Why I’m A Little Sad For Google+ (And What These Companies Are Doing Wrong)

Report: Google to end forced G+ integration, drastically cut division resources | Ars Technica

Google+ seems to be the red-headed stepchild of social media networks – an image not helped by the fact that its branding is all, well, red. But in any case, Google+ has never received the support and attention that other networks – hell, even LinkedIn – have received over the years. It’s been “that Google thing” and while you would think because it has freaking GOOGLE in the name everyone would be using it, they haven’t. Now, Google is appearing to “pivot” away from Google+, first with G+’s leader leaving the company, and then this news that possibly over 1,000 Google employees will be shifted around. According to the linked story, TechCrunch is calling Google+ the “walking dead.”


There are a lot of great things about Google+ that I like. This commenter on the post says a lot of them. One of the things s/he says I will also say: I do not live on Google+. But for an occasional trip, I can read a lot of interesting people’s interesting thoughts. People like Google’s own Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the inventor of Linux Linux Torvalds, a few podcasters I follow, and some very fascinating groups on roleplaying games, Linux, computer programming, and science fiction. Google+ also has no character limit, so you can write screeds if you wish, and it does seem like a breath of fresh air to get away from the increasingly stale and stultifying Facebook atmosphere and the hectic, sweltering rapid-fire heat of Twitter.

Perhaps the greatest part of Google+ from a publisher standpoint, however, is how well it integrates with Google search. +1 a story you like, and you push that story higher in the search rankings whenever someone searches for the story’s topic. +1 really helps get stories to the top, as they’re usually recommended by your friends (or, at least, in theory they are.) Of course, you can +1 your own stories and help they grow as well. It’s a fantastic idea.

Unfortunately, Google may some serious errors. One of them was the forced integration with the YouTube comments. Look, hateful, dumb, anonymous YouTube comments are an Internet institution. They are worse than even 4chan, and that’s almost an Xbox achievement. And yet people want them to be that way, and they don’t want their real names and faces attached. Destroying that pissed off a massive Internet community, one that’s arguably larger and more entrenched than even Facebook. Not a smart move, Google. Forced integration with other services beyond search was also starting to grind on a lot of people’s nerves.

My personal pet peeve, however, is how Google has been so damn stingy with the personal profile API. Although they allowed some services, such as Buffer (which I highly recommend, by the way) to post to Google+ pages, but so far it hasn’t let anyone else post to Google+ personal profiles. There was, for some time, an Android app called “Jift” that allowed you to simultaneously post to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, but it was pulled after awhile (and it’s style of reading posts from all three services wasn’t that great to begin with.) This forces people to get out of their main app, which usually can post to Twitter and Facebook simultaneously (like, say, Plume), and go into the Google+ app. You know who wants to take that extra step? Nobody. Why not just do it all in one go? That would make it dramatically easier to use Google+, although it would cut down on the number of people actually using the Google+ app.

Which is why Google hates it.

This brings me to what I think all of these companies are doing wrong: they are not providing choices. That’s what a consumer wants, right? A consumer, in most instances, wants a choice to make. And I don’t see why companies can’t do this. You have Google+ forcing itself on YouTube commentators and in other places; you have Facebook now forcing people to get a separate app on their phone to use Facebook messages and soon a separate app for events and possibly even groups as well. You have them changing up user interfaces all the time with no option to go to an older one that some users prefer. It’s this forcing of things that is really starting to annoy people, though I wonder if it will truly bite these companies in the behind, because while annoyed, most people still go along with the changes. Still, how can providing your users more choices ever be a bad thing?

There’s the old saw that “The user isn’t the customer, the user is the product” but I don’t know how much I buy that. Facebook runs on its users and it can’t get anywhere without them, so it can’t annoy them too much (although the line of no return seems to keep receding into the distance day by day.) Google as well, though I’ll be honest I have no freaking clue how Twitter makes money. (They can’t be selling that many promoted accounts and tweets, can they?)

I hope Google+ sticks around. (I really hopes it overcomes Facebook some day, so I can actually escape.) I hope it continues. But we’ll have to see, won’t we?

Social Media Vacay

Everyone tells me I need to be on social media if I want my stuff promoted. I gotta be on there to be heard, to be seen, to get things done.

If I’ve learned anything in the past few years, though, it’s that that may not be necessarily true. Indeed, social media has some serious pitfalls. My favorite ones are flamewars with trolls. It was one of them, in fact, that led me to this policy of taking a social media vacation.

I’ve learned that I cannot resist getting into arguments; I can’t resist trolls. That something I lost, somewhere, aand I need to reclaim that. How? I don’t know. But a prerequisite has to be stepping back from social media. It’s hurting my productivity, hurting my wider social sphere, and ultimately it’s hurting my brain.

So I’m taking a break from Twitter & Facebook. I’ve downloaded an app that only does Twitter DM’s, and I’ll keep using Facebook Messenger so people can get in touch with me. Other than that, just Gmail & this blog. Thanks to the magic of WordPress, I can still write status updates. And thanks to the magic of RSS, I can autopost these to Twitter and Facebook.

I see this as an extension of some cutting I’ve already done in my life. A few months ago I uninstalled Steam and basically eliminated computer games from my life. Now I need to continue the process and get rid of–at least temporarily–another serious distraction.

I’m not sure why I had to blog this, really, other than to tell my friends who are going to start wondering, but if you stumble across this and read this, that’s what this is about. I will still be politically minded; I will still have strong opinions about political philosophy and government. I will still write, though hopefully not on Twitter (I will maintain my vow, I will maintain my vow…) but through other channels.

That’s all I have. If you know me personally, you can still hit me up through messaging. If you don’t, you can always comment here.

Social Media, Privacy, Passwords, and Who Gives A Rat’s Pajamas

There is apparently a new and worrying trend where employers are asking for job candidates’ Facebook account passwords:

When Justin Bassett interviewed for a job, he was stunned when the interviewer asked for something more than his experience and references: his Facebook username and password.

The New York statistician had finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to peruse his Facebook page. Because she couldn’t see his private profile, she asked him for his login information.

Bassett refused and withdrew his application. But other job candidates are confronting the same question, and some can’t afford to say “no.”

“It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys,” said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor who calls it “an egregious privacy violation.”

Companies that don’t ask for passwords to vet applicants have taken other steps — such as asking applicants to “friend” human-resource managers.

I can see the desire of HR and hiring managers to see the private information on someone’s Facebook account in order to get a better look at this person and see if he or she is a dimwit who can be trusted with corporate secrets and get a better look at their character, but quite frankly this is absurd. It’s akin to asking you for your Gmail password or, as Orin Kerr says in the above excerpt, your house keys.

Doug Mataconis over at Outside the Beltway makes the argument that this isn’t really a big deal and not something to truly worry about, but I disagree entirely. Doug writes:

I’m not sure, though, that new laws are the answer here. In the end, employers have a right to screen the people they hire as they see fit and to refuse to hire them if there’s something in their background that they believe would not be in the employer’s best interest, or which potentially makes the employee untrustworthy. Barring employers from using this particular method to discover more about their prospective employees is just going to mean they’ll find other ways to do it because, like it or not, what you do online will  impact your job prospects:

The problem with this argument is twofold:

  • You don’t have to get access to someone’s personal life to truly screen them for a position, unless you’re talking national security
  • You’ll open up yourself to a lot of liabilities, because many private accounts have protected classes of information, such as religion, ethnicity, orientation, etc. (I’m not an HR expert, so I don’t know the actual classes, but you get the idea.)

His “editor” (co-blogger at this point, really) Dr. James Joyner also chimes in and says he takes the opposite tack, writing:

UPDATE (James Joyner): I addressed this issue over a year ago, taking the opposite position, in a post titled “Want A Job? Give Us Your Facebook Password.”

While I think the prospective employee has a lower expectation of privacy when applying for a government job, especially a particularly sensitive one like military, intelligence, and law enforcement positions, there are limits. And, I’m sorry, “If you don’t like it, don’t apply to work there” has some limits, too.

Should employers Google the names of prospective employees and perhaps check out their public Facebook and Twitter profiles? For many white collar jobs, I think that’s reasonable. But accessing private information seems out of bounds. Indeed, if they can demand to look at the inside of your Facebook account, why not your Gmail account?

Additionally, as noted in the ensuing discussion, employers may inadvertently run afoul of existing employment law with this practice. It’s illegal for employers to ask prospective employees about their marital status, whether they have children, or any number of other issues. Yet, that information will often be immediately available on one’s Facebook page.

Even though I’m a free market libertarian, there is a limit to what I think employers–whether private, non-profit, or government–should be able to do. Granted, they should have a greater ability to screen candidates and chose who they want to, but trying to sneak into someone’s personal life and violate their privacy is just beyond the pale. What next? Hire investigators to find out who we lost our virginity to? Good grief.

I do agree entirely with what Jazz Shaw of Hot Air said and what Doug Mataconis told me on Twitter, with regards to just plain common sense:

Personally, I think this falls back on an old rule of thumb in the internet age. If you need to work for a living or do anything outside of your online life, you simply can’t take anonymity for granted. Don’t put anything out on the web unless you’d be comfortable having your family, your enemies and – yes – even your employer or prospective boss seeing it. Because odds are, sooner or later, they will.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/dmataconis/status/183957664714338304″]

However, I’m not convinced that, in twenty years (or even less) this will even matter. By then, just about everyone is going to have had a social network account and have said something stupid on it. There will also be loads of people who saw this crap happening and decided not to do it. So either way, there isn’t going to any point to checking an employee’s Facebook, because everyone has said it. It’ll be as mundane as saying “I like pie.”

This is how society changes and evolves. It is not a static element; it is fluid and continually fluctuating. The problems of 2012 will likely be non-issues in 2032. It is a very worrying and distressing trend for our time right now.


Another, slightly tangential topic that annoys me is the growing number of websites that utilize Facebook to provide comments. I find this to be obnoxious and not worth the point. Ostensibly, the reason for this is to improve the commentating quality, because the comment will be associated with someone’s real name. In practice, however, most people are still assholes. Why? Because a lot of people are just assholes in real life. Forcing them to use their real name and picture (which doesn’t even happen all the time; I’ve seen people make Facebook accounts for their dogs, for chrissakes) doesn’t make their comments come off nicer or more intelligent. I also find it would chill a lot of speech; imagine being a young gay man in a militantly conservative Christian household. You would probably not willingly comment on a lot of issues that affect you deeply, because now your parents can track you. “FlufflyBunny0059?” Not so much.

That’s just obnoxious, though, not truly egregious. They’re not trying to get into your account. I, for one, will never require Facebook commenting on my blog, and in fact, I’m not even sure if you can log in with Facebook (I might have deleted that plugin.) I do know that I keep the Twitter and OpenID login available as options, as well as just commenting pseudonomyously. I feel that choice is the best option for all.

Facebook, I don’t understand you

So to allow people to comment here with their Facebook accounts–so they don’t have to go through the trouble of getting yet another stupid account–I have to enable Facebook Connect. But that means I have to get an App and an API key and all this nonsense. And I have to wonder: why? Why do I have to get an “app,” and thus ask Facebook users if I can download or access their profile information? I don’t want any of that, I just want them to be able to comment here without trouble. I don’t want to have this “canvas” thingy or do all this sort of advertising stuff, and hell, my privacy policy is simply “Yeah I’m not going to tell anybody any of your private stuff.”

And then there’s the new profile layout. Now, I’m not one to really complain about Facebook’s profile changes. It’s their product, they can alter it as they see fit (and considering that membership has continued to climb at a fantastic rate, it appears to be quite fit), and before, they always seemed to make it more efficient, better, in many ways. But the most recent change I just can’t quite grasp. First off, those pictures up there? Yeah, maybe we don’t want them all up there for someone to see right away. Yes, I know you can delete them. I still think they don’t belong there. But secondly, and more importantly, what is the point of a status update anymore? It used to be it was at the top of one’s profile, where it was quite visible and could serve as a sort of “broadcast” to anyone visiting your profile as to what your status really was. But with all that personal information up there, your status gets pushed downwards, muddled with all your links, videos, notes, Farmville pleadings and Mafia Wars gangbanging, and your friend’s writings (which now you can’t filter out anymore; another dumb decision.) And so it makes me wonder why we even really have the damn thing anymore. Oh don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we do, but it still feels almost extraneous.

Before I used to think the same of Twitter. Since virtually the entirety of my social network was on the social network, what was the point of using Twitter? It was a status update, just limited to 140 characters. I was rankled by the inane length constraints, being a burgeoning novelist, and besides, it seemed redundant. I had status updates, who cared about Twitter. (Lots of people, yes, but I certainly didn’t.) Eventually I got over that and started using it, although still not on a truly frequent basis.

Now I’m starting to reverse my ideas. I’ve grown annoyed with Facebook lately, not only over its recent batch of befuddling design choices, but also over its security flaws, its unnecessary expansion and intensified complexity of its privacy policy, the arrogant attitude of its creator, the idea that Facebook seems to dictate all forms of internet interaction, and finally the sort of atmosphere that it’s becoming the social media Borg Collective, assimilating everything else into it. All my friends say “send me a Facebook message” instead of text or–god forbid–email. It’s as if this one company dominates and sets all of their communication protocols. I prefer to have diversity and choice, I’m no fan of monopolies. Seeing this occur is just unsettling.

So I’m thinking of using Twitter more often in my social media sphere. I won’t actually ditch Facebook–it’s like really think syrup, you just can’t get out–but I will shift my usage to a different service. And then, maybe Facebook would have to compete to get me back.

Reality check on aisle 9, please….