Yes, Google+ Is a Failure

One of the most common bits of feedback about my post “Google+ Failed Because of Real Names” is that Google+ is now a huge service, and that the word failed is an exaggeration, or a trick of the rhetorician.

Some folks might advise me to stop digging a hole, put down the shovel and walk away. But
I’m going to pick up that shovel, and try to convince you that I’m not exaggerating. Google+ may not be a New Coke level failure, it may be a successful failure, but it’s a failure nonetheless.

The goal of Google+ is to dominate the social network space, replacing Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and building a moat around Google’s core business of advertising. That moat ought to consist of Google having more information about you than the CIA does (ok, that’s hyperbole. The CIA can’t store that much info). The moat ought to be that Google can show your wallet-name ads that tug at your wallet-strings.

Do you really think that Google wanted to enter this market to play second-fiddle to Facebook? Do you think that Google is happy that Facebook is going to pop out in the biggest IPO in history real soon now, giving them a massive war chest?

I think that the answer is fairly obviously a no. Now, you could argue that Google+ is en route to topple Facebook. That Google will take three tries to get it right or something, like they did with Search and Mail and Maps. (Oh, wait, they didn’t take three tries on any of those.)

What’s more, I don’t think that no was pre-ordained because of Facebook’s massive user-base. People were willing to show up at Google+ and explore. And that exploration rapidly foundered on the nymwars.

I think the system could and should have done better, if Google wasn’t so hell-bent on controlling what name people could display for themselves.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-01-29

Powered by Twitter Tools

Google+ Failed Because of Real Names

It’s now been a few months since the launch of Google+, and it’s now fairly clear that it’s not a mortal threat to Facebook, or even Orkut. I think it’s worth thinking a bit about why Google+ isn’t doing better, despite its many advantages. Obviously, Google wants to link Google+ profiles to things in the physical world that matter to its paying customers: advertisers. To me, the most interesting part is how the real name issue acted as a lens, focusing attention on Google’s plans for the service, the horse-trade Google is asking people to make, and Google’s weighting of a communications platform versus having an online Disneyland where nothing offensive is allowed.

There’s a lot that Google gets right in Google+, most notably the idea of circles. Circles could be a great way for Google to mirror how people interact, and let them present different things to different sets of people, under their control. It’s a simple, understandable metaphor.

But Google hasn’t derailed Facebook, because Google shot themselves in the foot at launch. That’s why TechCrunch has articles like “Raise Your Hand If You’re Still Using Google+.” Let’s be clear, this was an own-goal, and it was avoidable. I know of at least two Googlers who left because they felt Google wasn’t living up to its own values in the internal debate. Google has put their desire to have a real-name driven internet ahead of their user’s desires. Maybe a free name change would make that ok? But it’s not ok, and name changes won’t make it ok.

Within days of Google+ being launched, the positive press was being driven out by stories about the “Nymwars.” A lot of it revolved around Google having claims that your displayed name could be what people called you, but as Skud clearly documented, that was a bizarre and bureaucratic lie. But documenting up your “government name” isn’t enough, as people like 3ric have documented. (It’s pronounced “Three-Rick,” and that’s how I’ve always known him.)

As bad as it is to tell people what they can write on the “Hello, My Name is” badges, it’s worse to be inconsistent and upsetting around something as personal as a name, or to tell someone that a Capulet they’ll no longer be. The very worst part is that Google managed to do it at the wrong time.

What Google did by focusing attention on “real names” when they did was to take attention from the really cool aspects of Google+, and draw it to an emotionally laden set of battles that they can’t win. They managed to calm the waters a bit by declaring that they’d “support” other names, leading to this awesome bit of politically-incorrect-calling-bullshit: “EFF declares premature victory in Nymwars.”

Another way to see this is Google knowingly burned an awful lot of goodwill with one of their key communities, techies. The way that they did it hampered Google+ during its launch, preventing it from getting the momentum it probably deserved.

They did all that in order to get one unique name for everyone. Oops, wait, there’s lots of people named Mike Jones. They did it to get name that links to “the real world you.” They wanted to get a commercial advantage for Google, at the expense of people’s ability to choose how they present themselves.

It hasn’t worked out, and yesterday, Google announced the next set of changes. (EFF has some comments in “Google+ and Pseudonyms: A Step in the Right Direction, Not the End of the Road.”)

Most interesting to me, Yonatan Zunger, Chief Architect of Google+ says:

We thought this was going to be a huge deal: that people would behave very differently when they were and weren’t going by their real names. After watching the system for a while, we realized that this was not, in fact, the case. (And in particular, bastards are still bastards under their own names.) We’re focusing right now on identifying bad behaviors themselves, rather than on using names as a proxy for behavior.

That’s gotta hurt.

The key takeaway: Google spent a huge amount of goodwill on an attractive, but untested idea, which Yonatan summarizes as “Bastards won’t be bastards under their real name.” (As an aside, there’s a lean startup lesson there, but Google has yet to pivot.) You shouldn’t make the same mistake.

Names are personal. They shouldn’t be subject to policies for vague, untested reasons. They shouldn’t be subject to policies at all unless your idea is even better than Google can do. Don’t make your new thing fail by sacrificing it on the altar of real names.

Some follow-on posts: “Yes, Google+ Is a Failure” and “More on Real Name Policies.”

Vendor shout out: Gourmet Depot

You know those random parts of kitchen appliances that break, and the manufacturer is no longer making, and so you buy a new one that breaks after 4 months? Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

Next time, look to Gourmet Depot and see if they have replacement parts.

It was easy to find their recommendation for our specific coffee machine, the recommended pot fits great, and was cheap.

Check out Gourmet Depot next time you’re in this bind.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-01-22

  • What's the best history of @Defcon Capture the Flag? (cc @rileycaezar @thedarktangent ) #
  • RT @thedarktangent What's the best history of #DEFCON Capture the Flag? @adamshostack asks, & we need to update the site. Send your links! #
  • RT @jccannon7 My sci fi book launches today. More info at http://t.co/bVd8mUSg #
  • RT @mortman New posts: The "Continuous Deployment and Security" http://t.co/zTxci3p5 of "Chocolate Waffles" http://t.co/lwhYRA4q #
  • RT @_nomap CCTV operators in London have remote access to the surveillance network, so that they can work from home. http://t.co/z13fwG26 #
  • How did @kuow find a guest on technology who's not familiar with @GreatDismal (William Gibson)? Impressive! #
  • Congrats to @metrixcreate for being the first to show @greatdismal a 3d printed object. #
  • RT @TimKarr Not so free at last: Sony issues takedown notices for those posting MLK's "I have a dream speech" http://t.co/hkKuNTLE #
  • Is it just me or is AT&T wireless displaying a fail whale in Seattle? #
  • My friend @votescannell is running for the Alaska State Legislature. You should follow her & vote for her! #
  • RT @pmocek Eric Rachner settles his suit against Seattle over 2008 false arrest by the ever-out-of-control @SeattlePD http://t.co/RLva48KO #
  • NoScript routes around Wikipedia blackout. There's a metaphor here. #
  • New blog: "Seattle in the snow" http://t.co/CacTHp1Z #
  • RT @josephmenn Former HBGary Federal CEO @aaronbarr, who drew @LulzSec fire for doxing anons, has left his subsequent job at Sayres #
  • New blog: "Seattle in the Snow"
    http://t.co/CacTHp1Z Give us your 2mm! :) #
  • RT @hmason E-mail is still the biggest social network << Always will be. De-centralized, choose your name, many accounts per person. #
  • MT @rmogull Finished a call on exec protection. Not something I usually cover, told them hire an expert << Not thought leader behavior! ;) #
  • New bloggage: "More on the weather" http://t.co/xhSng7Dl #
  • Kahneman prefers short words since long ones take up more mental space, & slow thinking. Jargonistas, take note! #
  • RT @oneraindrop Money Games for teaching kids financial literacy, just as important to teach parents budgets, saving http://t.co/kHPZNs3R #

Powered by Twitter Tools

Seattle in the Snow

Seattle snow (From The Oatmeal.)

It’s widely understood that Seattle needs a better way to measure snowfall. However, what’s lacking is a solid proposal for how to measure snowfall around here. And so I have a proposal.

We should create a new unit of measurement: The Nickels. Named after Greg Nickels, who lost the mayorship of Seattle because he couldn’t manage the snow.

Now, there’s a couple of ways we could define the Nickels. It could be:

  • The amount of snow needed to cost a Mayor 10 points of approval rating
  • The amount of snow needed to cause a bus to slide down Olive way and teeter over the highway
  • 2 millimeters
  • Enough snow to reduce the coefficient of city road friction by 1%.

I’m not sure any of these are really right, so please suggest other ways we could define a Nickels in the comments.

Ulf Muller

Ulf MüllerI am saddened to pass on the news that Ulf Müller, a colleague at Zero-Knowledge Systems, has died in tragic and violent circumstances.

I remember Ulf as quiet, gentle, kind and am tremendously saddened by his loss.

The most recent news story is “Computer-Experte in Transporter erschlagen“.

Nils Kammenhuber of the Technical University of Munich is acting as a representative for the family.