The Trend is in the Wrong Direction: Reflections on the Field Trial (part 10 of Diversity and Google+)

Also published on We Get Google Plus, Diaspora *, and G+

Google+ in rainbow colorsFor the past 12 weeks we’ve been in field trial, and during that time we’ve listened and learned a great deal. We’re nowhere near done, but with the improvements we’ve made so far we’re ready to move from field trial to beta, and introduce our 100th feature: open signups.

— Vic Gundotra, Google+: 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99… 100.9/20/2011

Many aspects of Google+’s field trial went extremely well. Hangouts are clearly G+’s “killer app”.* It’s been remarkably reliable for such an early stage project: no “fail whales” and (at least for me) a lot fewer bugs than Facebook. G+ has a lot of momentum with social media experts, photographers, and 20-45-year old guys; and most of the reviews have been positive.

From a business strategy perspective, Google+ has been a huge win, highlighting how many people want an alternative to Facebook. Facebook’s fighting back, copying and improving on many of G+’s features and completely reworking their profile page. But with so many users sick of the constant changes, declining software quality, and postponing the IPO, they’re in a difficult — especially with Google’s far greater resources. Advantage Google.

But there are a few flies in the ointment …

It’s beginning to look a lot like MySpace

Every time I post a photo of me or a female friend, the photo gets all sorts of

Google+’s minimal filtering, noise reduction, and moderation functionality is already a problem — and likely to become substantially worse as people start flooding in. Valeria Maltoni and others are seeing an exponential increase in spam. Guy Kawasaki is getting a lot of bad behavior in comments. I notice it too: when Google+ started, most of the people who circled me was interesting enough to circle back. Now, almost all the circle requests are from spammers or people who haven’t posted anything I’m remotely interested in.

Unsurprisingly, it’s noticeably worse for women.** I haven’t seen any recent statistics on gender ratios on G+, but anecdotally I’m seeing more and more women cut back their involvement or just leave.

Nymwars: it’s not over

Che Rex: am I to assume the most popular question in the comments was conveniently overlooked during the interview?

The nymwars, resistance to Google’s insistence on policing what names people can call themselves, are still getting a lot of attention — in the mainstream media like ABC and Time, from VCs like Mark Suster and Fred Wilson, and of course on Google+.

There was a good example of this earlier this week when Google Community Manager Natalie Villalobos asked the community what questions they had for new member’s upcoming hangout. Surprise, surprise: the top questions were all about pseudonymity and the naming policy. A few examples:

Emilio Osorio García – Why can you use a pseudonym in Google+ and endangered citizens in countries like Mexico can not?

Paul Hosking – I’d ask him what his real name is. Because… you know… here on G+, we don’t deal in “fake names.” Right, +Vic Gundotra?

Greg Krajewski – +Natalie Villalobos How is he able to use the Pseudo name, .? Just asking because if there is something internet users hate the most it’s a double standard.

Brandi Crowell – I anticipate Google staff to completely ignore all the comments regarding the double standard of allowing . to use that name, but here’s a serious question for him: What is his stance on Google+’s real name policy?

Google’s strategy seems to be to try to ignore the issue — they refused to comment when Harry McCracken contacted them for his story in Time, and none of the 100 improvements Vic Gundotra mentioned involve supporting pseudonyms — but as I discussed in Talk about a hostile environment, it’s shaping to be an ongoing drag on G+’s success.

About that suggested users list …

After Google+ has been opened for everyone in the last days, the follower numbers for the Top 10 exploded.

Daniel Sandstein, Exploding numbers and a new Nr. 1 for the ladies

Remember a few weeks ago when Bradley Horowitz responded to the outcry about the suggested users list by talking about how the users on the list would rotate so we shouldn’t get upset? When I went back to check the “Picks” list — the one that all the new people signing up see by default — here’s the changes I see:

  • . and +Trey Songz are there of +Chamillionaire The Ceo and +50 Cent. Aas Zennie Abraham pointed out in Google+ Suggested Users List is Overwhelmingly White, the black guys are all male rappers or athletes
  • +Tyra Banks has replaced +Taylor Swift. It’s nice to see a black woman there; but it still fits the pattern that are primarily actresses, singers, or in sports and fitness
  • +Guy Kawasaki has replaced +Robert Scoble.
  • +Larry Page is now there too, along with Sergey and Vic. Because, y’know, everybody should be following the Google guys!

As Daniel’s fascinating site Circle Count illustrates, now that the doors are open, being on the suggested users list makes a huge difference to the number of followers people get. The rich get richer … and black and women techies, executives, photographers, investors, and politicians are virtually invisible.

That’s what field trials are for

Halley Suit Tucker: So are guys all going to rush over to Google+ and women will all stay here at Facebook

Google+ hasn’t completely ignored diversity in their field trial. Two months ago, in A work in progress, I ticked off several things they did right early on: launching in multiple languages, reaching out to get suggestions for better hangout support for deaf people, allowing the gender field to be private. In her reply, Google community manager Frances Haugen said “trust us that we’re working on developing ways for our users to express who they are and to feel comfortable being themselves on Google+.” It seemed like a promising start.

Since then, though, it’s hard to point to any new examples of diversity. The shameful way they’re treating people like Skud and Identity Woman continues to send a strong message — as does Bradley “Elatable” Horowitz and Vivek “Vic” Gundotra’s ongoing pattern of refusing to engage with critics and making misleading communications.

Well, that’s what field trials are for. Google’s learned a lot. So have we.

From a diversity perspective, the trend is in the wrong direction.

And Google’s certainly acting like they couldn’t care less.


* Rebecca Greenfield has a nice roundup in Google+ Hangouts May Have Gotten Good Enough to Lure Facebookers, quoting Jenna Wortham, Tim Carmody, and others on how the latest improvements like screensharing, Google Docs integration, mobile access, Sketchpad, and an API make Hangouts a great collaboration platform for groups and businesses.

** Unsurprisingly because women get harassed a lot more than guys online — and because Google’s ignored suggestions about how to make it a more woman-friendly environment.

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, Booberday, and Talk about a hostile environment