Google+, the best Multiply.com clone ever

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:

  1. …sep­a­rate your con­tacts into dis­tinct “friends,” “fam­i­ly,” etc. buck­ets
  2. …share con­tent pri­vate­ly with each of these groups
  3. …fil­ter your view when con­sum­ing con­tent post­ed by each of these groups
  4. …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.