In digging into this tempest over names and pseudonyms happening here at Google+, I’ve been going back and re-reading articles to help gain context and insight to the matter; frankly, I’ve been doing this to try and understand how and why a company so delightfully supportive of customer choice in the past has become so calculatingly domineering about it today. In Steve Levy’s article for Wired back in April, I believe I may have found a significant part of the answer.
There is a sea change underway within Google, a fair amount of which revolves around re-envisioning “the customer” and, in particular, managing people and social networks the same way they manage data and search. Vic Gundotra seems to make it quite clear in Levy’s article; not only is Google hard at work to transform the company, but they’re putting their sights quite pointedly upon people in some new (and according to many, intrusive) ways. As Gundotra blithely put it:
“Every piece of software is going to transformed by this primacy of people and this shift.” Gundotra said that to date identifying people has been “the most epic failure of Google. Because we were focusing on organizing the world’s information, the search company failed to do the most important search of all.”
More tellingly, it seems Gundotra and others “get” that we love their products, but, amazingly, they seem to miss entirely that a significant part of that “love” has been the ability and empowered choice to do things “our way”; instead, in an approach that might be forgiven them were it not so odiously demanding in tone, they insist upon treating their users, “the people” LIKE DATA. :
“Google, thank god, has a few assets. We have hundreds of millions people who love us — they love YouTube, they love Gmail, they love search. What if we were to go across each of those categories and rethink them? The things we have to do are obvious, but Google hasn’t done them. And so Bradley and I have the odd chance to help lead the company to go fix these sins.”
And this, from Bradley Horowitz in the same article:
“If you look at Google’s mission of organizing information, you can’t do that absent people,” added Horowitz. “The information I care about is very much informed by who I am and who I know. That’s the real motivation for doing this.” (emphasis added – ed.)
The good news is, they seem to “get” that “it’s about the people, stupid”. What they seem to be missing is that “the people” have far greater interest in and concern for their right to choose the conditions and circumstances under which their personally identifying information is associated or affiliated to online use.
Perhaps they get it quite well, but are too busy thinking about competitive market edge to grok that without the people, they have no product and that alienating people in large swaths is probably not a good way to ensure a critical component for success agrees to remain and participate.
My personal opinion is that this latter scenario is very much the case; that what we are witnessing from our first and early adopter seating is an example of Google’s hubris working against them. Mind you, it is a justifiable hubris, after all, they have succeeded in the face of many groups telling them how horribly they will fail.
What I think they’re missing is that this time, the group telling them IS THEIR CUSTOMERS.
This SHOULD give them pause; I know that, as a years invested customer and general, all around “fan” of Google, I sincerely hope it does. But I begin to believe (being now quite past the “suspect” stage) that not only does it not, but that those in charge of this effort have enacted some manner of selective memory in relation to how serious “we the people” are about our privacy, about our ability to choose, and yes, about aspects of these two things… like the use of pseudonyms. (Waves to Buzz, buzzes at Wave, looked pointedly at Google and blinks as if to say, “Hello… remember this?)
I think one of the most illuminating examples of this mentality in action is also found within Levy’s article, as demonstrated in the following insight by Levy combined with a relevant quote from Sergey Brin:
“Right now, Google won’t even suggest who should be in your circles. But it has the technology to do so — it’s already making suggestions on who you might include on Gmail mailing lists. So in the future it’s conceivable that Google might indeed provide plenty of nonbinding suggestions for who you might want it your Circles.” (Steve Levy)
“We’ve got this whole system already in place that hasn’t been used that much where we keep track of every time you e-mail someone or chat to them or things like that,” says Smarr. “Then we compute affinity scores. So we’re able to do suggestions not only about who you should add to a circle, or even what circles you could create out of whole cloth.” (Sergey Brin)
It seems clear that Google’s vision of our social networking future does not consider any concept of privacy outside of non-participation, and it considers no alternative for common/real name use. Leaving aside for the moment that monumental matter of “what is a name” (context: international, cultural name types, etc), it seems equally clear that they either have not considered or are actively trying to downplay and ignore that these things matter to their customers AND they will actually matter to Google in the very near future…. i.e., they are stupendous oversights that MANY of us are trying to help them recognize and understand.
Sadly, it seems that Google has decided to take this effort as some odd kind of slam and, rather than listen and respond appropriately, are it seems, competing even against their customers and users in a race to “get it out our way” before these hurdles and roadblocks and massive gaps in consideration impact or impede them.
In fact, I’d go so far as to assert that Google is attempting to blindly convert as many as possible so that this becomes a “non-issue” due to adoption; something of a “too late, now you’re stuck with it” a la Microsoft’s operating systems or hidden licensing gotchas in a EULA/ToS, or more simply, by getting people into it before they recognize or realize that their only option is “like it or leave it”.
And again, validation of the above seems to rise from the same article AS WELL AS the profound lack of response or redress on things like the pseudonym issue:
“You start off with a vision, skepticism, lots of fear and doubt,” says Gundotra. “I think the optimism on the team is increasing — we can actually have an impact here. At the same time, we’re trying to be humble. We have not had the greatest of success in this space, and so we want to be quick to iterate based on feedback, and relatively low-key about what we’re doing.”
“Google hopes that its slow rollout will encourage a steady momentum, and in the early stages Google+ will provide enough value to keep the early adopters engaged, and that it will motivate them to invite their contacts.” (Steve Levy)
Newsflash, Google — you are LOSING your early adopters. In fact, you’re going to start losing them exponentially once the reality that we’re actually being ignored on something that matters catches on.
Personally, I have stopped inviting or otherwise promoting this service to others. I want you to take a moment and really think about what that statement actually says and means given my own presence here and what I am sure you can find online of me proselytizing on your behalf. And yes, frankly, if you do not change this, I will not only divest myself of you, I will spend EASILY as much time working to connect with and counsel others as I have to date.
But that is not as important as this, Google — I AM NOT ALONE IN THIS PERSPECTIVE.
As Levy sums up tellingly,
“No one expects an instant success. But even if this week’s launch evokes snark or yawns, Google will keep at it. Google+ is not a product like Buzz or Wave where the company’s leaders can chalk off a failure to laudable ambition and then move on. “We’re in this for the long run,” says Ben-Yair. “This isn’t like an experiment. We’re betting on this, so if obstacles arise, we’ll adapt.”
“I don’t really see what Google’s alternative is,” says Smarr. “People are going to be a fundamental layer of the internet. There’s no going back.”
When the rubber hits the road, Google, either you pay attention and support us or you don’t… but do not dare to call yourselves surprised when we drop you as easily as we picked you up should you choose not to do so.
To my friends, peers, colleagues, and connections, the following…
Think about the above; think about what it may mean to you and to all of us.
Take some time to really discuss it among your friends.
Imagine a Google+ where everything you do is cataloged, linked, and cross-referenced and then, imagine your own “worst case scenario” based upon your own daily interests, live choices, and interactions and ask yourself there, in the privacy of your own head:
“Is this really what I want, even as a possibility?”
Think about it now. Seriously; this matters now and how you decide will affect much more than yourself.
Authors note and credit:
All quotes referenced in this piece are available at the above location. Kindly credit Steve Levy for this extraordinarily insightful item should you choose to further quote this in other outlets.