Setting Yourself a Higher Standard: Google+
One of the features I find it ridiculous that is being touted as really new & valuable within the new Google+ service, is the notion of “circles” that allow you to categorize your contacts for selective sharing of stuff. Facebook has had this for a long time.
In fact, Facebook didn’t have this, and Ephraim Luft and Mike Greenfield (formerly a colleague of mine at LinkedIn) built a Facebook app called “Circle of Friends” that let you classify your friends into various “circles” and share messages, and chat with them etc. It got a decent amount of traction (over 6 million installs if I recall correctly, back in the ‘good ol days’ of easy Facebook sharing). Whether Facebook copied their idea or just independently thought of it doesn’t really matter (and who knows?) but Facebook later launched the ability for you to classify your friends when you accept an invitation into a number of groups/buckets. As we know, though, most people are lazy and don’t do this things effectively. Plus since it was a later add-on, lots of users probably saw that most of their existing contacts weren’t classified, so why bother with the new ones?
Google decided to give the user control over this instead of an automated process of grouping users (learning their lesson from “Buzz” perhaps). And since it’s an all-new system, it’s more likely people are going to use this feature than if they’d already started using the service without it embedded. But Google on the other hand recently implemented a suggested “other people to include on the email” feature within their Google Apps email product (I don’t really use Gmail much so I have no idea if it actually is running there too) – which feature is a very nice hybrid of automated suggestion and user selection (to choose to add the users to the email.
There are two questions to ask, though, (1) is whether this kind of feature is truly important to adoption of this system, or if it’s really just a bell that seems like a really good idea but won’t stand the test of consumer adoption in the face of the laziness of users and (2) whether Google should have just held fast to creating a more intelligent system for this instead of caving into the “creepy” police. Google is in a sensitive position with respect to customer data, but they certainly won’t gain ground on Facebook in audience-context products (“social”) if they’re not willing to push the boundaries a little further, faster.