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.