Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Idiosyncrasies of Google+ Privacy

I like how in Google+, when someone hits the reshare button to reshare your post, if you have limited the visibility of the post, the resharer may see a reminder to "remember to be thoughtful" about who they share your post with. I don't know what dictates, exactly, when that reminder comes up, but it appears even when resharing a post that has a visibility of "Extended Circles" (friends of friends). If the resharer does proceed to share the post, he can share it with any of the sharing options (including Google+ Communities) except for "Public." But what if the resharer is resharing a reshare? (And what if Sally were to sell seashells by the seashore?) The first screenshot below is of a reshare of a post. The warning comes up when trying to reshare it. The original post was shared to the public. When resharing posts on Google+, only the original post is shared, even if comments have been made by the resharer. So it is strange that when one reshares a reshare that was limited of a post that was public, he is presented with a warning and limited in how he can share it. The second screenshot below shows when a user proceeds to share a reshare.

remember to be thoughtful warning

resharing a reshare

Perhaps resharing a reshare causes the reshare that you are resharing from to be explicit in some way: in other words, the fact that that person has reshared that post is included within the reshare (of the reshare). As it turns out, who reshared a particular post is already public, regardless of the visibility they set to their reshares. A list of all resharers can be found in the post's activity drawer, accessed via the button to the right of the +1 and reshare buttons (which is present on original posts, not reshares). The only purpose the warning and the limiting of sharing options serves in this case is to slow resharing of the original post, which mitigates the ever present potential for someone to click through to the original post, open the activity drawer, and view the resharers, some of whom might, in some cases, not want the fact that they reshared the post to be more public than the setting they set for their reshare. But no guarantees!

Reshares and Mentions

It was probably just an oversight of Google's that the warning is applied universally, with no exception for reshares. But it was not an oversight to have the warning in the first place. Google wants you to be mindful of others' preferences when sharing limited posts, so the site presents you with a friendly reminder. Yet I have never been advised by Google+ that the act of my resharing something is public, despite only scant indication that this is the case. In fact, today, when I reshared a post to one of my circles, I think it was the first time I had reshared a post to a limited group (I usually share publicly), but even then, no warning presented itself.

Similarly, if you mention someone in a comment on a post, that person gets to see the whole post and comments thread, even if the post was not shared with him. Nothing presents itself to tell you to be thoughtful about sharing with someone to whom the post was not originally shared, in this case. However, posters can lock posts, which blocks resharing, photo tagging, and certain mentioning.* It appears, though, that the options to lock posts and to disable commenting on posts are only available on the desktop version of Google+. The second and third screenshots below were taken on an iPad (app and browser, respectively).

*When commenting on a locked post, one can still mention people to whom the post was originally shared.

Lock this post option on desktop version iPad app absence of lock option and disable comments mobile website absence of lock option and disable comments

Seems like there's no reason that those options should be missing. There's plenty of room. Even on the website, room could be made available if Google were to just choose whether it wants you to share a thought or add a comment. Make up your mind, already. Speaking of which, the iPad app has the slightly different wording of "Share Your Thoughts…" and the desktop version asks you to "Share what's new…"; did four Googlers get in a fight and this was the only way Larry Page could break them up? Or is this a secret data thing, and Google knows something about mobile website users that I don't?


+1ing on Google+ is as public as the post you're +1ing. I don't know whether Google explains this to first time +1ers. To Google's credit, mouseover text on the +1 button on websites reads "Publicly recommend this as [user's name]." On touch devices, when +1ing, a message pops up briefly indicating that the +1 was public, but this is far from adequate due in no small part to the fact that the message appears only after the action is taken, but also because of its subtle nature and duration. +1ing on Google+ itself (including the iPad app) affords the user no such mouseover text or message. If a user hides the +1s tab on his profile, all of his +1s follow the same rules except that the profile tab becomes hidden. Google might want to articulate that. Users who choose to hide the +1s tab on their profiles might think that doing so means: their +1s on external websites are private (because the +1s tab is just for those +1s), that all of their +1s are private and only the poster is notified of the +1, or that their +1s are anonymized (or that their +1s are anonymized except to the poster who gets a notification). Atop the +1s tab on a user's profile, there is an explanation of +1s, but it doesn't do anything to explain +1 publicness, and its "Learn More" link links to a page that also doesn't do much to explain +1 publicness (nor does that page link to this page on Google's support site which does a great deal to explain +1 publicness).

The +1 button on web pages does not automatically publish to the streams of those who have circled you. A publishing box is displayed when pressing the +1 button though, in case you want to share your +1. Facebook, on the other hand, publishes your Likes automatically, and if you disable that (if you ever find the setting), it only disables one type of Like (I think), as I complained about earlier. But Google isn't against annoying automatic actions as I explained in this post about a feature called Direct Connect which appears to be not working right now.

Seeing who a post was shared with

This post is currently shared with…

Those to whom a post is shared with on Google+ can see the other people to whom that post was shared, as far as I know, and in a sense (see screenshot above). For public posts and posts shared to extended circles, just that information is available to those who can see the post (the information that the post was shared to "Public" or "Extended Circles"). In the case of a limited post, people who can see the post can see linked profile pictures of up to 21 other people who can see that post. This is true even if a user hides who he has in his circles on his profile. It is also true if he has hidden on his profile who he has in particular circle(s). That means that even in that case, people who see his limited posts can see that he has a particular person in his circles (though no names of any circles are given), even if that person is in a circle that he has chosen to hide from his profile.

Unchecking show people in circles on Google+ profile

There's a reason users can see who a post was shared with. If you're commenting on a post, you might want to know who you're talking to. If a post is shared with over 21 people, though, viewers of the post will see "+ [number] more." In other words, in some situations, commenters get the benefit of knowing who they're talking to, and in other situations, they don't. I think that if I share a post with 30 people, but 17 of those people are in a circle I have marked on my profile to be hidden, then the shared with should see three linked profile pictures and "+ 17 more" (unless a person is one of the 17, in which case he'll see four pictures, one of himself). If a keen observer sees such a post, without two neat rows of profile pics, then he can tell that the poster has a hidden circle (or two), but he can't see who's in it, and I don't think this is significant, so I would propose this method as a solution. As for when a user sets his profile so that none of the people in his circles are shown, perhaps the thumbnail images should still be available to people who he shares posts with, for their benefit. However, Google should make this clear (with, again, allowing for hiding of individual circles that effect what thumbnail images are shown in posts; this combination will make Google+ flexible enough for my taste).

More Advice for Google

Make it known to new users the publicness of resharing and +1ing up front. My recommendation would be to do this right when a user gets an account. Remove the unnecessary warning and limitation for resharing of reshares, but implement it on mentions. Add the lock and disable comments features to the apps. I don't want to hear any excuses about how it would mess up the design or something. Implement my suggestion about profile pictures of people in hidden circles, and make the explanation of that appear when someone is changing the applicable settings on his or her profile.

I don't remember setting up my Google+ account all that well, and it was a long time ago, and the setup process could have changed since then. But I doubt there was enough explanation of any of this. Make it so. Don't be afraid that if you tell your users things, they won't use any of your features. Don't be worried that you'll inundate your users with too much information. This is a situation where you want to ask your wordsmiths in the company in how many words they can communicate X to users, instead of just assuming that it'll be too much information, and a bad user experience, and users can't handle it. If Google+ can be the network that's up front with its users and actually fixes some of these privacy "idiosyncrasies" (I'm sure I'm not using that word correctly), then they can start running commercials about it. If they start running commercials that are truthful, and really show how Google+ protects its users and makes them in control of their own privacy, that's a competitive advantage.

Here's another idea: if users really understand how your network works, they'll use it. People use the social network features of social networks, but not for everything. They're using things like Facebook chat too. They have a lot of choices. Here's a tip for Google and Facebook: if you want the world to be more open and connected, a sentiment I share, then put users in control of their privacy. If you want more openness, make the limited-view sharing really appealing to users (by letting them know what to expect). Strange, I know, but limited-view sharing is a different type of openness than public sharing. It's an openness among classmates and friends, and it goes beyond that too, because even though Google warns about resharing something that wasn't meant to be reshared, posts are only one side of the equation: there's no stopping the spread of ideas.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Facebook Tests Charge for Sending Messages; Better Than Near Guarantee Message Won't Be Read

I should have seen this coming.  Recently, Facebook conducted an experiment to "test the usefulness of economic signals to determine relevance."  I genuinely love the language chosen here; it means that users who are (were?) part of the test get the option to pay to have a message reach the recipient's main inbox.  I don't know what the cost per message was for those users in the experiment, but AllThingsD's sources say a dollar, and that "Facebook will tinker with the fee over time."  Facebook wrote, "in this test, the number of messages a person can have routed from their Other folder to their Inbox will be limited to a maximum of one per week."  (I assume Facebook is referring to the recipient's Other folder and the recipient's Inbox.)

The Other folder was introduced in 2010; it was one of many changes to the Facebook messaging product, all of which I hated (I don't have a decently written post to link back to with an explanation).  It had a few issues.  Pages you had Liked from then on could not reach your main inbox, at least by default.  I consider this to be a problem because you might want content from a Page that you Like, including in your inbox.  There isn't an adequate solution to this problem based on already-in-place signals, but if Facebook were to have Follow buttons on Pages separate from Like, which the company disappointingly has no plans for, following a Page would be that (adequate, not perfect) signal.  The other thing that resulted from the Other folder's introduction was that if you were sending a message to someone, that message would either go to that person's main inbox or to that person's Other folder.  What Facebook might call social signals would determine to which folder a message would be delivered.  I think that it would depend on a user's settings whether he would receive messages from people who were not friends with him, though I believe the default was to have at least people who were neither friends nor friends of friends filtered into his Other folder.

The black hole that is the Other folder

When a message lands into the Other folder, the recipient is not notified, at least, not in the normal way.  One way that Facebook notified the recipient when this system was first put into place was a new message counter next to the Other folder.  And where could a user find his Other folder?  Under "Messages" in Facebook's left sidebar, but only when he clicked "Messages" and the counter certainly wasn't red.  I'm not sure whether this counter was visible enough even when it was visible.  But it was downright invisible unless you clicked on Messages (or got a new message notification and followed it to read your new message; I believe then it would be not invisible).  This would not be good for a user who visited the messages section of Facebook infrequently, or saw the Other folder as akin to a spam folder and not where valuable messages get hidden.  By the way, in my opinion, the Other folder is more visible in Facebook's current design, but it is still invisible unless you click "Messages" or are in the "Messages" section of Facebook.

The latest news on Messages

Here's Facebook's post about how Message filtering options have changed.  It seems from this post that there were some half-decent options for undoing some of Facebook's dual-inbox shenanigans.  Interested?  Sorry, those options are gone now; in their place, Basic Filtering and Strict Filtering.  Facebook didn't post details on the "economic signals" test.

Better than a guarantee your message won't be read

The Other folder is as inconvenient/detrimental to the sender as it is to the recipient.  It's close to a guarantee your message won't be read.  And the worst part:  there's no warning that your message is just going to go to the Other folder (that I know of).  That's a problem.  We may see a solution though, and that will be in the form of "economic signals," like it or not.  Because the only way a toll will be a relevant signal (and the only way it will yield much revenue) is if when the rerouting option applies, it presents itself with some kind of explanation of what the Other folder is and why you don't want your message to land there.  Unless Facebook is implementing this without a free option and with no explanation of why there's a charge, which I somehow doubt.  It is yet to be seen if Facebook will make the charge a "feature."

It wouldn't be a nice feature.  And if Facebook simply had spam filtering, instead of this weird filtering system that weeds out the could-be-extremely-important but don't worry because that stuff isn't "meaningful," this wouldn't be necessary.  Provided it were good, no,—excellent—spam filtering.  But that wouldn't make any money; would it?  Perhaps what Facebook was thinking when they introduced a dual-inbox in 2010?  Ha, but I don't think Facebook's smart enough to think of that.

The one per week limit is ridiculous.  From what I can make of Facebook's post, it's one rerouted message per week for the recipient (from any number of senders?), i.e. if you're a sender and your intended recipient has had a message rerouted earlier in the week, Facebook will tell you you have to wait until next week to get in touch.  That's my best guess as to what the limit means.  If you're very famous and people are paying to message you all the time, perhaps you should have your profile set to not be searchable.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On Sharing More, Google+ Communities, Facebook Settings, Jony Ive, Rap Genius Annotating the Web, and Finnish Law

Here's some of the stuff I've been posting on Google+ in the last few months.  The first three links are to fairly in-depth posts that I wrote.

Note:  all Google+ posts are visible to everyone; a Google+ account is not needed.

On sharing more:  In which I argue that we, as a society, need to be sharing more.  And when I say "sharing," I mean sharing on social networks, and I should specify, as I did not do in the post, that when I say "social networks," I mean open channels of open social networks.  I'm glad that traditional messaging technologies aren't dead, but I would like to see more activity in the open.  And why is that, you ask?  I try to explain this in the post.  Read it, and you'll see (whether I've done even an adequate job of explaining, and if I haven't, this certainly won't be the last time I talk about the importance of sharing more and why I think it's so important).  WARNING:  I was in a predicting mood the day I wrote that, so I made some pretty optimistic predictions that are super naive.  They sound nice though.

On Google+ Communities:  Google+ now has an equivalent of Facebook Groups, which I am very happy about.  It seems pretty cool, and I like the category feature, which Facebook doesn't have, as far as I can tell.  Here's an example.  I'm not sure if Google will be able to use Communities as a user acquisition tool though, since everything most people need is provided by Facebook Groups (i.e. a soccer team of 11 people probably doesn't need or want categories to put different types of posts into).  Hangouts and Communities would be a nice combination though:  I could imagine this working well for a study group.  I hope to see future commercials for Google+ reflect this.

On the recent Facebook settings layout update:  In which I give credit where credit is due, but that would be boring if that's all I did.

On Finnish law:  Maybe there are exceptions, but regardless, this is not okay.

On Jony Ive and management changes at Apple related to Scott Forstall's firing:  Wishful thinking is fun, but why are people wishing for so little?

On Rap Genius and annotating the entire web:  Super cool!  You know what would also be cool?  The ability to correct typos on websites.  On that note, a friend of mine has his website on GitHub, so you can do just that.  (He would need to publish it to where his site's actually located though.)

UPDATE (December 25, 2012):  It turns out that one of these posts I already linked to from this blog, in this post.  I apologize for the redundancy.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

All Queries are Questions, All Questions Have Answers, All Mentions are Answers, All People are Experts, Friends are Not People (Pretty Sure I Heard That on Bing)

I decided to look and see what that sidebar on Bing is all about.  I pressed the button to expand it, and…

Bing Friends Who Know and People Who Know Sidebar

"Friends who might know," Bing suggested.  "People who know," Bing declared.

I must have asked a question, and I must be looking for an answer, and it must be a fact-based question that people either know or don't know, except if I'm friends with them, in which case they only "might" know, Bing implied.  And if these people just so much as mention what I'm searching for, they're suddenly question answerers answering all kinds of questions that they don't even know people are asking.

Search isn't even always about answering questions.  People also use search to just learn about a topic, and sometimes even stumbling on something you weren't looking for is nice.  I think it's good to keep this in mind in discussions about what search is.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Share More! (The Importance of Sharing More and How to Get Society to Do it)

I recommend this post that I wrote over on my Google+ page (account not required); I will inevitably reference it in future posts.  Also, check out "Frictionless Sharing" is a Bad Solution to a Good Problem, if you haven't already.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Real "Google+ Ghostbuster's Kit" Contains a Billion Users (Batteries Not Included)

Google+ fan Mike Elgan published The Google+ Ghostbuster's Kit to help anyone in need of livening up their Google+ experience.  It's not very good.  (Did you know you can block people who annoy you?  Don't have anyone to follow?  I got some friends I can loan you.)  It's not a bad read if you are looking for a little more from Google+ than you currently have, if only to circle his "League of Extraordinary Circle Friends" and hope for the best.

Elgan's sentiment is that the Google+ "ghost town" critics "don't get it" because they're not using Google+ to its potential; if only they would circle people, post, and comment, then they would understand.  I'm not sure Elgan "gets" the critics.  It is not that easy to see the viability of Google+ from a marketplace (money) or cultural perspective.  Will Google+ shape the next ten years or will it be just a service that some people use?  The ghost town critics have raised this very question.  Tried to.  Sort of.  Okay, they've basically just said Google+ sucks and Google should take its social network and (improve it??)  But it's the effort that counts (no matter how many friends they lose or people they leave dead and bloodied and dying along the way).

I'm not fond of the "ghost town" critics myself.  But I feel like someone should address them directly.  Lovers of Google+ (warning:  massive generalization ahead) always pick arguments that, while worthy of recognition, completely miss the point.  Here are some:

  • Google+ has interesting people on it [even though Google+ has none of your friends on it].
  • If you post on Google+ you get lots of "engagement."  The conversation on Google+ is more intelligent than it is on Facebook and Twitter.  [Hey, famous people (journalists included), you're famous!  Not everybody is famous.  Sheesh.]
  • Google+ is the social layer of Google [which means that, as a destination, it has no obligation to be appealing because it's not a destination].
  • Google+ is awesome because [reason(s) that the product itself is good; (not bad for a start to a cohesive argument, but still avoids addressing critics directly)].

Google+ does indeed have interesting people.  I'm one of them.  Go circle me.  You could have found me through search, not know who I am, but not care, because I'm interested in things your interested in.  You can use Google+ that way; there's value there, absolutely.  It's important to look at that, as well as observing what value is missing from the picture.  The people you follow on Twitter aren't necessarily active on Google+; same goes for your friends on Facebook.

Google+ does serve as a social layer and that is of much potential benefit to Google users.  But without your friends, every integration with Google+ runs into a dead end.  Also, certain integrations of Google services into Google+ require that users be visiting their streams and posting content to Google+ before any benefit can be had.

If Google+ had a billion users, you would be able to connect with all or most of your friends, as well as people you don't know but choose to follow.  It doesn't.  Yes, Google+ doesn't have to have a billion users to provide value to Google users, but Google does have to have a billion Google+ users (or maybe just 500 million) if it wants to provide the kinds of value having a billion users can offer.

Google+ with a billion users:

  • All the value of Facebook, a lot of the value of Twitter, and more.
  • "Social layer" of Google.

Google+ as it stands:

  • Value comparable to that of Twitter, but different, and limited.
  • Limited value from "social layer."

I love Google+, but I'd love it even more with a billion users.  Google+ won't have a billion users anytime in the next six months.  But how many users will it have in the next six years?  Ten years?  Fifteen?

This post is the first of a continuing series about why the conversations around Google+ aren't any good.  In future posts, I'll explain what I like about Google+, explore Google+ as a social layer of Google, do some speculation about the future of Google+, and opine on why people shouldn't say Google doesn't "get" social.