Over the last few days, I’ve been exploring Google Plus a bit, in my spare time, along with a quarter million of my closest friends around the globe. There are already a lot of reviews… that’s not what this is. I find it to be an interesting entry point, and I’m curious to see what happens with it. As I said on Twitter, I’m cautiously optimistic about its future.
That said, I’m curious what that future will be. A lot of people worry, rightly so, about the privacy implications of Google properties all combining their connections to users and assimilating us all into a massive, Google-controlled borg. But if anything, the opposite is also a concern.
I work a lot with Google documents with teams, and I find it to be a really useful tool. What works for ad hoc collaboration, however, doesn’t work as well for continuing collaboration or managing groups. If I have a group or organization, keeping track of project teams and the like who want to use Google Docs is a nightmare. Not only does it tend to be fussy with non-Google emails, it’s a pain to create groups in Google and then invite them to a document.
The biggest missing feature in the Googleverse is effective management of groups. Google Groups certainly isn’t it. And I was hopeful that Circles might be.
And it could be if you could share circles. Right now, I can create circles to indicate who is who and who sees what in my update streams. Cool. But no one can see what my circles are. As I noted in an early post on G+, that’s a good thing. I wanted to know this before I created, say, a circle called “people who annoy me.” All of us have people like this in our lives, and for one reason or another are forced to interact with them, and we probably could group them this way in our head. Nonetheless, we wouldn’t want this–or many other groupings–to be public.
I am thinking back to other social networks that attempted to create classes of connections that require a whole range of negotiations. It’s hard enough for me to divide people between “friends” and “associates”–if on top of this I had to then justify that decision to people who are in those two groups, I assume I would have very few of either.
So, as a default, I’m fine with the title and grouping of circles remaining private by default. (Although it’s not as clear that this is true of the latter case, since you can find out the list of people who have access to a particular post, and perhaps surmise some group boundaries that way.) But I want the ability to make my circles public, and perhaps to have people in the circle be able to add new people to the circle.
What sort of a circle would that be? I now have a circle called “QUICM students” that includes past and present students in the grad program where I teach. I took a first stab at dropping people into that group, but I know that there are others I’ve missed. I need something that is much more akin to traditional group management. Others in the group need to be able to add members from the outside, and perhaps with some groups, they need to be able to add themselves.
I don’t see that this is a big push away from Circles, and I really hope that G+ develops in that direction. Without some way of creating and managing groups, it will lose out on a function that is missing not just from their social networking effort, but from a lot of Google applications. One group I am working with has decided to use ManyMoon as a way of managing this function, and others turn to other approaches. But a robust group management feature would be a great addition to G+.
If that group/circle identity management solution could also be cleanly integrated with Docs, with Reader, even with Groups (which might become superfluous in this case), I think we would have a platform for distributed collaboration that would be helpful to businesses, to educators, and to anyone else who wants to get things done in a group.