Google+, the best 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, “”) 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 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