Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google+ Solves the Social Privacy Problem by Making Friending Very Complicated

Attempting to describe real-world relationships more accurately is a worthy goal, and Google’s approach sets it apart from the competition. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to understand.

  1. If I add someone to a Circle, that means I push my content to them when I share with that Circle. It also means I see their public content in my stream.
  2. If someone adds me, I then see their posts in my “Incoming” stream but not in my Circles until I head over to my Circle management tool or notifications tab and add them back.
  3. If I put someone that I never share with in a Circle, and they don’t share back with me, the only relationship we have is that I see their public content.
  4. When I click on the home button, I see an amalgamated stream of the people in all the Circles I have shared my own content with (based on most-recent comments and maybe some kind of relevance weighting, but I’m not sure).

For context, here are some other social friending and following models:

  • Facebook is fundamentally built around one-to-one friending. It does offer friend lists, groups and myriad privacy settings so users can limit sharing, but those are generally perceived as hard to manage.
  • The Twitter model is that one user publicly follows another. It’s perhaps the most simple and clean relationship of any of them. Tumblr is similar to Twitter, though its reblog function often extends shared content far beyond people who know or follow each other.
  • Myspace, back in the day, had a friending model that was awkward for many of its users’ relationships, because it essentially required famous people to hire social media interns to “add” fans who had friended them. In that case, following would have probably been more appropriate than friending.

Google+ is a lot more complicated than any of these, but on the plus side (heh), it’s complicated from the get-go, so all users are defining their relationships with each other when they add them, rather than messing with privacy settings after the fact.

I have to say, though, while using the snazzy animated Circle-creation tool may come more naturally to others (early adopters seem to be mad with love for Google+), I think this is likely to be a stumbling block for many people.

Perhaps digital relationships won’t be naturally nuanced and eroded over time like real-world relationships, because digital things just don’t do that. They exist, or they do not.

And it may just be that privacy is incredibly difficult to illustrate and conceptualize. But lots of things seem hard at the start; maybe we as humans will teach ourselves to understand this stuff better over time.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik