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.

Why I don’t worry about blog stats, not even a little bit

I don’t obsess over this blog’s traf­fic stats. Doing so would be an exam­ple of kick­ing my own ass.

This graph is unim­por­tant.

So while I use both Google Ana­lyt­ics and the Word­Press Stats plu­g­in, I don’t care a whit about the num­bers. I don’t even have to check them to know that they are mean­ing­less; they’re close enough to zero that they might as well be. (Words I’ve nev­er spo­ken: “I had 12 pageviews today, up from 10. High and to the right, baby!”)

I can’t sep­a­rate bot traf­fic from human traf­fic, and for all I know, I’m prob­a­bly respon­si­ble for some inci­den­tal pageviews… at least if I hap­pen to load pages when not signed in to Word­Press. And why should I care about pageviews, any­way? It’s not like I’m look­ing to sell ads.

So why do I con­tin­ue to use not one, but two solu­tions to not give me num­bers? For the qual­i­ta­tive data. I can’t get enough of those.

My two favorites are as fol­lows: refer­rers and search terms (which are, them­selves, refer­rers, any­way). Both of these give me infor­ma­tion that is actu­al­ly use­ful, right now. Search terms tell me about a case where some­one was look­ing for some­thing and found my post’s title and/or sum­ma­ry promis­ing enough to actu­al­ly click through. And refer­rers, clear­ly, show me who (if any­one) is dri­ving peo­ple my way.

(Even in my past life on Mul­ti­ply, I hooked my account up with Site Meter’s free ser­vice to see if they could show me any insight­ful stats. I took a look through what they offered and found that all I real­ly cared about were the refer­rers… which were, more often than not, hilar­i­ous. Web brows­er, OS and screen res­o­lu­tion can be inter­est­ing for see­ing how my vis­i­tors stack up against Web users as a whole, but what am I going to do with that sort of insight? Fix IE6 CSS issues? Ha.)

The qual­i­ta­tive data that these ser­vices col­lect from my blog have shown me that peo­ple have found my post about the crap­py Viv­i­tar Clip­shot, some even won­der­ing if it’s OS X‐compatible. (Hint: it isn’t.) A bunch of dif­fer­ent search terms brought peo­ple to my logo/visual puns post. And one search that didn’t even log­i­cal­ly match up with con­tent I’ve post­ed, recent­ly learned words reap­pear­ing, gives me a great idea for a future post!

Should I be wor­ry­ing more about appeal­ing to the mass­es, or about cre­at­ing the sort of con­tent that peo­ple who actu­al­ly do vis­it are inter­est­ed in? That’s easy. The search­es and refer­rers have shown me that (please cue the schmaltzy music) I’ve touched people’s lives… even if I didn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly give them any­thing of val­ue, and per­haps even wast­ed their time with con­tent that wasn’t rel­e­vant to their inter­ests. I made a dif­fer­ence!

An introduction

Hel­lo, Inter­net. It’s Everett, and I’m blog­ging. I’m sort of new at this.

And at the same time, I’m not.

See, it was 2001 when I first became aware of the fact that peo­ple on the Web were writ­ing reg­u­lar­ly updat­ed, reverse‐chronological con­tent about what they had for break­fast. I was a col­lege fresh­man. I took up my key­board and start­ed a blog1 that no longer exists, on a ser­vice that I didn’t like very much (but is still around today).

After a few months there, I start­ed a Live­Jour­nal that exists to this day, but hasn’t been reg­u­lar­ly updat­ed in a num­ber of years. I was once a paid user of Live­Jour­nal, an acknowl­edged con­trib­u­tor to the project and, sim­ply, a humon­gous fan.

Some­thing changed in my life, a few years lat­er, around the time I fin­ished col­lege. Per­haps I no longer felt the need to tell the world what I was hav­ing for break­fast (of course, today that’s Twitter’s job), or maybe my life got a lot less note­wor­thy (if it had ever been). Maybe LiveJournal’s mul­ti­ple changes in own­er­ship tar­nished its image. Or maybe all the cool kids moved on to pure social net­work­ing ser­vices, which were com­ing of age at that point.

It was prob­a­bly a com­bi­na­tion of these things, plus anoth­er big one: I was hired to work in a public‐facing role at blogging/social networking/photo sharing/etc. ser­vice extra­or­di­naire Multiply.com. To be clear, Mul­ti­ply didn’t silence me; I made sure I was allowed to con­tin­ue blog­ging else­where before tak­ing the posi­tion. But hav­ing a real job, one that had me among oth­er things, blog­ging, sim­ply wasn’t con­ducive to after‐hours blog­ging.

With all of this in the past, I think it’s time I start blog­ging again. Everyone’s cat has a blog, in which they dis­cuss what they ate for break­fast, so why don’t I?

Okay, now I do.

  1. Though I was at the time unaware of the term “blog,” which was by no means in com­mon use in 2001