Yesterday I opened my Google Plus page and discovered to my surprise and initial pleasure that Google had brought a new interface to their social network system. As I started to explore this new interface I started to immediately notice that things had changed not for the better, but rather for the worse. Google had unilaterally included their chat system on the right side of my browser window, it’s something I rarely ever use so that system is all wasted space. I noticed that the stories in my circles, the things I really care about are now shuffled off to the left in a column that lost 10% of space on the leftmost and 50% on the rightmost, being moved over for some controls at the very top of the page that now occupy this dreaded whitespace region on my Google Plus page.
It’s this whitespace, and the meaningless chat talker system that I can’t stand. Facebook attempted a similar move by presenting me with a chat-talker screen on the left side as well months ago, when I still used Facebook. When they made the changes to their interface, along with privacy concerns and workplace issues with social networking I left Facebook. Now it just languishes as an identity marker, if content gets on my Facebook page it’s wholly accidental. Twitter’s web page also underwent this columnar approach, as they reconfigured the entire interface out from underneath their users. For Twitter, I stopped using that because it was more noisy than useful, the people I wanted to engage with were just human billboards, and the interface changes were really the straw that broke the camel’s back.
So what is there to do? Complaints about the interface changes are really the only channel you have to express how much you dislike when a service does this to you – but you have no real power. Just complaining is one easily ignored tiny little voice in the darkness and doesn’t amount to anything at all. The only real power that any single user has is the power of choice. In the end, the only choice I have to make is, do I want to still use the system? It’s actually a matter of abandonment. I abandoned Facebook. I abandoned Twitter. Because they changed the interface and made it less useful to me, I am facing the idea of abandoning Google Plus. I don’t need these social network systems to give my life meaning. They need me, or rather, they need aggregate me’s, lots of people, to give what they do meaning. The less people use a socially networked system the less appealing that system is to everyone else. Facebook is only compelling because everyone uses it. There is no real value inherent in Facebook itself. This is a lesson that the classic business models these companies use can’t take into account – that their popularity defines their success. If they make a grossly unpopular change to the interface, then people will flee and their success will go tits up.
I don’t care to encourage other people to abandon these systems if they like them. Each of us has to make these kinds of decisions on a wholly personal level. I find it obnoxious that Google, and Facebook, and Twitter for that matter all force interface changes on users without giving the user any control whatsoever. It would be more elegant if there were a batch of controls we could select from and build our own interface. Put the bits and pieces where we want, opt out of things we don’t care for and make the interface work best for us, as the users. None of these sites have done that, they all behave as if they have global fiat to make changes willy-nilly. The end user who has to contend with these changes can’t do anything really except make that singular choice surrounding the issue of abandonment.
So where do I go now? It’s comic, but in many ways I am looking forward to going backwards. There is one system that I’ve used, mostly as a category but the people behind what I currently use I regard as being the platonic form of that category, and that is WordPress. Going back to blogging. What does the WordPress infrastructure have that attracts me? It’s got stable themes, the site looks very much like it always has. There are changes, but they aren’t as gross in scope as these other systems have perpetrated. I can share links on WordPress, I can write long posts, short status updates, and WordPress has a competent comment system already in place.
So I will give Google Plus until May 1st to do something better with their interface, to recognize the value in the stream and give us users the choice of what systems we want to see on our Google Plus page. Google should give us the ability to turn off the whitespace region, we should be able to turn off the chat talker region, so that we can maximize the stream region. If they fail to correct these glaring human interface deficits I will do to Google Plus what I did to Facebook. I will abandon Google Plus. I will keep the account running but I will no longer actively use it. Things that end up on Google Plus will end up being the same sort of things that end up washing up on Twitter, specifically links to content on my WordPress blog. Google’s loss will be WordPress’ gain. WordPress has always done right by me, and I respect them. I do not respect Twitter, nor do I respect Facebook. My respect for Google is quixotic at best. I used to believe in their “Do No Evil” company mantra, but that has been shed as Google has done some very evil acts, they aren’t what they once were and this sullying of their image makes the pending abandonment easy.
Will my abandonment hurt Google? No, of course not. I’m not so full of myself as to think that me leaving will change anything about the service, that Google will even notice my absence. However if I can inspire other people to give another look at WordPress, maybe see that progress forward can be achieved by regressing to earlier systems may be a worthy pursuit if what you get in the trade is interface stability. That this single raindrop encourages others to fall. The raindrop doesn’t believe it is responsible for the flood. I can only hope that I help the flood along. These massive changes that these social network sites perpetrate on their usership should be punished! We want it all, we want to use the service and we want to control it as well. We want the interface to be regular, logical, useful and static. When we want to make a change, we want to be the ones making it. We do not want to be victims of someones good intentions, Google! I would say this for Facebook as well, but that’s a lost cause.
So time is ticking away. If Google does not act, then the stream on that service is terminal. If that comes to pass, I will be migrating to my WordPress blog.
I hope to see some of you there.