Friday, August 26, 2011

Gee Plus

You should be on Google+.  If you aren't familiar, it is basically Facebook + Twitter except good instead of bad.  You might say that all your family and friends are on Google+, why start a new platform?  Xkcd already has that one covered! Is there any actual reason to swap?  Yes!

So here is the thing that Google+ does that is entirely different from Facebook and is also awesome:  Circles.  Instead of having friendships that have to be reciprocal you just place people in a Circle.

On Facebook if you post a photo of you at the bar with the caption "Whoah, I was SOOOOOOO drunk and I hurled all over this random guy!" then your boss sees it, your mother sees it, you casual acquaintances see it.  Not the best.  On G+ you post that message to your Friends circle and your friends see it.  You post "I am taking Elli to the park on Saturday afternoon from 1-4 if anybody wants to join" to your Parent Friends circle.  You post about your trip home for Christmas to your Family circle and you post about your schedule conflicts for your game nights to your Gaming Crowd circle.  You can also follow anybody you like so I set myself up to get posts from random geek celebrities (Felicia Day, Randall Munroe and Will Wheaton) because they say amusing and interesting things.  They don't have to know me at all, they just know they have 237,987 followers and those followers can see their posts.

Also G+ has the distinct advantage of not being designed by a sociopathic weasel on crack.  I hate the way Facebook is laid out and the way its features work and so G+ feels like a cup of hot chocolate and a backrub all at once.

Now, it isn't all rosy and perfect.  There is one really interesting issue:  G+ wants you to use your real name.  Right now they are just getting started working out the kinks in the system but it is clear they have set for themselves a challenge that is quite possibly insurmountable.  They are forcing people to sign up using their real name even if that is not the name they go by generally, and it is enforced by account recovery being based on government ID and complaints of "This guy isn't real" being taken seriously.  The idea is to improve security and the level of discourse by getting people to be responsible for what they say and do on G+, which is certainly a noble goal, and is necessary by the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.  If you are the sort of person who already goes by their real name online (like me) then you don't care about this stuff at all, but there are a tremendous number of folks up in arms about their inability to play by the rules and still post on a pseudonym.  There are also a lot of folks ticked off because their real name triggers G+s 'not real' algorithm because trying to figure out how to store names at all is brutally hard, never mind the challenge of rooting out fake ones.

I tend to take a more middling route.  I don't have any problem with real names in theory.  I think in fact that it will both make the community better and provide even better security for those who are marginalized.  However, I also think that it just isn't going to work.  Logistically the idea of trying to monitor this on a global scale is just not feasible - names are too different and there are just too many outliers.  However, I think G+ could do themselves a *huge* favour by acknowledging pseudonyms and providing for them.  I am fine being Sky Roy but I would appreciate the ability to have public nicknames like Redcape so that people who read my material on websites or used my mods for various games could find me easily.  Even just being able to search for my nicknames and select them from a dropdown list after finding me would really show that Google is trying to support those people who have persistent pseudonyms while retaining the benefits of real names.

Will Google stick to their guns and try to make this work?  I would say yes, since they must have seen the Blizzard real name fiasco last year and decided to go with this policy regardless.  It won't affect me much either way I expect but for the record I hope they find a way to succeed.  I wouldn't put even money on it though.

Also, get on G+ already.  Ask me for an invite if you want one.


  1. Corporate PlundererAugust 26, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    Problems with G+ I can't ignore:

    * Must use "real" name.

    Define "real". What's on my passport? What I use day-to-day?

    * Must provide gender.

    This is stupid. I understand why (targeted advertising), but it's still something which is strictly better about Facebook.
    So long as you're referencing XKCD, the author thereof (Randall Monroe) said it best here:

    And the clincher:
    * Doesn't work with Google Apps domains.
    Realistically, when this is implemented I'll probably try it out, but I don't care to create a new account just for g+.
    I can use my @ account for every other Google service, why not this one?

    Still, I'm probably kidding myself thinking my life is interesting enough to broadcast anyways. The fatal flaw of social networking...

  2. i want an invite! I'll give it a try!

  3. @Pais done, assuming the email I have on record for you is right. Email me if not.

    @Corporate Plunderer

    I totally see the issues with gender. We both have it pretty easy as far as gender identity / sexual orientation but it is entirely true that lots of people have lives and identities that are much more complicated than these sorts of M/F choices go. I don't mind at all that they have this checkbox but they absolutely should have an option for "Not revealing this" or "Secret" or "It is complicated" or something that allows people to get past the choice without picking M or F. Making it mandatory and having only two choices is a mistake - this doesn't help with their goals of improving the experience.

    Like I said though, I think that enforcing real names is going to be a nightmare for sure and maybe even impossible. I don't mind their goals but I don't see it working.

  4. Corporate PlundererAugust 27, 2011 at 5:18 PM


    > We both have it pretty easy as far as gender identity / sexual orientation


  5. Corporate PlundererAugust 27, 2011 at 5:24 PM


    To elaborate:

    It's not enough to have a 3rd option. G+ does, in fact, have "other" as an option. But "other" is an explicit choice, which carries every bit as much meaning as (or more than!) male or female.

    The only sufficient solution is to provide an option to simply not reference gender in any way. There are ways to go beyond this, of course, but that's the minimum bar.

  6. Corporate PlundererAugust 27, 2011 at 5:31 PM


    Also, it's worth noting that the gender requirement is not only an issue for GnC (Gender non-Conforming) folks, but also problematic for women in general. Particularly in conjunction with a required accurate and visible first name.

    If you don't understand this idea after reading Randall's post, or you simply feel like it's being exaggerated, try creating a female presence on a gaming/development/business bulletin board. Coming from a position of male privilege makes it particularly striking.

  7. I suggest that we both have it easy because based on previous posts your sexual identity would fit in quite comfortably in Victorian England. This suggests to me that you in fact have it easy since you presumably are a person comfortable with your gender who is attracted to people of the opposite gender.

    I suggest that I have it easy because I am male in appearance and identify as male. I also am attracted to females. This makes my life much easier than plenty of other folks who have to 'come out' and otherwise go against statistical and cultural norms.

    I agree that being forced to choose 'other' is a bit of a questionable option. I don't have a good answer as to the best possible set of options to add to the list of male, female, ??? but I would agree that just making ignoring the field a choice would definitely be an improvement. If they were going to make ignoring it an option though, what would you suggest as the complete list of choices (assuming they want to offer a gender field)?

  8. Corporate PlundererAugust 27, 2011 at 5:58 PM


    Sexual identity != gender identity, which is the topic under discussion. Though I am admittedly both binary-identified and comfortable in my gender.

    Still, this is tangential to the more broadly-applicable concern, which is simple misogyny. The combination of a required first name and required (and visible) gender makes women on G+ very vulnerable in many contexts. Think of it as a hidden multiplicative factor in the GIFT.

    Regarding other options, it's enough to have an "other" radio button with an optional text field, since the spectrum is so very wide. Choosing "other" and completing that field though would be functionally identical to choosing not to disclose. Facebook does this quite well, using gender neutral pronouns throughout when you have not selected or chosen to expose your gender.

  9. Corporate PlundererAugust 27, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    Hum, in retrospect it's probably worth clarifying that I was claiming a sexual identity suited to Victorian times in the sense of monogamy and extreme modesty.

    It's probably less true in the sense of embodying traditional Victorian-era heteronormativity, insomuch as that was a thing.

    (Me and my better half:

  10. Ah, see I took your comment to mean a lot of things you didn't intend to say. Apparently I got it quite wrong! My apologies.

    My assumption was that you were implying that your whole lifestyle and sexual views were very much 'normal' as in 'the front people presented in polite society in Victorian times'. Mine fits that model in most of the broad strokes but obviously my opinions on what everyone else is entitled to do are exceedingly different than the standard back then!

  11. The way they are standing their ground on this issue is really off-putting for me. Some of the things they have said about it are a great combination of ignorant, insensitive and unprofessional. I'm really not used to this kind of thing from Google.

    What bothers me the most, though, is that the Terms of Use clearly state that you are required to use your "common name," that is, the name you are commonly known by. But if people question your name you have to provide government ID. Of course if you commonly go by an alternative name (even if it is your legal middle name or simply a commonly used nickname for your first name) then your name will not be on your government issued ID.

    There are very few things that irritate me as much people making arbitrary rules and then enforcing a different set of arbitrary rules. If they can't even figure out what their own rules are then I have no interest in complying with them. At this point I'm not sure I'll ever sign up for G+ unless they not only change their policy, but apologize for their current policy. Or at least for publicly saying that if abused women don't feel comfortable putting their real names up then they just shouldn't use the service. "Screw abused women," is marketing I just can't get behind.

  12. Corporate PlundererAugust 29, 2011 at 12:29 PM


    I totally agree. As much as I have real arguments and issues with the policy, it's Google's attitude which has most turned me off.

    Google is blaming the victim right now, suggesting that it's our own fault for being in a situation which prevents us from having a consistent single visible online persona. That shows a stunning lack of empathy. And in answer, they're suggesting that their service is optional, and those who can't use it for one of these reasons need not do so. That's naïve at best and blatantly prejudiced at worst, but regardless of motivation totally inappropriate for a company which purports to "do no evil".

    I would like to use G+, and should they change their policies (or I finish changing my life) to make it possible for me to join I will doubtless do so. I wish I had the privilege of holding out for an apology, but too much in my industry is happening there right now to not participate.

    Having to swallow my pride and wait meekly for permission to join the club is a tough pill to swallow, but I'm used to it.

  13. Whether joining Google plus becomes a requirement of industry and social circles in the way that Facebook did remains to be seen. The fact that their current name system excludes virtually everyone born in Asia - and that they don't think this is a serious flaw in their design - makes me wonder if it will really end up being relevant, or whether it will be a major flop.

  14. Corporate PlundererAugust 29, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    It's already there for the technorati, much moreso already than FB.