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Some advice for Google about Plus

Last year, I wrote Some advice for Google about Buzz, and unfortunately Google did not take my advice, and Buzz failed (not saying if they had taken my advice that Buzz would have succeeded, but it might have at least stood a chance). The good thing is they did take some of my advice for Buzz and apply it to Google Plus, by allowing people to start slowly (you just need a Google account, as far as I can tell, not a Gmail address), reducing noise-to-signal ratio (with circles streams), and making privacy settings easy.

But Google Plus is not yet in the clear. I have only one piece of advice for Google at this point for Google Plus: let people sign up already!!!

When the news media first started talking about Google Plus, I signed up for an invite and never got it. Then a friend of mine, who is the social networking master, offered invites on Facebook, and I jumped on it right away. I was able then to invite several other friends before Google clamped down because of “insane demand.”

Look, Google… don’t let this chance pass you by. Right now, Google Plus is getting unanimously glowing reviews in both the tech press and the mainstream press. Everybody loves Google Plus, but Google Plus sucks if no one is using it. I seriously have 12 friends on it, and only about three of them update regularly—doesn’t make for a site I want to come back to often.

So if you really are trying to roll this out carefully, instead of just opening the floodgates and then clamping down on all invites, give each Google Plus user an allotment of two invites per week (invites that actually work). That will be a slow rollout and will play on people’s already existing anticipation.

Be smart, Google. You finally have a good product. If you play your cards right, Google Plus will be a Gmail, Maps, Android, Chrome or Docs (instead of a Buzz, Video Player, or Answers).

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Privacy on the Internet Still Doesn’t Exist

Two years ago, I posted Privacy on the internet doesn’t exist. Well, it still doesn’t. I’m not saying you should go out of your way to disseminate your personal information to the general public, nor am I saying that paying attention to privacy settings in various online services is an exercise in futility. What I am saying, though, is that the idea that you can use the internet and be totally off the radar from governments and corporations is delusional.

Google and Facebook have certainly had their screw-ups when it comes to user privacy. But you have to realize we live in an increasingly networked and digitally stored world. You do not have control over everything about you. If you use the library, the government can find out what books you read and how long you read them for. If you even just look at an item on Amazon, Amazon keeps track of what you’ve looked at. If you encrypt your emails you send out, even if you run your own mail server locked in a bullet-proof vault, the people who receive those emails may forward them on unencrypted or may have weak passwords that get guessed by cracking programs or people who then read your private emails. If you don’t have a Facebook account, your friends who do will still post pictures of you and comment about what you all did last night. If you own a credit card or have a bank account, your information is stored somewhere or even multiple places in a networked computer system. All it takes is one unscrupulous or stupid employee to allow someone else access to your information, and it’s out there.

Are you using a proxy? How do you know you can trust the proxy with your information any more than you can your ISP? If you don’t trust Google’s privacy policy, why should you believe Scroogle’s?

I really am sick and tired of tinfoil hats (especially on Linux forums) pretending they have some magic bullet of privacy just because they use ixquick instead of Google to do searches. Unless you live in a cave, have no bank account, do no business, never see people, don’t have a phone, don’t pay taxes, and never use a networked computer, your imagined total privacy simply does not exist.

Do I care that Google knows who my friends are and how often I call them? Not really. Before I had an Android phone, I used a Virgin Mobile phone. Guess what! Virgin Mobile and Sprint (whose network Virgin borrows) knew who my friends were and how often I called them. Do I care that Google knows what I’m searching for? Not really. I’m not searching for anything that anyone else isn’t searching for. You can tell because they now try to guess what you’re searching for, and it’s usually what you are searching for, even if you’ve never searched for that before. Do you think if Britney Spears does something crazy that you’re the only one searching for “Britney Spears [something crazy]”?

And also, do you think if the government suspects you’re a terrorist that they really won’t just tap your phones and stalk you (I believe it’s called surveillance) anyway? Don’t you think the hospital, when served with a subpoena, will hand over your medical records? Don’t you think the store you shop at will hand over its security camera footage of you shopping there and what you bought? Please, just put the tinfoil hats away. Use common sense, and that goes both ways. You can hide most things from the general public, but if the corporations and governments want your information, they will get it. That doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for people to find information about you, but it does mean you can’t pretend your information is impossible to find.

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Some advice for Google about Buzz

Google just announced a new service called Buzz, which is supposed to be Google’s answer to Facebook. Unfortunately, based on the Buzz site and its accompanying video, I don’t see this supplanting Facebook any time soon. I’ve got some advice for Google on how to make it work:

  1. Allow people to start slowly. Yes, when Facebook was released to the general public (not just college students), a lot of us felt like “Really? You want me to sign up for yet another thing? I thought we did all this? Friendster, MySpace, Xanga, etc. I don’t want another account.” Many people gave in, though, and created another account because Facebook offered the kind of lively community other social networking sites had not yet offered. It’ll be a lot more difficult to convince people to start up not only another social networking account but another email account. A good chunk of my friends have GMail accounts, but they don’t all have GMail accounts. From what I’ve seen, Buzz requires a GMail account and is part of the GMail interface. That’s a mistake. It should be its own thing (like Docs, Translate, Maps, etc.) with perhaps added integration with GMail if you already have a GMail account. Google wised up to this with its recent changes to Google Voice (you can have a subset of GV features by using your current cell phone number, and you can add more GV features by creating an entirely new GV number). If Google doesn’t encourage people to start slowly, Buzz will die, because I’d much rather keep in touch with all my Facebook friends than only the ones who use GMail (by the way, I have a GMail account, but it is not my main email account, and I check it through an email client, not through webmail).
  2. Really follow through on reducing noise-to-signal ratio. It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally grown to love Facebook. There are a few things about Facebook that still annoy me, though, and if Google wants to have people use Buzz, Google needs to step up and really fix the mistakes Facebook has refused to fix. The biggest problem for me now is that I’m basically friends with someone or I’m not. There are people I want to keep in touch with, but I don’t want to know every single aspect of their lives. Right now, Facebook allows me to either ignore certain friends completely… or hear about what they had for breakfast, and lunch, and snack, and what latest gadget they got, and some link they thought was interesting, and twenty pictures of their baby daughter. If Google can organically make the updates fit how friendships really work, that’d be a huge draw for future former Facebook users. No more fretting about whether someone is an acquaintance, a friend, a former close friend, a current close friend, a family member. You’ll get the kinds of updates you care about. Certain people will appear more frequently in your feed or more kinds of posts you care about will appear more frequently (to anyone who’s my Facebook friend right now, I love pictures and interesting status updates—I hate weird applications, quizzes, and embedded videos).
  3. Make privacy settings easy. The privacy settings in Facebook right now are the worst of both worlds: they’re complicated, but they are also not comprehensive enough. Just as I don’t want to hear everything about what’s going on in certain people’s lives, I don’t want everyone to know what’s going on in my life, but sometimes I want even acquaintances or not-so-close friends to know certain things. In Facebook, people can basically either see your updates… or they can’t. If Buzz has the ability to set any given post as for just super-close friends, for all my friends, for all my friends and acquaintances, or for anyone with internet access, that’d score points for me and make me want to move over from Facebook.
  4. Keep the interface consistent. I have no doubt, actually, that Google will do this. I’ve seen them overhaul GMail and the Google homepage, but they tend to take years to do a makeover. Facebook seems to want to redecorate every few weeks, and that annoys its users. If Google wants to bring people over, there needs to be a lot of emphasis about what Buzz has to offer that Facebook doesn’t.
  5. Encourage folks to “dual-boot.” If Google can find a simple way to encourage people to try out Buzz and actually use it while not entirely giving up Facebook, that’d be gold for Buzz. No one is going to drop Facebook completely and start Buzzing. If Buzz is going to take off, people have to be able to test the waters. I would suggest a Buzz kickoff week, in which Google encourages everyone with a GMail account to take a brief sabbatical from Facebook and Buzz about something cool that week.

That’s all I can think of. And I don’t even think that’s a surefire way to get Buzz to take off. I think if Google takes all these suggestions, it may have a fighting chance against Facebook. No guarantees, though. Right now, Facebook is everywhere.

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Computers

Fake Democracy at Facebook

You got that recent notification about the Facebook vote, right? Oh, no? You didn’t? But you got some notification that your friend commented on some other friend’s status? Or that someone added a stupid Facebook application?

Oh, you haven’t heard about the Facebook vote at all? I’m not surprised. Facebook hasn’t really publicized it. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg wrote about it on the Facebook blog… because all Facebook users read that, of course. Yeah.

Do you know what Mark Zuckerberg wrote?

For this vote and any future one, the results will be binding if at least 30 percent of active Facebook users at the time that the vote was announced participate.

Let’s see. So there are 175,000,000 Facebook users, and they need 30% to vote. Do you know how many have voted so far?

Facebook Vote So Far
At the time of this writing, 283,361 Facebook users have voted. That’s 0.16% of Facebook users, and we have until next Thursday to make up another 29.84% (or 52,220,000) users. Um, not going to happen.

The tech news is reporting this as a some kind of Facebook democracy, but how is it democracy if you hide the vote? I found out about it only because I keep up with tech news. I can guarantee you maybe only one or two or my Facebook friends (maybe even zero) know about this vote. Why not just say the vote will be whoever shows up? Can you imagine if government elections were decided based on a certain percentage of the voter population having to vote? No. If you don’t vote, you don’t count. It makes no sense to say that those who do show up don’t count (which is essentially what they’re doing). And, worse yet, you can’t have an election if you don’t let people know about it. Facebook users are not automatically subscribed to Mark Zuckerberg’s blog. Unless they keep up with tech news, they get no notification whatsoever that there’s any kind of vote.

Well, if you’re reading this now and are a Facebook user also, go vote now. At least you can say you tried and somewhat care about your privacy and user rights. Maybe we can even get up to a full 1%. Whoop de do!