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5 Ways Google+ Could Fall Flat

One privacy misstep or product quality mistake could doom Google's new project. Here are its five most vulnerable areas.

Google+ is still the darling of the tech world nearly two weeks deep into its field test. The social network has attracted the likes of Digg Founder Kevin Rose, MySpace's Tom Anderson, and even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has come by to take a peek.

Google +1 buttons have surpassed Twitter social plug-ins on third-party websites, according to BrightEdge. And the site's membership is estimated to be close to 5 million users--at least now we have an accurate count on the number of tech journalists in the world.

But just because Google+ is in the middle of a love fest doesn't mean there aren't potential storm clouds looming in the distance. Now don't get me wrong, I'm using Google+ and so far I like it, but one privacy misstep or product quality mistake could doom Google's new project. Especially if the problems aren't fixed before the network officially goes out of field-test mode. With that in mind, here's a look at 5 ways Google+ could fall flat.

Buzz Levels

It's pretty clear that Google+ has borrowed some code from Google Buzz and that's not necessarily a good thing. When Google+ first debuted, it had a very Buzz-like habit of resurfacing posts with a large number of comments back to the top of your Google+ stream. However, this does appear to be improving.

One offense that hasn't improved much is the way notifications are handled. Whenever someone follows you, you get a notification. Problem is many of these follow notifications resurface by showing up again and again; they can appear in the notifications section in the Google navigation bar or at the top of your Google stream in a collapsible box. Re-notification was an annoying habit in Buzz, and it needs to go away in Google+.

Viral Spam

Right now Google+ is a great place to visit; people are sharing interesting links, users have banded together to create a Google+ user guide, and the occasional photo shows up just for fun. But that will all end soon when the FarmVilles, Mafia Wars, and the rest of their ilk arrive. Google has reportedly been working with Zynga--the leader in social gaming--for nearly a year. And third-party developers are banging at the door trying to get in.

It's only a matter of time before your relatives and old friends from high school sign up and start bombarding you with gaming requests, quiz offers, and all sorts of other nonsense. When that day comes, hopefully Google will give the rest of us powerful tools to block these unwanted requests.

Privacy Concerns

Will privacy concerns sink Google+? The company is doing its best to avoid any problems after the Buzz fallout where users' contacts were briefly exposed to the public. That episode triggered an FTC investigation that resulted in a settlement where Google must to submit to privacy audits for the next 20 years, among other requirements. And critics are starting to raise a few red flags about Google's latest social experiment.

The biggest item on the critics' lists appears to be concerns about how Google's ad business might fit into Google+, although no one is quite sure what the problem might turn out to be. Some are also criticizing the rights Google reserves on your content through Google+'s terms of service (a problem Facebook knows about all too well). But most critics seem to miss one important line when criticizing Google's terms of service: "You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post, or display on or through, the Services [such as Google+]."

Google's recent decision to make all Google Profiles public as of July 31 also may not sit well with privacy critics; however, the only information that has to remain public is your name and gender (A Google Profile is a public profile you create on Google.)

Interface Complexity

Right now, Google+ has a clean simple interface that is attractive and easy to understand. But inevitably Google+ will become more complex as it grows and adds new features, third-party services, and so on. Are Google's interface designers up to the challenge of maintaining simplicity as the service adds new features? Let's hope so.

Circle Fatigue

Critics are praising Google+'s feature that lets you create Circles (essentially friend lists) so that you can easily share items with specific groups of people. Facebook has had lists for some time, but the feature was hard to use and never took off.

So far, people appear to like Circles. But can that enthusiasm be sustained as more people join Google+ and have to go through the process of manually adding their friends to Circles? If not, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg may turn out to be right when he said people don't want to create lists.

So far Google+ is off to a good start, and people enjoy using it. If enthusiasm for Google+ remains strong, the company may have finally figured out a way to get social, as long as it avoids a few potential privacy and product quality pitfalls.

Connect with Ian Paul ( @ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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