First, a word of disclosure: I worked for Multiply for nearly four years. This means I know what I’m talking about. I also no longer have any financial interest in their success. This means I’m probably not that biased. Oh, and I only wrote this because I felt like it. This means nobody asked me to.
I had the good fortune of receiving an early invite to join Google’s vaunted, Facebook‐killing, world‐saving, next‐generation‐social‐network Google+. There’s a lot of shiny newness to be excited about; Google seems to have brought a few new interesting ideas to the table vis‐à‐vis sharing and communicating. They also seem poised to introduce the masses to a few good ideas for privacy.
In terms of privacy options, Google+ lets you:
- …separate your contacts into distinct “friends,” “family,” etc. buckets
- …share content privately with each of these groups
- …filter your view when consuming content posted by each of these groups
- …use this ‘extended network’ concept to share beyond your direct contacts, but still less than the entire world
They’re also rather old ideas.
I joined Multiply in late 2005 as a marketing copywriter/company blog writer/customer service person/wearer‐of‐other‐hats, and by that point, Multiply had already figured out a solution to the problem of sharing content privately among all the groups of people you know. In fact, by then they had been at it for about two years. See the features listed above? They were all at the core of the product.
Not impressed? It’s important to remember what the social networking landscape looked like back then:
- People had already figured out that Friendster was kind of garbage.
- People hadn’t yet figured out that MySpace was complete garbage. It was hugely popular by mid‐2000s standards, but many times smaller than the Facebook of today.
- Facebook (okay, “thefacebook.com”) was open to users at a bunch of colleges, but outside of that, wasn’t really a big deal.
- Twitter (“twttr”) didn’t exist.
Oh yeah, and here’s what privacy looked like:
- Friendster: Who the fuck remembers?
- MySpace: Gave you the option of making your profile entirely public to the world or entirely private to your contacts… all of your contacts.
- Facebook: Your profile was available to all of your contacts, and everyone else in your “network” (which at the time meant everyone who went to your college). You couldn’t make anything public.
- Seriously, you guys… Twitter didn’t exist.
Okay, so we’ve established that privacy wasn’t much of a consideration in services of the day. But maybe it is today…?
All the Google+ privacy features you love — here’s how Multiply did ‘em:
1. …separate your contacts into distinct “friends,” “family,” etc. buckets
Google+ today gives you the option of putting your friends and family into neat little buckets (they call them “circles”). Multiply made you do it. When adding a new contact or inviting someone to join you on Multiply, you’d have to pick a “real world” relationship type. There were dozens to choose from (friend, cousin, neighbor, boyfriend, work supervisor, etc.). There was also “online buddy,” which was for connections to people you didn’t know very well. Online buddies would be kept slightly at a distance, kind of like “acquaintances” on Google+.
2. …allows you to share content privately with each of these groups
Having these relationship types on record let you share everything in friend/family/professional buckets like Google+ does now with circles (oh, but minus the professionals). You could share privately with one or more of these groups, giving you essentially different networks under a single account. It boggles my mind that even today, some people have multiple Facebook accounts just for the sake of keeping their worlds separate.
3. …filters your view of content posted by these different groups
You’d mostly be consuming content on Multiply through a tool that went through a few names (“Message Board,” “Explore Page”) but ultimately became known — somewhat unfortunately — as the “Inbox.” What was this like? Think of the Facebook “News Feed,” only a few times better… and a few years earlier. On Multiply you could use the Inbox to view the latest posts and content from your contacts. On MySpace and Facebook, you’d be bouncing from profile to profile to see what was new with your friends — great for page view metrics, crappy for user experience. :-) The Inbox also let you easily filter your view to include content and updates from many of your contacts’ contacts, and optionally (and to a lesser degree), your contacts’ contacts’ contacts. How far ‘out’ into your network you could see depended on the relationship types you and your contacts had chosen.
4. …use this ‘extended network’ concept to share beyond your direct contacts, but still less than the entire world
With this information, Multiply would provide context when exploring your network. Enforced relationship types made it clear to your contacts just who the other people you knew were, which provided extra context for social interactions on Multiply. Wouldn’t it be nice if when you’re about to meet a new person in real life, someone would tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your ear “that’s Alice, your friend Bob’s sister.” You’re damned right it would. You’d see this information all over Multiply, whether consuming extended network posts in your Inbox or reading the comments on a friend’s post. Google+ can’t do this, because it doesn’t know who these people are, and Friend/Family/Acquaintances/Following is something Google+ considers a private distinction… which on the other hand makes some sense, due to some complexities of interpersonal relationships.
My point is…
But when you hear someone ask why it took until 2011 to develop a system that allows you to share in a somewhat sane sense, kindly enlighten them. I was there, I heard the world cry out for a better mousetrap, and I watched the world not beat a path to Multiply’s door. If there were a prize for being first, it’d be a plastic‐gold turd trophy inscribed “LOL.”
I’m not saying that everyone should go join Multiply. Odds are, nobody you know uses it anyway.
So, congrats on the splashy beta, Google, but remember: people say they want privacy, but just want to be where their friends are. Good luck combining the two.