06 February 2013

Birthday notifications from Google+

Google Plus birthday notifications on the search homepageI’m not a big fan of Google+ and use it very infrequently, but from time to time new features pop up in places where you can’t ignore them – like the search homepage. A couple of days ago I just noticed a notification about the birthday of a Google+ contact, on the top right, under the ‘Share’ button. Curiously, it only shows up in Internet Explorer 9 at my office, and in none of my home browsers, so it’s possibly a limited experiment or something tied to the IP address. Leaving the usual ‘who’s copying who?’ debate aside, there are a couple of things wrong with this picture:

  • First of all the notification looks like an ad – you know, the one nagging users to try out a faster browser – so the first instinct is to dismiss it.
  • Secondly – and more important – I think this says a lot about the direction (or lack of) of Google+. Google keeps going on and on about how this is not meant to compete with , that it’s just an extra layer for Google services, etc., but they are still adding Facebook-like features! If Google+ wants to be a community based on shared interests – like – birthday reminders are pointless to the point of spamming. Who would want to know when all the people they follow on Twitter celebrate their birthdays?!
  • Also, I find it funny how notifications only appear on the search page, not inside Google+, as one would expect. It’s like they are silently admitting how few people actively use Google+!

turns out the feature is about half a year old, but it’s still “rolling out” apparently… And you can’t turn it off or, at least, enable it only for some of your circles!

Update: I did a bit more research and I found a post where someone mentions that you can enable the feature by enabling ‘Personal results’ in the Google search settings. It would certainly explain why I only saw the feature recently - because I had turned off ‘Personal results’ almost immediately after launch and turned them back on just last week. Following the same logic, you should be able to disable the birthday reminders by turning ‘Personal results’ off. Naturally I can’t test this until another one of the people in my circles has a birthday - and who knows how long that will be! - but it’s another reason not to use personalized search...

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