Google Plus Going Strong, But No 'At Symbol' in Sight

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2011-07-26

It's been about a month since Google opened up its new social networking service, Google Plus. In that time, the membership of the service (now around 20 million users) has grown at a healthy clip. Google Plus has also stacked up a few mini-controversies, led by a flap over whether and how Google ought to enforce its rules against creating pseudonymous profile accounts on the service.

I've continued to use Google Plus over the two weeks since I last blogged on the topic, and, while it's been good to see more familiar faces on the service, I'm sorry to say that none of the minuses I cited in that previous post have yet been addressed.

For one thing, the Google Plus Web and mobile applications are, still, very poor places for consuming content. There are no mechanisms for filtering or sorting content by topic, and, as far as I can tell, no sign of any such mechanisms. Noisy "Plussers" who post everything to their Public circle can still dominate one's main stream, and the all-or-nothing options of uncircling or blocking heavier users are unsatisfactory solutions.

Along similar lines, the continued absence of any public API for the service bars others from improving the interface. "If only I could read my stream with Google Reader," is my constant refrain - Reader's sort by date and sort by "magic" would make the service significantly more worthwhile for me.

I suppose I wouldn't be feeling as disappointed by what appears to be Google's lack of attention to these matters if not for the excellent podcast that Google Plus engineer Jospeh Smarr recorded with IEEE's Steven Cherry shortly after the Google Plus launch. In the podcast, which I suggest you check out, Smarr discussed what Google has in mind for bringing federation and openness to social networking.

In the interview, Smarr likened the state of social networking today to email systems before the @ symbol was invented, when users could send messages to others on the same domain, but not between systems. As Smarr laid it out, Google plans to give social networking its @ symbol - it's a heartening vision, but I've seen no details on the common protocols and open standards Google has in mind for delivering on these goals, or on how can people get involved in the process.

What's more, given that the #1 topic on Google Plus appears to be Google Plus itself, I'm surprised that I've encountered little demand that Google speed up the roadmap for or at least share details of its coming APIs, and even less talk of federation.

It's clear that Google built its new social service with solid content sharing controls at its foundation. I'm hoping that federation and openness are also part of the Google Plus base - even if there's no evidence of it yet.

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