Jul 24, 2011
I know many people have managed to get up and running with Google+ fairly easily. The usual snags have been reported, of course, as users get used to the idiosyncrasies of the network, and as new etiquette and conventions emerge.
Today, it’s become clear that there are some deeper issues emerging, as Google enforces a “real names only” policy. Erm, good luck with that, in a hard identity sense, guys. Unless you’re going to try and peg people back to a state-issued identifier… (no, I’m not even going to go down that road of horror).
There’ve also been a few nasties creeping out of the woodwork as users realise some of the drawbacks of putting it all in the cloud. One wrong step with your service provider, and you’ll be writing a rant like this as thousands of hours of curation, not to mention thousands of irreplaceable and irretrievable content files, are briskly wiped out.
But for me, Google’s latest foray into social networking has pretty much been a non-experience. Although I was invited fairly early on, and signed up successfully for a few days, it all went belly-up pretty soon afterwards.
Why? Because of the cack-handed way in which Google identities work, that’s why. Here’s the detail.
Like most people, at some point I signed up for a Gmail account. I didn’t get a very nice address, as I wasn’t in there early enough, but it is a version of my name.
What I do have, and use instead, is a funky email address that I set up 10 years ago, and a couple of years ago moved over to Google Apps. (Bear with me.)
That email address is pretty much the way in which I’m identified for all services I use that are based on email address. In many ways it is my self-asserted identity on the Internet.
So it won’t surprise you to learn that when I came to create a Google profile, based on an email address, I used my “home” email identity.
So far so good, and for a couple of years everything worked smoothly. Google Apps did the things Google Apps did (email, calendar, contacts). And for the other Google services I used (Analytics, and probably not much more than that), I logged in with my Google profile. All was well. I had a slightly uncomfortable feeling that there may be trouble down the line though, with two identically-named identities that were logically separate.
And I was right.
A few days after I joined Google+ I got a friendly-but-firm email from Google. “We’re consolidating your accounts,” they told me. This dual use of the same email address can’t go on. Not optional. Indeed.
As I’d been invited to Google+ using the “profile version” of my email address, I feared the worst. And I was right. That was the account which was going to be stripped of my preferred email address. To be replaced by a “temporary address”–something horrible with a percentage sign in the middle of it. Great. The G+ connections dried up–nobody knows me as “the percentage sign email guy”–they know me as my ordinary, erm, email address. Bugger.
It got worse. To be able to get into G+ at all I didn’t just have to log in to Google using the temporary profile, I also had to log OUT of Apps (explicitly, even if I were already logged out of “normal” Google)–otherwise Google thought I was attempting to access G+ using a “business identity”. The horror!
The solution–according to Google–was to assign my Google profile an entirely new email address. Right. A new identity, for what could emerge as a pretty important service, should Google actually get their act together. An identity, and email address, that I didn’t need or use anywhere else. Not. Ideal.
So we have an impasse. I am hanging on, the temporary account unused and unloved, in the hope that Apps users will at some point be able to use their Apps email as a G+ identity. (It’s a rather faint hope, given the strategic direction that Google seem to be taking with identity.)
Why would I waste time now building up a social network where I, quite literally, don’t know who I am?
But it explains why I’m not part of this party, remain unconvinced of Google’s ability to handle the basics of social interaction, and am pursuing a wholesale review of my domains, addresses and identities for what now seems an inevitable clean break, sooner or later, with Google. Nice work, chaps.
Update, 25 July: a few morning-after-posting thoughts
Is there any real significance in all this? Surely this is just the moaning of yet another free-service user who didn’t read the Ts&Cs? Nothing paid, nothing to complain about.
Well, this is significant, because:
- Identity, and cross-platform identity, are hugely important in an ever-more-connected world. Mess with those and you mess with the core of user experience: user existence.
- Like it or not, it’s hard to see how a relationship with Google won’t form some part or other of everyone’s Internet activity at least over the next few years. This makes a Google profile (whatever neglect Google may have shown for it to date) disproportionately important.
- The attempt to enforce “realness” is weak. Google’s requests for reference to “government-issued ID” (redacted or not)–whether to “prove” age or identity–is a troubling step. It puts a little friction in the path of being anonymous, sure, but if you want to, you can be.
And these characteristics (inflexibility, heavy-handedness, dependence) are all indicators of things that we’ll need to worry much more about in the future.
Google account administration functions really are up the spout. Here’s a good piece by Dan Harrison on Google administration in general, and another on Google Apps deficiencies in particular. I’ve said it before: if a profit-focused, cash-rich organisation like Google finds identity so difficult, do we really hold out much hope for government?
Google Wave also revealed some of these flaws. I actually thought, briefly at the time, that the whole Wave concept was actually a Trojan Horse to get people to sign up for a Google profile (or to take one more seriously if they already had). And what did they force me to have as my Wave ID, despite me already having a friendly Apps address, and a slightly less friendly Gmail address? Something like firstname.lastname@example.org (I actually forget how many zeroes.) Face hits palm.