There's a massive assumption here that G+ is blindsiding Facebook. Obviously there is no limit to human stupidity, however I'd personally be surprised if adding a circles-like feature to Facebook is an architectural nightmare, or that they haven't thought about it.
The idea that there are meetings at FB where people are saying "F___, we're screwed" is implausible. This has been discussed for years, and I'd bet actual money that FB engineers and/or product managers periodically propose adding this feature and FB decides that the time is not yet ripe. If and when G+ demonstrates that people really, really want this functionality, I expect Facebook will roll it out smoothly.
As he correctly notes later in the article, the lists feature is not prominent on Facebook, and therefore few use it (or maybe few people actually want it?). But it definitely will not require a major architectural overhaul by Facebook.
Having used both Google+'s Circles and Facebook's lists, a lot of people are missing the point. Sure, Facebook's lists may be capable of some or even all of the functionality of Google+'s Circles, but that's not addressing the important difference in functionality between the two.
Google+ has clearly been designed with Circles in mind. It's easy to tell just from using Google+ that the Circles idea is a core architectural component and not just something that was tacked on. Facebook's lists pale in comparison. They're clearly an afterthought and not many people use them.
I extensively used one of Facebook's private groups to mimic the new functionality in Google's Circles with a group of my close friends for about three - four months and, while it was adequate, it's nowhere near as polished or fluid as my experience with Circles. It's really no contest.
> But it definitely will not require a major architectural overhaul by Facebook.
To those who are saying that it would be trivial to implement Circles functionality on top of Facebook, I sincerely doubt it. It'd be like saying that it wouldn't take much to for Blackberry to adopt the same UI polish of iOS. It's comparing a system that has clearly evolved (BlackBerry, Facebook) to one that has been designed (iOS, Google+).
I think us nerds to be careful about just comparing Google+ and Facebook on what features they have, lest we need to be reminded of: "Less space than a Nomad. Lame."
That basically says to me that not enough emphasis was placed on designing the site around the feature. I think that's what Google's done right in their case, circles are front-and-center and not just another feature in an already feature-cluttered UI.
I made some lists with circlehack.com. But on Facebook I don't see a way to share something with a list. I am puzzled...?
Once you have friends in lists then you use lists like you would an email list. From the homepage click to write a status and you'll see next to the "share" button an icon (which for me is a padlock) that allows access to the functions to limit sharing. My default is "friends of friends". Choose to "customise" your shared status and you can enter either a friends name or a list name, start typing and it auto fills.
There are other situations when you can use friend lists too around the site, I think pretty much everywhere you can enter a friends name. For example if you do @listname in one of your statuses then everyone in the list will get that status in their news feed. You can activate online chat for only members of a list for example.
Is there similar functionality for facebook lists? I can't find how to do so...
I have never used lists on Facebook when posting (I have used them for messaging though... which I found annoying due to the limit to the number of people in a list).
Circles, on the other had, I use with every post I make.
The real issue for Facebook is that, if Google+ is successful (my feel is that it's a strategic fire-break to stop Facebook's possible domination of social search), it limits the ways Facebook can additionally monetize their social network.
Google+ doesn't need to fail for Facebook to survive, but it does hem in their possible revenue growth.
With circles, it automatically filters my stream without anyone having to post to my list or group. They just share it with me.
This is a subtle but important difference for me.
I think the reason it isn't prominent is because it's not the direction the company wants to go. Every since Twitter became popular Facebook moved to become more like Twitter; more public and less private. They stuck the list feature in to placate those complaining about the removal of privacy but they never really wanted people to use it. Now with Google+ taking over the area of private social networking it would be interesting to see if Facebook does an about face and goes back in this direction.
Nor has it ever been. While lists might appear to work now, I would not at all be surprised if lists are a leaky abstraction with all sorts of holes that would require the codebase rearchitecting that the original story believes.
When you have such a fundamental design decision baked into everything you've ever done, it can't change overnight. Perhaps they've been working on it for months or years, but certainly its only in the last year that anyone has been talking about this problem earnestly.
(I already find myself pretty much just putting everyone in one of two circles now.)
I'm not sure if Google will experience the same thing with Circles. I think what will happen (enter speculative mode) is there will be a large group that LOVES classifying their friends like this, and they will stick with G+. Another large group will HATE it, find it extremely annoying/pointless (possibly because of only using one or two circles, like you mentioned), and maybe stick with FB. Either way, people will most likely end up with an account on both, using one actively and one passively.
I have sources that say, unofficially that:
1) They were not blindsided at all. They worked hard to compete on major features before g+ ever came out.
2) "Groups" has more or less similar functionality, and the feature is known to have a poor UI right now. The point though is that FB thought about this and even though they aren't up to the same polish with that feature, the feature exists, no architectural changes necessary. Just UI polish.
The super embarrassing thing for Facebook is that Google already told them what they were going to do. Take a look at this slideshow by Google's UX team a whole year ago . That's right it's Circles!
Google has really done their homework on what makes a social network work and Facebook has no excuse for executing their own version of Circles so poorly with Groups and Lists. They've wasted valuable time pandering to advertisers when it was blatantly obvious what was coming. Google's vision wasn't secret.
I honestly think Zuck either figured that a) Google was incompetent/unwilling to challenge them or b) Google be damned, Facebook will make much more money with the public-by-default, privacy-optional approach to sharing.
Perhaps the blindsiding was the promotion of Page to CEO and subsequent mobilization of Google's developer army?
He's been at it a while. If he gets beaten I don't think it will be to do with youth and inexperience. Remember Google failed with their first offering in this space (Wave), was it youth and inexperience then?
I honestly think that Google+ is a direct result of Page's ascendancy, and this was unexpected to outsiders.
If Apple's success has taught us anything, it's that "UI polish" trumps pretty much everything else when it comes to making money from software, and it is hard to get right (or else everyone's UIs would be just as polished as Apple's).
So if Facebook is behind Google in "Just UI polish" they may have very much to fear, indeed.
Apple isn't afraid to have a bad idea and then toss it out because, after all, ideas are cheap. If you build a turd and you polish it, are you still going to release that polished turd? The Apple way is to design it the right way from the start, THEN you polish it.
It is true that Facebook may just copy the best innovations of Google+, but that puts them in a defensive position and obviously isn't what they want. We've seen what happens to giants who bank on leveraging their entrenchment in the current market.
Existing users already have old habits, and existing data that they don't want to retype. Users aren't code - you can't just refactor them into something new, clean, and shiny.
Google+ users will build their networks afresh, focusing on privacy and groups. They will just maintain two accounts, and use Google+ when they want some level of privacy, and Facebook when they need to announce their wedding to the late adopters.
They're uploaded as 'private' by default, and it's a configurable option, so you can turn the auto-upload feature off altogether. Actually, maybe I did, because I think it asked me the first time whether or not I want auto-upload on or off by default; but even with it on, I don't feel even remotely unsafe -- the photos are automatically backed up to 'the cloud' and aren't shared unless I go in and explicitly share them.
No matter what you personally may feel about it, I can guarantee we'll be seeing blog posts and news stories about "Google put my private pictures I took for my boyfriend on the internet."
Admittedly, that's quite probably most people, but, as I said, it does ask you by default, and it does upload those pictures as private until you explicitly go and share them otherwise.
I think Friend Lists is what you may be referring to.
They need to make the feature easier to use/find, and they need to make the News Feed more sensitive to these.
Given that, Friends Lists aren't especially hidden either. Account > Edit Friends > Add a list. But using them for privacy is hard: you need to select custom privacy, then say show to specific people, then type in the friend list name in a box that looks like it only expects a person's name. Kludgy. (The iPhone app is actually much better here: it just includes the friends lists in the privacy dropdown.)
"Tonight at a Facebook Developer’s Garage meeting at Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Zuckerberg fielded a question about the service’s privacy controls. He said that the ideal solution for sharing different things with different people is to make a friend list. “But guess what? Nobody wants to make lists,” Zuckerberg admitted."
I absolutely love Circles, and it's more or less what I always wanted Facebook lists to be.
> The idea that there are meetings at FB where people
> are saying "F___, we're screwed" is implausible.
I find google circles a very engaging idea, as your friends list will never get stale. Total sharing may be less, but you are no longer afraid to share (e.g.) technical stuff with your colleagues. The problem is how they're going to figure out re-sharing right.
To the extent that anyone reading this has the authority to change headlines (I only know for sure that pg does), could you please modify it to something reasonable? Thanks.
For others, please note that improving headlines is not only permitted, but very much precedented and generally encouraged. Bad headlines let shitty articles get upvoted, and degrade the overall quality of HN. (With some sources, namely Popular Science, I'd even humbly suggest changing the headlines be mandatory.)
If the description of Google+ is accurate (don't have an invite, haven't really tried to get one), Google may have found a solution for Facebook spam. I tried to use my Facebook account for awhile, but it quickly became a wall of Farmville updates. I know there are settings I could use to get rid of those, but investigating it seemed too much work to bother.
So it seems that Google is attacking Facebook at their weakest point, and that's pretty interesting and worthy of discussion, and I'm glad it got up voted enough that I saw it, in spite of the bad title.
Too much work to bother? I don't think you'll make it anywhere then. All you had to do was mouse over one of the updates and click the X. It would then ask you what you were killing, Farmville or the person who sent it. You say Farmville. Finished. No more Farmville updates ever again.
Overall the article dramatically undersells the work that Facebook has done to improve the feed, mainly building off of signals you give it via engagement - I don't see updates from friends that I don't care about, and fairly rarely miss important updates from those that I do care about.
I could see how someone who only uses Facebook rarely wouldn't get that impression of improvement, as they will have given the algorithm very few inputs to work with.
Perhaps it's been fixed more recently, but I found that incredibly annoying.
However, it's a continual struggle and I couldn't find an option to block all app invites. And I also don't want to block all apps, just invites, which makes this a delicate issue.
It would be stupid ... if it were actually true. Facebook's privacy controls are actually pretty sophisticated now: by default I have anything I post shown to friends of friends, but excluding certain people. For potentially controversial status updates I restrict visibility to a couple of lists. If I wanted I could target a photo or status to an individual person.
So, Facebook already has all of this control baked into its architecture. In theory, all it needs to do is make it more easily discoverable and easily used. Of course this is easier said than done, but it's certainly not a 'major architectural overhaul'.
I do wish that, when people slate a platform for not having certain features, they would actually do a little research instead of assuming.
I agree with the sentiment and the subtley here that I've come to appreciate over the years which is this; A feature which is hard to discover or understand is the same as 'not existing' for a large portion of the customers.
There is also the "Facebook's privacy controls are actually pretty sophisticated now ..." which dismisses the painful walk it took to get there. That pain doesn't go away quickly or easily.
Having used G+ for a while I tend to agree with the article that FB will have to step up their game here. The beast is awake and its opening move was much more credible than previous attempts. What is more I think it has moved the expectation of what your social network should do for you forward.
I'm sure FB will respond, and there are a lot of smart folks who will no doubt have their own killer ideas. If nothing else, having a credible competitor will make social networking better for everyone.
Using Google's example: If I have a biking group and a work group, there's probably someone in the intersection of those two groups. I might want to share something with my biking group but not share it with my work group. There's not a mechanism to do that, that I can find, in Google+.
On the other hand, in Facebook, if I post something but restrict it from my work group, people that are in my work group won't see the post even if they're also in another group that does have permission.
This is a vastly superior approach, it seems to me.
Bringing set logic to the masses! :)
I have a set of close friends that I share just about everything with. It's a somewhat large size. Some of them I am in fantasy sports leagues with, some of them are techie types, some of them are fans of the same sports teams I am. I don't necessarily want to flood the stream of people that I know aren't interested.
There's many cases where individual circles of friends have a intersections or just don't fully mesh. It'll be interesting to see how this proceeds. UI/UX is going to dictate how successful circles are.
I do agree with this, obviously, whole-heartedly. But, at the same time, I feel like the lack of research in this case is kind of making a point of its own. The circles feature has garnered a lot of praise from people while it seems that very few people even know about Facebook lists and even fewer even use them (if the articles and discussion on HN are any indication). A feature nobody knows about is as good as missing and I'm sure their designers are going to have some fun if FB decides they need to emphasise their lists more.
Google+ is Twitter on steriods isn't a sales pitch for people who value simplicity.
The article mentions this but then goes on to completely ignore it in it's analysis but for me it's critical to understanding why people like Twitter in the first place.
Facebook is about reinventing the web for dummies: micro-blogging, RSS-like stream aggregation, photo/video/text publishing, web application publishing... FB is pretty much the sum of dumbed-down versions of these. By targeting a very wide unsophisticated audience, they reached a critical mass.
Sure G+ is better, nicer, more powerful etc. Will it appeal to unsophisticated masses, though? It might, but I'm not so sure. Maybe it will partially succeed, and become a secondary social network catering for more savvy users. But when it comes to herding Average Joes, Facebook has a strong track record, Google hasn't. FB's going to give its very best at delighting your average Farmville player, and G+ will do the same to your average EFF member. Guess who matters to advertisers?
On the other hand, Facebook has felt increasingly intrusive, facial recognition etc., and I already gave up on it, even before I knew G+ was coming out.
Facebook has lost a lot of user trust with their arguably shady practices. I think there are many of us who want to be in on the whole social networking thing, but don't want it on Facebook.
Then there's Google's almost monopolistic leverage using Google's services to give Google+ its much-needed bootstrapping boost.
Whether all of this is enough, or is more or less than the actual relationships already captured in Facebook -- I don't trust anyone to really know.
I tried to use the Facebook lists feature many times but its a freaking pain. I almost dont share on Facebook anymore exactly because I dont want everyone to read it. Now I am using the G+ circles and having a lot of fun with it.
However, put with words with friends on there, and I'll be happy!
I think this is the real concern for Twitter. G+ can kind of do what Twitter does, and G+ is much easier to monetize.
As cool as the lists/ circle are, they will be kinda pointless if users are overwhelmed by the monumental task of curating everyone.
Also facebook is a platform as much as a social network. People play games on there probably more than post pictures or tag their friends. That is what sustained facebook and made them utterly dominant. That is not going to change with G+.
I agree G+ is a good service but why is everyone making the grave ready for facebook?
Google+ has positioned and designed itself for Circles, and has firmly shoved Circles into everyone's skull. I think it's more of a branding thing than a technical difficulty thing at this point.
It would also be a major UX shift to bring Lists back to the foreground and make it a part of every interaction a la circles. And if they did, it would be hard to do it without offending existing users.
Facebook also may have big datacenters but perhaps not currently architected to handle videochatting at the volume that Hangouts require. Google has a one-up on them there since they've offered free video chatting for years, and they also have gotten many people to already install the Voice and Video plugin by offering free phone calls in GMail for the past two years. That plugin is key to a good videochatting UX in a browser (Flash by itself has some technical and UX problems with webcam access).
and as for your reply downthread about Google Instant being a hit, how much of Google Instant being a hit is due to it being the default behavior of Google now, and would anyone actually miss it if it were gone?
You have hundreds of friends, but your news feed is always filled up with nonsense from the same 5 friends that seem to send an update every other minute.
I believe Facebook has an algorithm that only displays status updates from the people I interact with most on the service. For example, using Seesmic or Flipboard shows each status update, as opposed to Facebook on the web I seem to see only a small number of updates and I have noticed they tend to be from the profiles I visit the most. I am actually not bothered by my Facebook feed, although I do love the notion of circles. My Mom got a circle all to herself.
How can we balance over-granulated sharing with under-granulated sharing?
i personally like it, and enjoy the list/circle-centric nature of it, but if none of my friends are active on it, there's no reason why I "should" use it over FB.
“We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,” he said. “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”  - Palm CEO Ed Colligan, 2006
To be clear: it's asymmetric so you don't have to "approve" followers or not. Feel free to put anyone in your circles, and you'll see their posts if they make them public, or if they post them to a circle they've put you in previously.
You get notifications when people add you to a circle, so you have the opportunity to add them to a circle if you want, but it's not required. Whether it's socially expected (as it seems it used to be on Twitter), is something of a debate among G+ users currently.
Powerful innovation!? Give me a break. This should be called an "obvious innovation" or "trivial implementation". How is it any different from having mailing lists?
I genuinely enjoy the techniques yellow journalists use to get page hits :)
This gif from the article is great: