Google, Give Us these Google+ Features Now
Wednesday marks two weeks of my being on Google+, Google's new social network, and it's been interesting to watch waves of new invitees come in and either stick around or walk away. There've been some common issues and/or feature requests that seem to crop up with every wave, and I thought I'd share them with you readers who're outside my "social graph" and see if you're hearing the same concerns that I am.
Let's start with names. Apparently (this is second- or third-hand info, so take it for what it is) Google has been ejecting some users who're using pseudonyms.
I'm an online gamer which means I know a lot of the people by some kind of screen name or pseudonym. We've had a number of discussions about using real names vs in-game names on G+. People like pseudonyms because they offer a layer of privacy, and for the practical reason that it's easy to find your gaming friends when they're using their in-game name on G+. On the other hand, some of us prefer using our real names because, well, we're not defined by our online personas.
G+'s Circles means I can use one profile to talk to my family, fellow gamers, and professional contacts by sharing to the appropriate Circles. If I'm using a handle like Vlad The Impaler it's going to be pretty awkward if I contact a professional contact about a job. On other sites I'd set up multiple profiles, but on G+ I'm just using my real name and putting Circles to use in order to segment my contacts and what content gets pushed to them.
Some of my acquaintances are heavy Second Life players and they've built, well, entire second lives around their online personas. These people seem particularly concerned at the possibility that Google will be giving pseudonym users the boot.
Almost all of us, though, would like to see the Other Names and Nickname fields from our profiles better exposed. When Sam Jones adds me to a Circle and I'm not sure who he is, I'd like to hover over his name and see that one of his Other Names is Otto Redbeard, who I'd then recognize as the main tank from our Wednesday night WoW group.
Let's talk more about Circles. Everyone seems to like what we have so far, but we need more. A lot of people want Public or Opt-In Circles. Say you want to start a Circle to talk about The Walking Dead and why we have to wait so long for it to be back on-air. The only good way to do that now is to post "I'm creating a Walking Dead Circle, who wants in?" This is pretty clumsy and you're going to miss some good contacts. But what if you could make a Public Circle about The Walking Dead and then anyone in your contacts list could just add themselves? We think that'd be really helpful.
Another great idea making the rounds is Hierarchical Circles as outlined by blogger Gregory Strike. I love this idea. The quick and dirty is that you could have a Circle called Sports Fans and then sub-Circles called Football, Baseball and Basketball and then the Football sub-circle could have it's own sub-circles: Patriots Fans, Packers Fans, and so forth. Now whichever Circle you share with, your post will go to everyone in the Circle and all its Sub-Circles. This would make organization a lot easier.
I'd like to see a similar feature for incoming posts. Right now we can read posts from a specific Circle, from all our Circles, or from Incoming (stuff from people who have you in their Circles, but not vice versa). I'd like to be able to group a few specific Circles into a Reading Clump and see all posts from everyone in all the Circles in that Clump.
There're more common desires but before I take up your whole day I just wanted to hit on a few more topics that come up frequently. One is that people seem a bit hesitant about posting on G+. They feel like they need to have something "valuable" to say as compared to Twitter where they feel free to just share any random thought. I don't see many 1-line updates on G+. I'm still trying to decide if this is a good or bad reaction.
We're also struggling to find the best way to manage content. I'm finding G+ isn't a service where I want to follow a lot of Internet Super-Egos right now; they just dominate my feed (or more accurately, their hordes of followers do, via hundreds of comments for every post updated in real time). For now I'm limiting it to people I really want to interact with, and who I think want to interact with me. G+ for me is a discussion medium, not a broadcast medium. (Techcrunch ran an interesting post about this: Solving the Scoble Problem in Social Networks though sadly it doesn't really solve the problem, just highlights it.)
I'm hoping to see Google continue to refine and extend the service's capabilities. That said, I'm already quite fond of G+ as it stands today. The big question will be whether or not folks stick around once that "new social network smell" wears off.