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The Verdict on Google Plus: Mostly Harmless

Posted by Bob Jonkman on 13th October 2011

Don't Panic, They're Only Vogons

Don't Panic, They're Only Vogons by Patrick Hoesly

After dissing Google Plus I was persuaded to try it out for a while before rendering a verdict. So now it’s been over two months, and my verdict is: Mostly Harmless.

When I get home after a hard day of working with a computer, I sit down for a pleasant evening of relaxation with a computer. I read my e-mail, read the news, and read the microblogs. I subscribe to 55 people on Identi.ca, and I follow 84 people on Twitter. Those 139 people generate sufficient 140 character messages to keep me reading until bedtime and beyond.

But on my Google Plus account, I have 27 people in my circles. Those 27 people create a lot of large messages. In fact, they generate a lot more content than my 139 Identicats and Tweeple, since Google Plus puts no limit on the size of messages.

22 of the 27 people are in my Tech Circle. But instead of receiving only technical content from these people, they’re posting messages about vacations, favourite bands, philosophy, and yes, pictures of cats.  Now, this happens on the microblogs too, but on a microblog it’s limited to 140 characters, and I can ignore them.  On Google Plus the posts are much longer, have pictures attached, comments from other people, and those ubiquitous “John Q. Public originally shared this post” and “Click to +1 this post”.  Google Plus does not have the tools to filter messages by content, or even a method to collapse a conversation thread.

There’s no Atom/RSS feed, so I can’t use my preferred feed reader to analyze, sort and organize my Google Plus message stream. And I don’t know of any third-party applications to read, write and manage content on Google Plus. Google Plus does allow the export of all its content, under Account Settings, Data Liberation. Contact info is in the standard vCard format, suitable for importing into addressbooks.

Kudos to Google for giving users useful control of their data. Still, Google also has access to that data, and continues to collect ever more. In the past I’ve recommended Google Mail as a preferred no-cost e-mail host. Recently Google has taken to verifying new users by requiring them to supply a phone number. Google then sends a text message for the user to enter into the registration form. This is a level of data collection that I find creepy, and so I no longer recommend Google Mail.

Finally, to top it all off are the Google Nymwars. Much has been written about why Google’s policy of requiring real names is wrong-headed. Some people whom I might follow have stopped using Google Plus because of the nymwar controversy. I think I’ll be joining them in disdaining Google Plus.

  • Google Minus: Banality of user content (not Google’s fault)
  • Google Minus: Lack of management tools
  • Google Plus: User control over data
  • Google Minus: Google control over data
  • Google Minus: Nymwars

I think that Google Plus is not the Facebook Killer the folks in Mountain View want it to be.



The image 740 – Towel Day – Pattern by Patrick Hoesly is used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

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