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Google+ an insidious Facebook clone or a long overdue alternative?

What has Facebook done for us? Certainly its provided a forum for some rather unpleasant behaviour. We see reports of that in the news often.

I haven’t been silent regarding my disdain for Facebook.  I dislike the posturing, I dislike the multitudes of Facebook drones buried in their mobile phones on the train and I dislike the attitude of someone who is little older than a kid telling people that other kids should use Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg allegedly).  Facebook has been the center of so much attention in the press, often bad too with stalking, bullying, spamming and exploits being amongst the dangers to the end-user.

With that in mind though, one could be forgiven for imagining that Google+ whilst competing with Facebook will have the same pitfalls and issues – Or will it?  If you look at Google+ on the periphery, you could be forgiven for thinking Google+ is merely another Facebook rebranded.  After having spent a while with the service let look at what is offered.

Facebook – Recent allegations

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Facebook has had its share of bad publicity and whilst its human behaviour not Facebook itself that has created many of these newsworthy issues, one has to wonder if things will or could be any different under a Google+ banner.

A teenager who posted a death threat on Facebook, yesterday became the first person in Britain to be jailed for bullying on a social networking site.
Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1208147/First-cyberbully-jailed-Facebook-death-threats.html

Or :

Callous teenagers used Facebook to trick a schoolgirl into believing she had an online boyfriend – then lied that he had committed suicide and accused her of being responsible.

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1363723/Bullies-pose-teenagers-boyfriend-Facebook-tell-hes-committed-suicide.html#ixzz1T8OUa7FVl

are just a sample in recent months as to what Facebook can provide a platform for.  If we add into that disgruntled employers, and other inappropriate behaviour, the picture of the “greatness” of social networking (in respect of Facebook) starts to look less inviting.

From what I’ve seen of Facebook, its users fall into categories of those who use it for posturing purposes, those that compete with others in some sort of popularity contest where the more “friends” you have the better person you are and a few people who merely use it for staying in contact with people they do know, their family.

With that in mind though nobody can argue the success of Facebook, but as history has shown, fads and social networking trends are transient and without loyalty, just look at Myspace or Friends Reunited as examples of mass popularity followed by migration away at a drop of a hat.

In any case, being on Facebook will usually entail you sifting through pointless photographs of one of your “friends” friday night out or have your wall polluted with meaningless babble as a circle of work colleagues discusses subjects you have neither interest nor time for.  Add that to your employer scouring your wall (and in some cases with disastrous consequences) you get to see where my Facebook aversion stems from.

And what of stalking?  If you are a Facebook user can you honestly say you’ve not checked up on an ex-partner to see how they are doing? maybe even laughing if they have put on weight or married the partner from hell?  That’s not healthy behaviour and I would bet many Facebook users have done just that.

So why will Google+ be any different to Facebook?

Real names only?

One of the rumours floating around the Google+ ecosystem is that anyone without a real name in their profile will be deleted.  This spells trouble for my own account where I’m on as “Goblin Openbytes”.

The idea behind this thinking is that people using their real names will go some way to prevent trolling, insulting and vile behaviour.  Admirable intentions but will it make any difference?

Prove my name is not “John Smith” or “Steve Harper” – Just because a name that I choose may sound more “real” than Goblin OpenBytes, doesn’t mean that it is.   I would expect Google’s intentions would do nothing to curb bad behaviour merely place those users with bad behaviour under a profile of a more real sounding name.

As for the “stalking” or the scouring for ex-relationships, I don’t suppose Google+ will make much difference.   Maybe the Facebook migrations may already have that out of their system.

It should be noted that it appears the subject of “real names” is already being reconsidered by Google, so I’ll let you know if “Goblin Openbytes” goes the way of the dodo.

Features of Google+

It is important to stress that Google+ is still very much in its early stages of development, however whilst your stream (think Facebook wall) is already looking a far better way of doing things.

For me, the idea that I can categorize and direct my posts means that I won’t have to look at your pictures of your friday night out with work colleagues and you wont have to look at family trips out which will have no interest to anyone but my immediate family.  Thais a great feature and instantly makes Google+ a place where I can have relevant conversations on my terms.

The hangouts feature where you can set up an impromptu chat room with video and voice, works surprisingly well considering that this is still in its early stages.  Whilst established products like Skype still have a few webcam issues running on a Linux system, Google Hangout has no such issue with its browser-based application which integrated well into both a Gentoo and Ubuntu derived environment on my desktop and netbook respectively.

I did however find disappointment in certain aspects of Google+.  For example when presented with a new social networking service, I think the first thing most people will do is go about adding friends and building up your own connections.  What Google+ didn’t make clear was when I added a person who is not yet subscribed to Google+ they will be spammed with my latest activities and actions on the site via email.  Thats not a very pleasant experience and I found myself apologizing to those who had been hit with unsolicited emails regarding my exploits on Google’s service.

Conclusions

Overall I am very pleased with the service so far.  Integration of media into my posts (embedded video etc) is very well done as it freedom from a restriction of 140 characters as in Twitter or Identi.ca.  Are these services to be removed from my social networking ecosphere? No, not at present with those two services in particular there is a definitive need for short, punchy statements, from a link of interest to highlighting my writings.  I think my current followers on Google+ would tire quickly with the volume of my links of interest and Google+ will serve in cases where I have something to say on a particular link, too long for Twitter/Identi.ca but too short for an article on OpenBytes in its own right.

There are reports of games coming to Google+, presumably akin to Farmville currently on Facebook.  How the integration of these pans out is to be seen, however Google+ does have the advantage in that it has years of Facebook feedback and opinion to refine its own service.

Google is currently on a roll at the moment, with Android being on the lips of many with a smart phone and also its plethora of other popular services, not forgetting GoogleDocs et al, its reasonable to expect that Google+ will be a success.

I am hoping to see an implementation of the Wave tech that unfortunately didn’t seem to stand its ground as a product in its own right and a real-time updating wall (as per Google Wave) would be a unique feature, maybe even some collaboration options within the Google+ stream would be welcome.

I have to also mention that the Android G+ app is working very well all things considered.  I did notice that it was slow on the update of my changes to my stream categorizing (I had created a few different categories) but on the whole its working very well in these early days.

As for combating the vile behaviour that we have read about on Facebook and other social networking services, I think Google is “flogging a dead horse” if it thinks it can in any way combat it.  Bad behaviour needs to be tackled with proactive challenge on behalf of other users and people taking personal responsibility for what they post, both actions being quite reasonable expectations in a civilized society.

I would like to see Google+ evolve in the same way that Identi.ca did from its Twitter comparison, in that environment you were more likely to find genuine like-minded people, have sensible conversations and for the most part away from spam, scams and junk.  Conversely though Identi.ca does not have the user base Twitter has and you may well find yourself cut off from individuals you care about if they do not follow you with a migration.

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights, #techbytes on freenode.net
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About openbytes

Online tech writer, novelist/author of sci-fi literature and co-host of the TechBytes Show! I believe in multi-culturalism & diversity. Luton Town FC supporter.

Discussion

13 thoughts on “Google+ an insidious Facebook clone or a long overdue alternative?

  1. The big problem with Facebook is that it’s business model is selling people out. They have sold access to employers, insurance companies, police and oppressive states with all the bad consequences you might imagine. We know the founder called Harvard students “dumb fucks” for trusting him as he offered personal details to a friend. Facebook was established as a playground for bullies because the founders think this way. The company might censor legitimate political opinion that displeases corporate sponsors and oppressive rulers and they don’t care at all about users. Twitter has many of the same problems. Google, which relies on advertising, does not.

    It’s doubtful that Google will be able to stop people from misbehaving but it’s nice they will try. We can be sure that the bullies will quickly establish a presence on Google+, as they have on everywhere else.

    If people are careful about what they put onto Google+, it is no more dangerous than other online services. It might be argued that it is dangerous to let Google scrape together a social network picture but they already have that if they want it. The same kind of information is available to every ISP, email provider, IM service and so on. Microsoft has the same information which they can scrape from Windows users but lacked the competence to build on it, which is probably why they partnered with Facebook. People who are really worried about their privacy need to first eliminate non free software from their lives, then use trusted proxies and service providers.

    Posted by twitter | July 27, 2011, 3:16 am
  2. Hi there!

    Thanks for the reply. Some great points, however I think the one point which could have a debate all of its own:

    “People who are really worried about their privacy need to first eliminate non free software from their lives, then use trusted proxies and service providers.”

    I think we will visit that view. Should be interesting.

    Posted by openbytes | July 27, 2011, 7:57 am
    • Sounds like a fun chat.

      The Bing Sting is perhaps the most glaring, recent revelation of non free software invasion of privacy. A Google employee presented this at a Bing conference and later posted screen shots to prove the point that Windows collected search terms from ordinary user’s computers, which effectively makes Windows spyware. The screenshots were posted because Microsoft denied earlier admissions:

      Microsoft vice president Harry Shum didn’t deny that Microsoft was watching what people searched on and clicked on in Google. “My argument is that when users use search engines, they are actually willing to share the data. We are collectively using the data to improve the search engine,” Shum said. “Everyone does this, Matt.”

      The EULA for Windows has long granted Microsoft the ability to search and delete user files for various reasons, and all non free software has the ability to spy whether the owner tells you or not. There have, of course, been other well published incidents like the Philadelphia public school webcam scandal and a recent rental company doing the same with US court approval. Apple has had it’s fair share of problems with location tracking and key logging of iPhone users. GNU/Linux users who care about controlling their computer should avoid non free additions like Nvidia’s graphics drivers, Skype and so on, because these have the same potential to abuse as Windows does.

      Posted by twitter | July 27, 2011, 5:45 pm
  3. But then with a EULA (which should be read by the end-user) you enter into the agreement knowingly.

    At a football match you can be searched by a steward, because its a “condition of entry” not set out in law giving those powers automatically to the steward..

    I’d say its not so much privacy that needs to be examined, it would be to force companies to put eula’s in a clear consise and simple way so that everyone is very clear as to what they are signing over. Then, if they still use the service, they do so on the basis of an informed choice….

    A little like when you have an operation and sign a disclaimer….you are told what “could” happen and you choose to have the operation after considering all factors.

    Posted by openbytes | July 27, 2011, 8:23 pm
    • You should not expect a clear EULA from Microsoft nor trust it if you had one. Microsoft, as a company, is dishonest and malicious. We have seen this many times in Comes vs Microsoft and other court cases. The free software community has provided everyone an escape, so there is little need to read non free software EULAs anymore.

      “Condition of entry” does not give powers to companies to do things that are wrong and people should object as they are wronged. A steward at a football match may not beat you for sitting in the wrong seat, for example. Microsoft, Facebook and others should be held responsible for the bad things they are doing to people. Individuals who try to record police in public places are often charged with violating wiretapping laws. What Microsoft and Facebook do with people’s emails, private conversations, medical records, purchasing habits and other stuff that they can and do scrape off computers is a violation that amounts to a crime. People should demand better data privacy laws to prevent accumulation of power that service providers should not have and people should avoid software that spies on them so that they can keep their promises to others.

      In computing, the first thing to do is dump non free software. The conditions imposed are outrageous and the power it gives others over you are unacceptable.

      Posted by twitter | July 27, 2011, 11:59 pm
  4. ““Condition of entry” does not give powers to companies to do things that are wrong ”

    Well it does. If you sign an agreement that says “Do XYZ” – Then regardless of what XYZ is, you’ve agreed to it. The moral of the story is read the EULA, if you don’t like the terms don’t use the product. By using the product you are agreeing to the terms. Its a little like eating a food without reading the ingredients…If you have a nut allergy and havent read the packet, you can’t blame the food company when they have a sentence on the back saying “may contain nuts”. Its up to you to do that.

    If people don’t read EULA then they have only themselves to blame. As I say though, there should be law for ensuring that the EULA is accessable, clear and easy to understand. People shouldn’t dump anything if they are willing to accept the t&c. Thats removing a freedom and if people have no issue with services which monitor, then there should be no problem there either.

    “What Microsoft and Facebook do with people’s emails, private conversations, medical records, purchasing habits and other stuff that they can and do scrape off computers is a violation that amounts to a crime.”

    If its not mentioned in the EULA/T&C then there is an offence there. What that offence would be (in the UK for eg) would be depending on how and what they had taken.

    “In computing, the first thing to do is dump non free software. The conditions imposed are outrageous and the power it gives others over you are unacceptable.”

    But then it comes back to what I was saying, read the EULA, make an informed choice. IF Skype had a clause which say non-law enforcement could listen to my conversations without court order, I’d still use it, theres nothing I say on it which I’m particularly bothered if its listened to….hell we put out the conversations on an audiocast anyway. Other people may not want their calls listened to and thats fine aswell. We can both make our own decisions after being presented with the facts.

    I’d go one step further, I have no issue with any of my net communications being snooped on….If people want to read it, I don’t have an issue. Thats my choice, thats my freedom.

    Posted by openbytes | July 28, 2011, 10:49 pm
    • I think you are missing the point about EULAs that I’m trying to make, which is that an informed choice is impossible. When it comes to non free software, the EULA is not worth anything because it is impossible to verify what the software does. As is the case with the Bing sting, any non free software can collect your data and then ship it out encrypted without you being any the wiser. If they can slip that kind of data past Google employees, they can slip it past anyone. The choice presented, no matter how draconian, is always false.

      Posted by twitter | July 29, 2011, 4:02 pm
  5. “I think you are missing the point about EULAs that I’m trying to make, which is that an informed choice is impossible.”

    That was my point. Legislation needs to ensure that informed choice through easy to read/understand EULA’s exist so that everyone understands what they are agreeing to.

    I fully understand the implications of everything I sign up to.

    “the EULA is not worth anything because it is impossible to verify what the software does”

    No, but then if it is doing something untoward without the users consent, in the UK theres a criminal offence for that, its called “The Computer Misuse Act”. We are well covered.

    “any non free software can collect your data and then ship it out encrypted without you being any the wiser. ”

    And so could open source, if the user isn’t a coder or hasn’t researched other peoples reviews of the code.
    Src is meaningless to the average user.

    Posted by openbytes | July 29, 2011, 7:54 pm
    • Software freedom is the only solution to malware. If someone tries to put something malicious into free software, the community will remove it. One of the main points of software freedom is to allow people to work together, while non free software always leaves people helpless and divided. You might understand a EULA but you can not know what non free software does, nor can anyone besides the owner who alone enjoys the four software freedoms. Sadly, private companies lack the resources needed to assure code quality let alone check for malware. If you think it might be easy to slip some malware into a gnu/linux distribution think how easy it would be for someone to do the same at a place like Microsoft where important software is routinely maintained offshore by one or two programmers with little oversight. We know that Windows itself is spyware because Google proved it and we know that Microsoft cooperates with the US NSA and other agencies. There’s also a good chance that spyware and backdoors have been slipped into the mix by agents from China and other not so friendly countries. Google was hoisted by Windows on the desktop, so has the US FBI and other organizations that should know better. Do you think Microsoft will do any better with their own network? Malware is a problem so large that it requires a developer base that can only be provided by software freedom.

      Posted by twitter | July 29, 2011, 10:40 pm
  6. “Software freedom is the only solution to malware. If someone tries to put something malicious into free software, the community will remove it.”

    The Android app market place has already shown that a freer eccosystem does not protect the user who will blindly go ahead and install software.

    “One of the main points of software freedom is to allow people to work together, while non free software always leaves people helpless and divided.”

    When you are talking about developers, yes. How many of the “mainstream” community even know what src is?

    ” do the same at a place like Microsoft where important software is routinely maintained offshore by one or two programmers with little oversight.”

    Ok… Lets say mainstream proprietary software has been going since 1982 (Spectrum days) just for arguments sake…..give me some examples which have infringed on peoples freedom and privacy in that time.

    “There’s also a good chance that spyware and backdoors have been slipped into the mix by agents from China and other not so friendly countries.”

    And in the real world, how likely would it be that a malicious piece of code be discovered in one of the many distro’s? How quickly will it be discovered?

    I seem to recall an FPS which had major security flaws included in a repo…I wish now I could remember what it was…I’ll have to research it.

    “f you think it might be easy to slip some malware into a gnu/linux distribution think how easy it would be for someone to do the same at a place like Microsoft where important software is routinely maintained offshore by one or two programmers with little oversight.”

    Exactly. So you can’t give a false sense of security to opensource just because your point is it could exist in proprietary.

    “There’s also a good chance that spyware and backdoors have been slipped into the mix by agents from China and other not so friendly countries. ”

    And what exactly could they gain from you or me? I’m interested to know what you think would be of interest to China (for example) on your machine. I would think backdoor or not governments have better things to do than to snoop on your FOSS advocacy…..and even if they wanted to, you’d be one amongst millions.

    I’m sorry, whilst I respect your views and you are correct on your ethos of Open Source, I think the extremes which you have taken it to are bordering on paranoid…even if such things did exist (such as intentional backdoors), statistically it is highly unlikely you could ever be targetted anyway..

    Posted by openbytes | July 29, 2011, 11:04 pm
    • Problems with Android are non free software problems that only prove my point. We are surrounded by malware because people think the information and control is valuable.

      Please don’t stoop to insults here and call me paranoid for things I have not said. I’m not particularly worried that the People’s Liberation Army is interested in me but that’s besides the point. The point is to not allow others that power over me when there are simple steps to avoid it, like purging my life of known bad non free software. Google has proved that Windows is spyware and I know I don’t need it. Backdoors in Windows are a government security issue. I only mentioned them to point out the relative risks and ability of free and non free software to defend themselves against malware. Why do you ignore the overwhelming advantage free software has to insult me?

      Belittling yourself won’t make you less of a target, if anyone is really out to get you. There’s a long list of US Government and corporate abuses out there that prove that the real paranoids are people in power. The HB Gary/US Chamber of Commerce scandal shows us that big dumb companies are very interested in bossing around obscure activists and journalists such as yourself. Most of the exploits exposed in that scandal revolve around Windows and other non free software. There is little or no economic justification for that kind of activity, it’s a matter of power and those that have it exercise it to the fullest. The most common reaction people have when they learn that they’ve been targeted and spied on is to wonder why anyone would bother with someone so unimportant. There are plenty of smear pieces about me on the web if you look for them. There are whole sites dedicated to harassing Roy. The authors of those sites have been doing the same things for close to a decade.

      There are plenty of examples of the shortcomings of Windows being used to spy on and screw people. A good recent example is where China cracked into Google’s China division to spy on Chinese activists. It is most likely that this attack happened through the usual Windows flaws but we can’t really know if backdoors were also used. We can be sure that people were jailed and perhaps tortured and executed when they were found out. Google left the business to the sociopaths at Microsoft and Cisco after that.

      There’s no need to use known bad software and everyone should avoid it. We can debate how much interest each of us might be to the rich and powerful but we can’t deny that the rich and powerful are interested in spying on many people who are busy fighting for our rights. If most people use non free software, the rich and powerful will be able to keep tabs on us all. Why give anyone that power?

      Posted by twitter | July 30, 2011, 1:13 am
  7. “Please don’t stoop to insults here and call me paranoid for things I have not said. ”

    I wasn’t, however I do believe you have said in IRC as a blanket statement that people shouldn’t use proprietary because of these issues. Sure there may be proprietary software that infringes on your privacy, but you cannot make that assesment for all.

    “…while non free software always leaves people helpless and divided”

    Previously you said that. I am saying that you cannot blanket statement.

    In my view in your defence of software freedom, you encrouch on the freedoms of others. I have said to you that I am fully aware of the implications and possibilities that closed proprietary software can offer. I would not seek to stop anyone using anything if they choose to on the basis of an informed choice.

    “Why do you ignore the overwhelming advantage free software has to insult me?”

    I don’t and haven’t. Cast your mind back for second to the debate we had on the very subject in IRC. I still haven’t recieved an answer for my cashpoint remark I made.

    I am not sure what you are reading, but I don’t think my remark of:

    “I’m sorry, whilst I respect your views and you are correct on your ethos of Open Source, I think the extremes which you have taken it to are bordering on paranoid”

    Is insulting in anyway. In my view it is paranoid. I use the words “i think” and people may disagree with me. You make some very good points, but in my view you take it to the extreme.

    What do you want me to do, self censor, just so that I agree with you? Thats encroaching on my freedom of speech is it not?

    As I said before though, however far the ideals of freedom you promote, you are battling apathy of the mainstream user. If the mainstream user had any real concern about freedoms for example, they would have run for the hills when the cracks started to show in Facebook. If the mainstream user had concerns, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    I think that the message of software freedom is a fantastic one, I do though think that the way its presented by some with a “dont use that” tactic deters the mainstream adoption.

    I have introduced over 50 people to Linux/FOSS. I did that not by saying “dont use that” I did it by actually showcasing the software itself to them. Thats the way to get the message across about the benefits, not tackling the freedom issue which the overwhelming mainstream user really just doesn’t care about if it has not obvious, immediate gain for them.

    “Why give anyone that power?”

    Because the overwhelming mainstream don’t care and have given them it.

    Whilst your goals or ideals are admirable and I’d say your heart is in the right place, you have to adopt a stance which will appeal to the mainstream user in order to get them to look at alternatives. I have done that and over the years Ive documented my successes where people I’ve introduced to FOSS say with the better experience. I think when taken to the extreme it merely switches people off.

    All proprietary software is not bad or wrong. Limiting peoples choices for any reason is wrong. I celebrate freedom, telling me that I shouldn’t use xyz is not freedom, its restricting my choices.

    “There’s a long list of US Government and corporate abuses out there that prove that the real paranoids are people in power. The HB Gary/US Chamber of Commerce scandal shows us that big dumb companies are very interested in bossing around obscure activists and journalists such as yourself. ”

    Fine, let them. Ive highlighted Microsoft MVP’s and people with dodgy motives fine by myself. I don’t need people campaigning for my freedoms and telling me what I can or cannot run when every decision I make is based on an informed choice.

    Thats why I say, lets make sure the end-user is educated as to the benefits of open, not tell them that they shouldnt/cant use XYZ.

    Posted by openbytes | July 30, 2011, 10:53 am
  8. Google plus is far better than Facebook. There was no issue created by google plus and also they do not sell users’ personal information to others. There ware some issues related to Facebook that users’ personal information is leaked by Facebook, However it was rumor.

    Posted by nepstermartin | May 14, 2013, 7:57 am

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about.me

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Writer/Novelist of many facets both in the world of technology and fantasy/sci-fi. Co-host of the TechBytes audiocast and writer for both OpenBytes and Goblin's Domain. Supporter of free and open source software.

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