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Google+ can now hide your gender "in response to user feedback" (plus.google.com)
224 points by bdr on July 13, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

Google is clearly listening to user feedback on Plus. This is at least the third change so far in where I've seen Google folks engage in the initial discussions, describe their reasoning for why it was initially implemented the way it was, and (after a few days) come back with changes. Very impressive.

There's a transcript at https://plus.google.com/106912596786226524817/posts/KCUbRMKQ...

To enhance privacy further, I hope they will provide a way for people to use an artificial animated face and voice in hangouts:


With this change, how do you prevent anonymous trolls in hangouts?

Don't invite them in the first place? If your hangout is public, you'll get trolls. There are plenty of ways of faking a camera feed.

This is about enhancing privacy but not providing anonymity. You could always mute/block/report people.

How long do you think they can hold the "don't be evil" attitude listening to users' feedback on a project so huge and at the same time so "personal" for everyone?

Possibly not for long, but that's why there's value in their limited roll-out that many people have been criticizing.

Wow. The people spoke and Google re-wrote all the gender specific language in their product to listen.

As far as I can tell, Google hadn't (yet?) implemented gender-specific language. E.g. http://i.imgur.com/1B5rT.png

Actually they had. From the video:

"One of the major things we use gender information for on Google+ is for picking gender pronouns - her, his, theirs - when we refer to you. Google is committed to building products that people all over the world use, and in some languages gender is much more deeply part of how sentences are formed than in say, English. Having gender information helps to make Google+ more conversational. If you decide to make your gender private on Google+, we'll to use gender-neutral language to describe you whenever someone else encounters gender-related information about you but doesn't have permission to see your gender. For example, instead of saying 'Greg added you to his circles' or 'Frances added you to her circles', we'll say 'Greg added you to their circles' or 'Frances added you to their circles'. Yes, I know this is grammatically questionable. You don't need to message me about it. We value helping people control their privacy as being much more important than being grammatically perfectly."

Ctrl-H Find and Replace doesn't seem all that hard.

http://search.cpan.org/~toddr/Locale-Maketext-1.19/lib/Local... - which is an article, not a CPAN module, despite its hosting. Localization isn't "find and replace" easy, it's a nightmare.

Not all languages will be as simple as s/his/their/ and s/her/their/.

I read somewhere that other languages had more neutral gender splits, or simply all-masculine ones, to make things easier for now. So it could be in other languages they had nothing to reverse yet.

But in English it is. It's acceptable to develop faster for certain (popular) languages.

Absolutely, but I would be surprised if they didn't have some code in the production version right now to support doubtlessly upcoming translated versions - perhaps not a full blown declension engine, but it seems unlikely they'd go English only at the start and retrofit everything later. The code might not be optimized to just let them do a simple find/replace for English.

The problem of translation should not affect the writing of the original text.

For all you know, the "original text" is a mix of "foo bar" and lolspeak.

yeah, "being grammatically perfectly." is obviously of lesser importance to them :-)

I know, I know..troll

> I know, I know..troll

Actually, I think you just missed the joke, that's all.

I would like to remind you that there are other languages on Earth too besides English.

Why is a gender specific language important?

In some languages it is much more important than in English, and it would just sound weird for Google pages to refer to you in a gender-neutral way by default.

Can you give an example of referring to a gender-specific way that's weird in using gender-neutral words?

Any past tense verb in Russian is gender-specific. When you use "worked", "did", the suffix must adhere to the subject of the sentence.

Now, Russian has 3 genders, that includes neutral, but neutral is a gender of its own, not a catch-all case for when things are neither masculine nor feminine. So unless the product completely avoids using verbs in past tense, making the language gender-neutral and natural-souding for Slavic group of languages is pretty much impossible.

I've seen Polish software use "pracował/a" where male and female forms of "worked" are "pracował" and "pracowała", respectively. It's not terribly elegant, however, and things get progressively hairier as you try to gender-neutralize things like an adjective-noun combination ("new student's" would become "nowego ucznia/nowej uczennicy" at the simplest).

If you were to try to say "my friend's house" in lots of languages you have to use a gender-specific word.

In spanish, for example

La casa de mi amigo / La casa de mi amiga.

If you were to try to do it in a gender neutral manner ...

La casa de una persona que conozco bien.

Which translates roughly to "the house of a person that I know (and know well)."

Spanish speakers don't have the same hangups about using 'he' as the gender-neutral pronoun. It's just a part of their language.

English is the one where people get bent out of shape over it.

No, Dutchies don't like it either. I don't think it's language specific. It probably has something to do with how much machismo or political correctness there is in a culture :-)

By that logic, Americans are probably more upset about this than, say, Nigerians (I assume Nigerian culture(s) are rather less PC than American culture).

That's a good point. I don't know all languages, so I can only speak for the ones I know.

I also suspect it's a PC thing.

Right, but that gender-neutral he only works we're talking about a "generic" or hypothetical someone. You cannot use in (say) Facebook or Google+ for a text referring to a female friend.

In English, some people still use they/their in this case. In Portuguese (and I think Spanish and other major Latin languages) you can't do that.

And yet they must be able to talk about gender-unknown people...

Many languages have different ways of saying "you" depending on gender. For example, many arabic verbs have suffixes "ak" (you, masc) and "ik" (you, fem). There is no gender-neutral way to directly address someone (there is only masculine and feminine nouns).

PS. I have only rudimentary knowledge of Arabic so any native speakers, forgive me if I'm way off.

In Hebrew, like in Arabic, there are only male and female singular "you" pronouns. Possession and verbs are also gender-specific ("change your password" can only be m or f). Just like English speakers are finding ways to deal with the "he/she" problem, Hebrew speakers are finding ways to deal with this. It's not a real problem.

Interesting list of difficulties by language.

In Chinese, while he and she is pronounced the same way ("ta"), the writing is different for he 他 and she 她. That's the only difficult part I could think of in Chinese, there are no changing word endings, etc.

In German is should be more difficult, because there is no "their" like in English to replace her and his.

It looks like they will go the messy route in German. (More likely they already have. I’m not even sure whether they were ever using gender appropriate language in the first place.)

Here is how that looks: „Fügen Sie hier eine kleine Beschreibung über sich ein, damit andere wissen, dass sie die/den richtige/n Name erwischt haben.“ (“Put a little about yourself here so people know they've found the correct Name.”)

See those slashes at the end? They just write both and separate the two variants with slashes. An ugly and common solution, I’m not aware of any better solutions in German, though.

The issue was brought to my attention by this post: https://plus.google.com/111588569124648292310/posts/SeBqgN9Z...

No, I can understand some people would want to hide their gender. I was asking why there should be gender-specific language when your very reference is pointing out that people want to hide their gender.

If someone hides their gender and you see posts like Dan who wished to hide their gender would be exposed with "Dan has not filled out his profile yet."

When someone hides their gender, the language used from then on will be neutral. That's what they had to implement - neutral (instead of gender specific language).

Actually, they introduced the concept of private fields and restructured all their architecture to allow for profile fields to be optionally hidden...

Oh wait, they already had that.

I wonder what it feels like to be Randall Munroe and have this kind of influence over the web.

I find it curious that you automatically assume that Randall's post was the driving force. This is a piece of feedback that many users were submitting since the day G+ opened up. It's certainly possible that Randall was the influence that convinced Google, but I'd like to think that the feedback of the many would have weighed in more important than the post of a dude people have heard of.

I'm thinking much of the feedback came as a result of his post, not that Google saw he made a post and leapt to do his bidding. It was more a comment on the power of popularity, even online, than about his personal connections or ability to influence decisions.

I know, I know, anecdata yada yada, but I know a significant portion of my circles had submitted such feedback before Randall ever wrote that post. I'd be interested in knowing what the numbers were pre- and post-Randall.

I sure hope they did not do it because of the reasons Munroe outlined in his post, which were baseless and sexist (towards men).

If reddit is the voice of the internet, then he must be the megaphone.

I wonder what it feels like to be Randall Munroe and have sycophantic fanboys for a poorly drawn stick-figure webcomic that was briefly funny a couple of years ago.

IMHO the more troubling trend is Randall's perpetuation of the "all men stupid and evil, all women good and pure" delusion that has infected everything from the classroom to the workplace to the media.

Well gee, since you don't like it I guess the rest of us should stop enjoying it.

This is good. Now they just need to allow people to use pseudonyms. (maybe.) https://plus.google.com/116347431032639424492/posts/Px3uaKZe...

You can use pseudonyms, they just need to sound like real names. I'm pretty sure that Google doesn't ask for an ID card.

If this was the actual policy - and not just the side effect of their inability to control them - I think it would be reasonable.

no you can't. not yet. at least, i can't.

I can't either. It's stuck on "Anyone on the web".

EDIT: "Starting later this week"

This is nice, but I'd love to see some more important features opened up instead- things like huddle on mobile web and working video playback in the Android app would be great.

Nice to see them react so fast, but I dont get the point about the feature.

Are people really gonna switch a button that lets them hide their gender, something that can usually be easily found out by looking at the user's firstname and/or profile picture?

Gender isn't just about how you look & what your name is. It's a much more personal construct. Google+ is respecting that, and should be commended.

For some people it's not as easy as you seem to think.

the gender thing was prominent when signing up for g+, that i think they might have anticipated this fix + "we do listen"-media-spin on forehand.

Occam's razor.

Hanlon seems more appropriate here.

Bob added you to his list

Bob added you to his or her list

Bob's list now has you on it

Google is cool again. Yay!

Of all the things people want to fight about, it's gender?

It's an important issue and it's not as if you're only allowed to choose one thing to fight for.

Not really fight; it was just weird that of all the fields that could be mandatory they chose gender.

I think a possible explanation for this is that they use gender-specific pronouns in other parts of the site: "he said this...", "she +1'd this...", etc.

So, I think they needed to re-word more than just the profile section with gender-neutral pronouns. I don't think this is a trivial task, and maybe that's why it will take until the end of the week.

Can you point me at a specific place they use gender-specific pronouns? I've been looking for them since day one and I don't remember seeing any anywhere on G+. Is it only a non-English thing, or is it some strange situation I've not seen yet, or have I just missed something obvious?

I think the dog house should be red.

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