Google+ is the search leader’s answer to Facebook and Twitter. When Google first announced it, Andrew Couts and I laid out some of the reasons why it might fail or succeed. After squirming our way into the “limited field trial” the other night, we’ve been furiously testing out the social network’s many features. Overall, we both like Google+, but it is a good thing Google is rolling this out slowly. There are still a ton of little problems with it, and a few big ones. So, without further ado, here are the biggest problems we have with Google plus, and a bunch of small ones.
For a look at what Google got right, check out Andrew Couts’ look at five awesome Google+ features.
That email address is not your friend
When you “friend” somebody on Facebook, the site uses a two-way authentication process. You have to ask to be their friend, and they have to approve your friendship. If either one of you drop the other as a friend, you both lose access to one another. This is one of the defining principles of Facebook, and has made it the social network of choice for real-world friends. LinkedIn is like this as well. Twitter is the exact opposite. Anyone can “follow” you and you can “follow” anyone else you please with no authentication required. There is a benefit if you’re both following one another, because you can then “private message” each other, but that is it.
Google is trying to straddle the line between the public Twitter idea and the private Facebook ecosystem with its Circles concept. Like Twitter, you can add anyone to one of your Circles, which is like “following” them. This gives you access to any public messages they broadcast out, and it gives you access to their Incoming stream, a place where people that aren’t in your Circles can send you messages. However, if you add someone to one of your Circles and they add you back, then you both see each others’ broadcasts and end up communicating a lot more like Facebook, each commenting on each others posts and pictures and links, etc. But what happens when you add someone (or some email) to your Circle that isn’t on Google+? Well, it gets really confusing.
Thanks to Google’s immensely successful Gmail and Gchat services, Google currently lets you add any email address to a Google Circle, even if that email is a Hotmail account or anything else. Yes, you can follow people who aren’t actually a part of Google+. This may sound like a neat feature, but it actually makes things much more confusing. Since these people aren’t on Google+, they can only be updated via email if you post something, and they can never respond unless they register for the social network. Google also pulls your Gmail contacts and treats them like people in Google+, cluttering the service up with non-members. Earlier today, I went to try and start a Hangout (video chat) with Andrew, but when I typed his name in the hangout invitation tool, it brought up three separate Andrew Couts, one for his Yahoo account, one for his Digital Trends email, and another for his Google+ account. This is confusing.
In the world of email, we often converse with people over multiple email addresses and think nothing of it, but bringing stray email contacts into Google+ is something that could annoy or confuse users. What happens if I accidentally add Andrew’s Yahoo email as my friend instead of his actual Google+ profile? The only differentiation between the two is a small circle in the lower right hand side of the contact cards (see above). And what happens when a stray Gmail address is added to Google+ and then that person signs up for G+? Will Google upgrade our friendship, or will I have to hunt that friend down again and add his Google+ profile as well?
Google Huddles, a texting feature of the Google+ Android app, suffers from this problem as well. I tried to start a “Huddle” with Andrew (and again, what separates Huddles from Gchat?) and had to choose between three items: his phone number, his Google+ account, and his Gmail. What’s the difference? Which choice provides the best way to Huddle him? I must have made the wrong choice, because I still haven’t gotten a response.
Profiles need to be connected and have a Wall
I get it. Google doesn’t want to make Google+ exactly like Facebook. That’s smart. However, it has failed to add one of the social network’s best and most famous features: the Wall. Currently, Google+ has profiles for each user, but aside from looking at a few of that person’s latest posts, these profiles are useless. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, there is absolutely no way to contact someone from their profile page. There is no wall to write on, no link to Google Chat with them, no link to privately message them, and no link to start a Hangout. There is a “Send an email” link on some profiles, but about half (or more) of my current contacts have this feature disabled. At this point, I’d be happy if I could poke somebody, but I can’t. Profiles are not interactive. Google, fix this.
Facebook has been distancing itself from its Wall concept with its News Feed and comments, but people keep using it because it’s the fastest and best way to get in contact with a friend. It’s fast, public, and convenient. Google needs to do something similar. Unfortunately, profiles are also suffering from two more problems: +1 and Google Buzz.