Two weeks ago, when I first wrote about the problems with Google+ and identity/pseudonymity, some people misunderstood. They believed that I was speaking about a virtual worlds issue (solely and specifically), and what's more, a personal one, even though I was clear, using very small words that the issues raised by this controversy have little to do with virtual worlds per se, and have no effect on me personally, whatsoever.
The Google+ identity dust-up only started with virtual worlds because that group were the first to predict the oncoming freight train, not because they were the only ones impacted. Since the time I wrote that article, the stain of this issue has spread all over the world. It's become more and more obvious that this is a big problem and a public relations headache of a proportion Google may not have anticipated, but almost certainly should have.
So far, Google's handling of the issue has been, at best, a bit ham-handed. Defense of the policy while adamant, is easily shot through with holes so large you could drive a train through them, leaving a result that cannot logically be supported past the point of "because I said so." Though Google is perfectly allowed to try that tactic, I'm not sure how well it's going to hold up for a company that has traded on a "do no evil" philosophy. To be clear, there's plenty about Google's stance that is evil, and has the potential to do real harm.
But Google eventually had to say something, and Brad Horowitz has done so. Of note is the following:
"MYTH: Google doesn’t care about ____. (businesses, teenagers, organizations, pseudonymous usage, disadvantaged populations, etc.)
We aspire to having great solutions for these (and many more) use cases. While this may appear as easy as the stroke of a policy pen ("Just let the businesses in!"), we think we can do better. We’re designing features for different use cases that we think will make a better product experience both for them and for everyone else. Please don't misconstrue the product as it exists today (4 weeks since entering Field Trial) as the 'end state.' We're flattered that there's so much passion and interest... and will continue to improve the product and innovate in ways that will hopefully surprise and delight.
To which I reply, after editing my words four times so my poor editors don't have to do it for me:
You have it backwards. Consideration should be with those who could be harmed *FIRST*, not "after we get everyone else on board."
This, right here, is where the PR nightmare really starts - because this shows priority, and a lack of prediction and foresight that considering the source, is largely indefensible. It's clear though that camps are firmly dividing on the issue. But because the argument is heating up and gaining more and more press from ever larger sources (hi, BBC!) either way, Google loses from a public relations standpoint due to their lack of foresight and poor use of language and wording in their account signup process.
Meanwhile, Back At The Lab
After the Facebook marketing campaign collapse, Linden Lab decided to try to sort this mess out, by developing Social Profiles as a way to take matters into their own virtual hands. The timing turned out to be perfect, as Plusgate was just around the corner and a DIY approach from the Lab seemed to be the best way to go.
This week that project went fully live. If you go to https://my.secondlife.com/firstname.lastname, and hit the home button, you will be able to see your "feed". I made my first (and only) post today just to show you what it looks like:
I can also show you the privacy settings, which allow a choice between Everyone (a public, internet wide setting), Second Life (SL) users only, or SL friends only, or nobody. Which options you get depend on which criteria you're looking to change. Here's mine:
It's clearly an evolving system, but some things appear to be working well from the start. While you CAN link your social profile to other services (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc). you are not required to do so (choice is good!). Further, this allows people to interact with others in SL without having to be logged into the actual virtual world themselves, which is handy when one is on a laptop, mobile or a tablet device where intensive 3d graphics capabilities are not up to snuff. You do need an account to have a social profile, but you won't have to load the SL program - good for people on the go.
A Work In Progress
On the other hand, there's things that obviously still need to be explored. The one that stands out the most to me immediately is that there's no way to organize your friends list into any kind of user defined groups. That's something that must be examined, because otherwise it's the Facebook Effect all over again; forcing a social modality that is unnatural and counter productive. There needs to be a way (as there is with Diaspora and other services like Livejournal or Dreamwidth) to filter postings to groups of people, and that choice of groups must be made by the user themselves or it is very nearly useless.
Though the wall page itself doesn't seem to do a live update, and must be refreshed (which means remembering to refresh it), you can choose to have notifications of people commenting to your wall or your comments on that of another either inworld, via email, or both. If you choose to do it inworld, you get a popup IM window telling you someone has commented.
I'm also noticing that if I post something, I can't find it in my own feed on my home page, though others can see it, obviously since they can reply. I'm unsure if that's the way it's meant to be, but if so, that seems like something that would need fixing as well, as your own posts should be seen in context with those of others.
There's also issues (predictably) with the "recommendations" feature. "Recommendations" is a mechanism by which using the interests you provide in your profile you will be "recommended" to others (total strangers) with whom those interests match. This is good for people who enjoy random contact, but less so for those of us who aren't so into that. Right now, the only way to not be recommended to others is to not list any interests in your profile. There's no way to list interests (which people do have) and NOT be matched with strangers (for the record one of my interests is "being left alone").
Further, everything is governed by your inworld friends list. So there is no way (as there is in Twitter, for example) to follow people without adding them to that list. If there was a way to separate that, it might provide greater functionality, particularly for potential future uses as regards commerce and networking. You may, for example, want to create a group chat on the web, (like one does using a hashtag in Twitter) and follow those people, and drop them into a user defined group, without having to add them all to your inworld friends list. It would be a way to interact with like minded people without a) being forced to be logged in, and b) without having to add all those people with whom you might not interact onto your friends list.
The system the Lab has released also solves the concern of it being Facebook and Google+ in reverse- if you set your account so "everybody" can see and post on your profile then it does not matter whether they have a Second Life account or not, or what identity (wallet or pseudonymous) they use to do it.
An Interesting Development
Though it's clear that this new feature still needs to be fleshed out, what I find startling is how it addresses some of the most pressing issues that Google+ had completely borked from the beginning. I'm very curious to see how this develops.
Maybe the folks on Battery Street can teach Google a thing or two.
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