Rumors are flying that Google is about to take on Facebook with a new product named “Google Me”. I’m just arrogant enough to offer them some advice on how they can use the tools at their disposal to beat Facebook at their own game. Facebook has a polished and attractive user interface (UI). Their vulnerability lies in that they are a closed ecosystem and their business model relies on exploiting your information for their advertisers. The closed ecosystem means it only reveals media posted on their site by their users. Their business model means your privacy is their poverty.
Google Me can build on some pretty nice services Google already provides. Google is first in web search. Google Profile allows us to link to the applications we already use (even if they are not Google’s so it is an open ecosystem). Google Reader is the most popular aggregator of RSS feeds. Here is how I would take the Reader back end and tie it in to Profile, Search, and my Google Contacts to make Google Me Googlicious.
There is only one reason I go to Facebook. I have to if I want to see what media my friends regularly share there. But if they want to share a YouTube video or Picasa Album they have to re-post that content or link to it on Facebook.
What if I could have all of their content fed to me? The content could be available in Facebook-like categories: All (News Feed); Mini-posts (Tweets, Facebook posts, etc.); Posts (Blogs, Buzz, etc.); Albums – with filters for Images, Videos, All (Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, etc.), Music (last.fm, Pandora, etc.), Podcasts|Vodcasts, Movies (IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes), and Location (Latitude, Gowalla, FourSquare, Yelp).
Each of us should be able to decide how broadly we want to share our information and the privacy default should be that we share with nobody – not even your name and profile picture. Some older folks may not want their childhood buddies to see what they look like after the ravages of time have taken their toll.
Google Profile already lets us link to the sites where we share media with our friends. We should have default privacy settings and the option of over-riding them with application-by-application settings.
The privacy setting UI is important. It must be both simple and flexible. I would suggest a checkbox for each media category. Check private on the Albums category and none of your albums will be made visible through Google. Check ‘public’ and they will be visible to everyone. Check ‘only to those on this list’ and a dialog opens that lets you select Individuals and Groups from your Contacts. This should be in a tree-like structure so that you could expand Albums and then share Images but keep your Videos private. Or you might expand Videos and keep your Vimeo account private but share your YouTube account, etc. There are a lot of examples of this type of tree at work in software. If you have MediaMonkey or iTunes you’ve seen this type of interface in how you select what information to sync with your portable device. I “borrowed” the illustration above from the makeuseof.com website.
Of course, each application programming interface (API) can also control the level of information it will allow Google to fetch so our settings within the application should continue to be respected. Just as Google Reader makes each post title a hyperlink leading us back to the source of the original post, Google Me can make everything in our stream a link back to its source. So, if I click on a picture you posted on Flickr I’m taken to your Flickr photostream. Google Me is then living symbiotically with the applications its users have linked to in their profile. The user, Google, and the source application all win.
As a follower, the Reader-like aggregator automatically collects the media category or categories we choose from the person or entity we have chosen to follow. For example, I might choose only to see mini-posts and photos posted by some friends. When I want more information, I can click on their name to be taken to their profile from which I can see links to every category they generate. I can then access the information I want on a case by case basis. But for someone like Leo LaPorte, I might choose only to have new vodcasts in my stream. If I have a friend with the same taste in music, I may only want to see what she is listening to and I don’t care where she is checking in on Gowalla.
This becomes married in to search as Google has already started to do. If I look up a music related topic, say for example, clubs the Beatles played before they became popular, Google already has a beta headed “Results from people in your social circle for ” and then your search terms. It could prioritize those results based on first listing results from the people whose music category you follow (or their posts which you follow, if they regularly post about music). If I’m looking for information about music I might want results from Jack Johnson before Leo’s. If I want to know more about Google Latitude, I want Leo’s opinion first. Based on the way they can list RSS feeds sorted “magically” in Google Reader, I’m guessing the algorithm I’m suggesting would be pretty easy for Google to implement.
The user can control exactly how they want to express themselves to their various circles and the public. The user can also control how much of the information that is out there gets fed to them automatically in their stream. The user has the option to opt in to allowing Google to also make their search results more relevant by “magically” sorting social circle results based on those to whom we have implicitly chosen as authoritative in different media categories and on different topics by following them in those ways in Google Me.
The beauty of this model is that no one has to leave their service of choice. If you want to post pictures and videos on Facebook, fine. But, should you choose to do so, you can permit me to access them through Google Me. Same deal if you do your videos on Blip.tv but your pictures on Picasa. I shouldn’t have to belong to your application to get your feed. I should only have to get your permission as set in your Google Profile. As a content provider I shouldn’t have to repost in multiple venues. My followers should catch whatever they want of what I throw out there no matter which service I use.
Lastly, Google Reader is fine for a news reader. But the look is inadequate for a social user interface. Don’t be cutesy like Brizzly. TweetDeck desktop or Facebook itself might be a good starting point for the look of Google Me. The Tweetdeck iphone or DoubleTwist Android phone mobile apps might make a good starting point for the Google Me mobile app. I really don’t want to be thinking “I’m using Google Me right now”. I just want to feel like I’m surrounded by my friends and my areas of interest.
Just imagine I Google your name. If you’re a celebrity I might find you easily but maybe not through the handle you would wish me to find you. Google already has the social circle results list. For names, it could add a Profile results list with links to profiles of people with your name. I could then go to your profile and pick through your stuff and decide how much of what you chose to share I want in my Google Me stream.
Google, if you follow my advice, I think it would be like punching a certain competitor right in the Face. Know what I mean?