Talk about a hostile environment (part 9 of Google+ and Diversity)

also posted on G+ and on Diaspora*

Google+ in rainbow colorsI feel very let down by Google’s behavior. I had hoped to escape the heavy-handedness that is Facebook, but that is not to be.

I’ll have a presence here; I have to, professionally. But the joy is gone.

— Kathy Gill, Google+ As An Identity Service Is Bait And Switch

Like Kathy, I’m feeling pretty disenchanted with Google right now.  As an entrepeneur, I was excited enough about Google+’s possibilities that I was ready to make a big bet on it.   If things had worked out differently, Kathy and I would have been starting up a G+-based business, and I would have been one of those developers eagerly waiting for the API to come out, developing and testing an app in Hangouts, sharing it with the world, recruiting all my friends to Google+ so they could use it …

But no.

Instead, I’m hanging out on Diaspora and having a great time — interesting discussions with a diverse group of interesting people from all over the world.  I’ve stopped using Google’s search and am encouraging my friends to de-Googlify themselves.  Instead of thinking about how to build software on Google+, I’m thinking about how to improve Diaspora, Dreamwdith, Friendika, and the other alternatives to Google’s and Facebook’s “identity systems”.

True, like Kathy, I’m still on Google+.   For what I do, I need to be there — and I’m more convinced than ever of its potential for activism, a topic I’ll turn to in a future post.

But overall Google+ turned into a job for me.  Fortunately I have some great colleagues and have some really good discussions in the break room, but still … its the kind of workplace where my friends get suspended, guys pass around photos of breasts,* and the people running it are committed to a policy that harms abuse survivors, LGBTQs, people with medical conditions, teachers, whistleblowers, activists, women, and so many others.  Talk about a hostile environment

So yeah, the joy is gone for me too.

Multiply me and Kathy by whatever percentage of Google+ 25,000,000 early users are upset and you get an idea of how much of an impact the nymwars have had on its success so far.   Sure, there are plenty of people who don’t care; but when so many talented well-connected people who would otherwise be passionate supporters are actively telling their friends and colleagues how much they dislike it, it’s a huge blow.  And there’s also the effect on the morale and productivity of the sizable contingent inside Google who disagree with the policy.

It’s hard to be optimistic

Is it too late for redemption? 2 yes, 8 no, 8 too soon to tell

It’s still possible for Google to reverse course if they want to: G+ is still in field test, so all they have to do is say something along the lines of “this was our biggest learning from the field test, and here’s what we’re going to do about it” and then take Suw Charman’s advice

Reinstate everyone you’ve suspended. Remove your current name policy. Collaborate with the community on how best to moderate bad actors. If you need some sort of identity policy, let us help you write it. And, finally, apologise to everyone you’ve bullied. There are lots of them, so you might want to start now.

As I said two months ago in Why it matters

If Google then builds on this by actively all these groups they haven’t been paying a lot of attention to so far, my money’s on them to dethrone Facebook and Twitter.

At this point, though, it’s hard to be optimistic.   Bradley, Vic, Larry, Eric, et al. pretty clearly want to make Google+ a place for the Nicks, Davids, Eds, and Roberts of the world.    So they’re basing their future social and search strategy on a product and environment that’s so hostile to pretty much everybody other than cis males with names that don’t look “weird”.

It sure seems suboptimal to me.


Revised, September 26.   Originally I had led with a section talking about how despite progress, there were also some warning signs: lack of adoption, Facebook’s response, and major functionality gaps.  Since then, Google’s finally integrated search, made some significant improvements in hangouts, and opened the doors: Paul Allen estimates that Google+ is up to 50,000,000 profiles already and seeing 2 million new signups each day, and Experian reported that traffic shot up an astonishing 1269% last week. Meanwhile Facebook’s much-anticipated response is confusing and annoying users.  So I chopped that section out and left the focus on the hostile environment.  Live and learn 🙂

* See A.V. Flox’ Painting It Pink Doesn’t Make It Less Sexist for a great discussion of the impact of Booberday on the community

Check out the previous posts in the series: A Work in Progress, Why it matters, #nymwars!, A tale of two searches, The double bind of oppression, Anxious masculinity under threat, Still a Ways to Go, and Booberday