Like most of my friends, I signed up for Google+ the moment I got a beta invite. I didn’t necessarily mind using my real name, but I also didn’t have much choice about it. It wasn’t until I tried to clamp down my privacy settings that I had a moment of real panic. My full name, ‘scrapbook’ photos and profile were all publicly searchable. I quickly figured out how to remove myself from public discovery and avoid creating public posts (I was always careful to limit my posts to circles). But any comment I make on a public post is publicly searchable and anytime a friend tags me in a public post it leads directly to my profile.
And ever since then, I’ve been under a self-imposed Google+ gag order. I cannot, as a woman and as a person with a ‘traditional’ job, use this product in a meaningful way without being constantly on guard. And so I don’t use it.
Google+ assumes I can have it all. They assume I can use my real name (and gender) to engage publicly and openly with people. But this is not reality for most women, and not reality for most people that have jobs that expect a particular level of professionalism that excludes an online presence.
Women are faced with a type of black and white judgement that categorizes us in many ways as ‘nice’ or ‘bitchy’, ‘stupid’ or ‘nerdy’, ‘virgin’ or ‘whore’, with little gray area between. Each of these labels is dehumanizing in its own way. This is particularly overt online, and is a phenomenon that has been well documented. Suffice to say, I prefer to keep my online presence gender neutral, and consequently I do not normally use my real name when making public posts online.
I also work at a ‘traditional’ job where it is frowned upon to have an online presence. My job deals with the public, and as such I need to fly under the radar when it comes to using my real name online. Tech seems to be one of the few industries where people don’t care very much about what you post online, and indeed it’s often encouraged to have a public web presence. I have to wonder if Google+’s techie seed (which is mostly male) is not due to who signed up first, but is actually a self-selecting group. Without more flexible, or better yet, universal privacy settings, many women and people with ‘traditional’ jobs can’t participate in a meaningful way.
I’m engaged to a mobile developer, and our mutual techie friends comprise most of my Google+ feed. The vast majority of them are male. And the majority of their posts are made publicly. I read all their posts and often want to leave a comment; sometimes I even find myself writing one out. But before I hit ‘post’, I remember that I can’t control who sees what I’m about to publish, and I’m forced to censor myself. This is where I see the breakdown between seed and growth.
The good news is that this is a relatively simple fix. Give us an option to keep our comments and tags private. A universal privacy setting would be great. Make it more obvious when a post is public; that tiny text at the top is sometimes hard to spot, especially because it shifts left and right based on information in the header. If that’s not in the ‘grand plan’ for Google+, then I hope at least Google and the tech community will understand why Google+ is such a techie sausage fest. Don’t waste your money on another UI overhaul. I want to use your product, but I will not sacrifice my privacy to do so, particularly when there are other social networking alternatives with simpler privacy settings.
What can you do to help as a Google+er? Well, if you would like other people in your circles (especially women) to interact with you more, consider keeping your posts within your circles or extended circles. Be mindful of tagging people in public posts and consider changing your default visibility to extended circles.