Since it’s initial private launch, Google Plus has received mostly positive reviews from tech insiders that were able to score an invite early on. I was able to get my hands to an invite a day or two after Google Plus, often abbreviated as G+, launched. This is not my first social network, I was an early adopter on Twitter, I was there before @aplusk, and I had the same experience with Tumblr and Quora. Each time a new social network is launched and before the mob of celebrities and social media marketing experts join, these services are often seeded with early adopters from the tech scene. Even with it’s 20 million users, G+ is still in this early adopter stage and this is evident by the list of most followed users on the network. The most followed profiles are those from technologists and tech pundits, including former first friend on MySpace Tom Anderson. A few years ago, this was virtually the same list of most followed users on Twitter.
Google Plus does innovate on a few areas where Facebook has lagged and dragged it’s feet, such as in the concept of circles. That said, Google Plus is largely a clone+ of Facebook, which is a derivative of whatever social trend we’ve seen in the last five years. Depending on how you count, Google Plus is Google’s fourth attempt at this social networking thing. The current trend in social networking sites is that anonymity is to be banned. Facebook was the first social network to demand users use their real and legal names in their profiles and Google Plus has followed this trend.
Since Google Plus is the newest social networking site to see an exponential growth, it is now going through some growing pains in the way Google is policing the community. There have been a large number of reports of Google banning and disabling Google Plus profiles that don’t use “real names.”
The worst part, for those whose accounts have been locked out, is that there is no customer support, no due process, and not even a G+ profile to contact if your Google account is disabled or banned our right. If your Google account is disabled you may be locked out of GMail, Google Docs, and other Google products you may use, which might be have years of data.
The natural progression of these policies is that in the near future people will need to show their government issued identification card, passport, DNA sample, work history and resume, retinal scan, and perhaps a Google history scan to use Google Plus or similar social network. I can appreciate that Google wants to encourage people to use their real names, but there are so many instances beyond their automated algorithmic logic that people use nicknames, pen names, aliases, alternative spellings, stage names, witness protection name, and more. Is Google Plus going to force Jon Stewart to use his birth name? What about Lady Gaga? What about Dear Abby? Larry Brin uses the short form for Lawrence, is that okay? And don’t get me started with folks that are known by their initials or by their profession title such as Dr. Dre.
So why is Google, and Facebook for that matter, so against anonymity? It’s all about the data. The more data Google has on each user, the better they can serve ads targeting them. Google Plus is a user data collection service as much as it is a social network. Google Plus gives Google a new platform to collect even more data that it can then sell, trade, and use to target ads. Currently, most of Google’s ads work on the intent of the user. The more Google knows about the people in your circles, their name, age, background, location, work history, interests, trends, and communication patterns it can easily develop social ads that target you and your inner most circle members.
This whole debate is a red herring, the real issue is about the identifying data that Google is collecting on each profile. There are already a large number of third parties that are forming a “fourth bureau” of sorts that collects any and every piece of information such as if you pay a phone bill on time or if you spend 6 hours in the middle of the day playing FarmVille.