Google Plus bringing us out of the stone ages where social software is concerned

Despite having launched is limited release a couple of weeks ago, people still can’t stop talking about Google+. Is it a Facebook killer? The jaws of life that will finally pry the social graph free? Will brands flock to it from Twitter? Will your mother use it?

It’s hard to make an early call when so little of my network is on but my overall impression is that this is a real solid move forward for social software. Back in 1999 my friend Jon Udell wrote the book that forever changed my mind about how productive social software could be, “Practical Internet Groupware,” a half polemic, half recipe book on how to make groups more productive. The book is out of print and quite dated now— NNTP figures prominently— but it is still worth reading; along with “The Unix Philosophy,” it defined how I would look at building for the Internet for the subsequent 10 years.

Despite Jon’s best efforts, one thing which the world seemed to have completely veered away from during the intervening decade was the idea that normals would understand fine-grained access control in the same way that people in corporations at least seemed to. For a long time, ACLs meant “invite a bunch of email addresses to each and every object you want to share or collaborate on” (think of all of the first generation photo sites), and it wasn’t until 2004 when Flickr pioneered the “public by default” that the Internet became social., YouTube— all of the of the Web 2.0 darlings followed this path until Facebook came along and gave us “quasi-public,” or share with all of my social graph. Sure, everyone would bolt on an access control dashboard (Facebook’s in fact looks quite a bit like the cockpit of an Airbus A320), but no one really expected you to use it.

So it is interesting to see Google’s approach in putting the “circle” front and centre and working hard to make creating access control fun with silly animations that appeal to the collector nerves in our basebrain. If it works, this— and not whether Plus kills Facebook or becomes the next high school popularity contest— will likely bring social software forward quite a bit when it comes to being useful.

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