teams because a hangout feels more like a face-to-face meeting than most things I have seen. Also the interface is so natural and intuitive that the "how-does-it-work" barriers that characterize most online meeting software just goes away. You click a hangout, check your face in the mirror, and join the meeting. It's that simple.

To turn hangout into a powerful tool for distributed meetings you simply need to add a few things to that interface. Maybe it's a different but very similar tool (Workout?). Workout would have the ability to "invite" a slide deck, Google doc, or shared whiteboard to the chat. These items would show up the same way friends do. When there is activity on the doc, it would take priority at "center stage" so everyone could see the changes being made. A Workout of course would also need to be something you could make private.

Overall Design: As I said before, I love the look and feel of the new design. I can see how it can operate as a synthesizing force that could layer in any set of "apps" like Hangout and Circles.

APIs: This design layer really feels like an OS. Why not open up an API so any third party can plug into that interface? I'd love to be able to hook Flickr in, for example. I have a lot of Flickr contacts and groups. Imagine being able to import your Flickr contacts to gmail, your Flickr groups to Circles, and so on. And why not do the same with Facebook, Twitter etc.? Just let me import them and give them a "tab" in the black bar, so I can integrate everything. I would LOVE YOU FOREVER if you did that!

Basically what I am saying here is that you have the opportunity to really become the "Web OS" you have been talking about for ages. Facebook is today's AOL, everything in a walled garden. Google + has the opportunity to be something bigger, inclusive, an OS that anyone can develop for and participate in.

+Stowe Boyd has written a great article on this theme at http://www.stoweboyd.com/post/7082058053/life-as-a-mosaic-not-a-monolith-what-google-means

Huddle: Can't find it! I hear people talking about Huddle but I don't see it anywhere. What is it and where is it?

Sharing: I know you have heard this loud and clear, but there needs to be a way to follow people but ignore the comments on some posts. People who have a lot of followers, as +Robert Scoble has pointed out, can easily clutter up your stream.

Another point on sharing is the need to share "out" from G+. I want an easy way to share posts like this one to friends on other networks, like Twitter, Facebook etc. G+ will be a great place to have conversation threads that turn into blog posts or other things. Every post, every comment, every thread should be something I can easily point to and link to.

For me, the future of online interaction includes the ability to start with a small group conversation on a topic, but also includes ways for that conversation to morph into bigger and broader kinds of collaboration, even to the point of starting a new company, designing a new product or initiating a social/political movement. As my friend +Thomas Vander Wal puts it: spark (convo) to campfire (persistent convo) to bonfire (social project or movement) to torch (ways to share whatever-it-is widely and broadly).

Fuzzy goal:

This is a fuzzy goal, by which I mean I can't see exactly how it works yet, but the future I'd love to see for G+ is a G+ platform that gives me easy and intuitive control of my feeds, flows, conversations, projects and interactions; that affords me privacy when I need it and a platform to share publicly when I want that; where my social networks are all there, with all their messiness and overlap but organized so that a person I know on Google, and Facebook, and Flickr shows up here as a single individual with those facets of their identity intact.

I guess I want it all. But I have faith that if anyone can do this, Google can. I'll share more thoughts as I have them.

In the meantime, please accept my gratitude for what you have done here. As I said before, it's a huge step in a great direction and you should feel great about what you are doing for the world.

One final thought: If Google doesn't do this, who will?
Shared publiclyView activity