I didn’t expect you to become the creepy uncle of the Internet. Sure, you were getting more and more involved in my life, but you seemed to be doing it in a purely disinterested and helpful way…until I signed up for Google+. Even now, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and attribute your creep factor to an Aspergers-y lack of social graces rather than evil intentions. But let’s look at where you went wrong.
I understand you need to build up the network to compete with Facebook, but nudging me to “add to my circles” every person I’ve ever contacted since I began using Gmail in 2005 is a bad idea. Couldn’t you have used an algorithm to pull up only the contacts I’ve emailed more than, say, ten times? It’s bad enough to be prompted to add exes and dead people, but you could at least have filtered out the people who responded to my Craigslist ad for a used laptop bag three years ago.
True, this isn’t nearly as bad as when you launched Google Buzz within Gmail and completely freaked everyone out by sharing their contacts. But you still seem a little tone-deaf to how people use email and how they feel about their contact lists. I don’t want a social service that’s so tightly linked to my personal email account.
The circles of strangers
Which leads me to another point. There’s something unpleasant about having complete strangers add me to their circles. I’ve been trying to analyze why this feels more invasive than having a stranger follow me on Twitter, which I don’t mind at all. I know, I know: I can control who sees the things I share, and having someone add me to a circle doesn’t give them access to any additional information about me, but it still feels weird. Maybe it’s because Google+ feels more like Facebook than Twitter, so being “circled” seems like getting a friend request that you can’t ignore or decline. Maybe it’s the Gmail connection: because Google+ is linked to my Gmail account (and, as noted above, email = private, private, private!), I don’t like the idea of strangers connecting to me through Google+. Or maybe the “circle” metaphor is a poor choice (at least for someone like me who’s hyper-sensitive to semantic nuances) – to be circled is to be drawn in, enclosed, circumscribed, encompassed…ACK!
The Gmail integration in Google+ is an abiding source of discomfort, but the most jarring moments I’ve experienced so far occurred when I was prompted to share content I’d created using other Google-owned services. Yes, I have set up a couple of Blogger blogs and a few Picasa albums over the years, and yes, I suppose they are associated with my Gmail address, but ohmygod why are they suddenly showing up in my Google+ profile? One of them was work-related, one of them was something I was doing for a friend, and most importantly, they are several years old! Google hadn’t even bought Blogger and Picasa yet at the time I started using them. Google, it seems like you’re buying up pieces of my online experience and trying to force me to bundle them all together and give up the anonymity I had previously taken for granted. All I can say is: ugh, bleah, ew.
I haven’t given up my Google+ account yet, but after so many “ick” moments, I can’t say I’m tempted to use it. Maybe I’ll drop off and then re-register with a different Gmail address. But that would only be worthwhile if it looks like Google+ is going to take off – and if other people are feeling as creeped out as I am, that won’t happen any time soon. Google, you need to work on your social skills.