Google Spaces' Fatal Flaw: It Requires Too Much Mental Energy

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2016-05-17 Print this article Print
Google Spaces

The Search function lets you search all your Spaces at once. As you might expect, coming from Google, the search feature is great.

Google will be hyping Spaces at its Google I/O developers conference this week, creating an individual Space for each session.

What's Wrong With Spaces

The biggest flaw in Spaces is the same flaw that has existed in every Google social endeavor to date: It requires too much mental energy. The cognitive load is just too high.

Users generally have no idea why they love one social service and hate another. The answer usually has something to do with cognitive load. Most social sites and apps either feel like a vacation or like work.

Twitter, for example, feels like a vacation. You can easily skim across the short tweets, or ignore them altogether. By simply glancing at Twitter, or using a third-party app that auto-scrolls Twitter, you get a sense of whether you want to explore further or simply remain satisfied with the content of the tweets themselves. Twitter is easy.

Facebook feels like a vacation because most of the News Feed content is fluff. It's mostly personal photos of people having fun, viral memes or goofy videos. Facebook's algorithms block the majority of posts from reaching your News Feed, leaving you with the easy, breezy stuff. Facebook is easy.

Google social sites are never easy. Buzz and Wave were mentally taxing.

I'm a huge fan of Google+, but even Google+ feels more like work and less like a vacation.

With Google+, newbies feel confused about where everybody is. When more experienced users follow a large number of people, the default stream is a massive wall of complex content—complex because of the shifting subject matter from one post to the next, complex because half the posts are in foreign languages, or complex because people tend to have long, detailed, technical or very serious conversations.

With Google+, users also are overwhelmed by streams, Circles, Collections and Communities. So an average user might have the default stream, the family stream, the friends stream, a dozen more streams, a dozen Collections, a few dozen communities. It's overwhelming.

High-bandwidth brainiacs love Google+, but we're a tiny minority. And even for us fans, Google+ is no vacation.

Spaces should feel easy, but it doesn't. The reason is that the "Activity" stream truncates.

Here are three items in my current "Activity" stream:

--It's using Hangouts for ...

--Good to know that (relatively)...

--Not at all. This is a Google Product. Separate ...

An "Activity" stream containing truncated sentences kills any hope of users loving Spaces.

If you want to know what the truncated sentences say, you would have to click to find out, but you won't click because half-sentences don't draw you in. They push you away.

Truncated sentences cause confusion, anxiety and mental work. Your brain needs to make sense of what's in front of you, but the Spaces "Activity" stream gives you incomplete information. It's like listening to one side of a phone call when someone is talking on the phone nearby. It's irritating and mentally taxing. (The notification view in Google+ is unusable for the same reason.)

The mobile app is even worse. The "Activity" stream there shows you not only comments, but the post being commented upon. And they're both often truncated.

The simple solution is for Google to add a "headline" field, limited in size to the size of an "Activity" stream item. Users could post only the "headline," or a "headline" plus the rest of their content. Either way, users would be forced to be concise and coherent with the words that will appear in the "Activity" stream.

The social-as-a-feature strategy is perfect. But for now, Spaces is yet another mentally taxing social effort that has no hope of competing against the easy ones.


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