cripes does anybody remember Google People

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tricks sand into doing work • social media influenza • opinions are yours, stolen

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cripes does anybody remember Google People

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:23PM · 21 August 2019


it existed for like fifteen minutes after Orkut but before Google+, and had the wildest features, like your profile image had to be smiling. "We can't detect an image, try smiling wider," it would say. Sometimes it would just accept a frowning image and modify it to be smiling

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:25PM · 21 August 2019


Sometimes it would fill in personal details automatically? Hair colour, occupation. The weirdest one was date of birth because it was always really close to being accurate, but off by a few days

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:27PM · 21 August 2019


and suggest familial relationships with other users you'd never heard of before. "We think this person: <some dark indistinct apparition> is your father"

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:29PM · 21 August 2019


they did this thing where if you gave it access to your emails it would scan them and figure out which of your contacts had died, and then silently create profiles for them

these were people who died before Google People launched?? And they'd show up in searches

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:31PM · 21 August 2019


nobody ever figured the follower system out. you couldn't "follow" other people, but apparently other people could "watch" you?

but nobody ever found the "watch" button

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:33PM · 21 August 2019


everybody had like a dozen people "watching" them, all complete strangers with huge grinning profile pictures. There was always this one guy with the WEIRDEST face

After a while I realised that people were just using that face as their profile picture, like an in-joke

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:33PM · 21 August 2019


well I thought it was an in-joke

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:34PM · 21 August 2019


Google People would constantly highlight blank areas on your photos like there was a person there and say "Someone you know?"

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:35PM · 21 August 2019


it tried to be invite-only while only giving out approximately one free invite, total, to each existing user

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:38AM · 20 October 2019


it made all these bizarre choices which I didn't even pick up on until later. I don't generally use emoji so it took me about two months to realise that nobody ever used a smiling emoji. because it didn't have a smiling emoji

sad, tearful, angry, etc., not one smiling face

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:43PM · 21 August 2019


a while after "guessing" your birth date it would "guess" your death date, which was a bit wild, but after comparing notes we worked out that for most people it was just guessing the same date, or a few weeks or months after

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:47PM · 21 August 2019


Yeah back then I was weirded out by their now standard response prediction thing, it was always just one or two words off exactly what I wanted to reply (usually missing/adding a negation, or substituting a word with an antonym)

Andres Miranda (@margles) · 3:53AM · 22 August 2019




part 2


OK so if you remember this thread you may also remember that Google People doesn't show up in the Google Graveyard

apparently (according to a Googler) the reason for that is because the project never "died", because internally it was never considered to be "alive" (cont.)

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:59PM · 7 September 2019


Google has a graveyard?

kate, lacrosse punk (@AeronaKate) · 12:11AM · 8 September 2019


Google has a habit of discontinuing products, so people started maintaining independent listings of all of them

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:16AM · 8 September 2019


I reset my pw and logged back in to Google People for the first time in 10 (?) years just now and discovered the following:

1. 10 years of updates on my account, written by me

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:00AM · 8 September 2019


2. also 10 years of "updates" for every other person I knew on there!

I guess they made some algorithm to simulate continued activity? current hypothesis is that this was an attempt to game their metrics after it was really unpopular

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:02AM · 8 September 2019



mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:02AM · 8 September 2019


4. the algorithm is startlingly good at imitating my writing style for updates at first but it wanders way off topic and starts repeating itself

because, you know, it's a bot. like how predictive text challenges always get locked in a loop

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:04AM · 8 September 2019


(going to stop numbering these) so by the time of present-day updates it's going in psychotic circles talking for thousands of words about "metal" and "low ceilings" and it generally seems to be quite unhappy for a bot

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:05AM · 8 September 2019


I genuinely cannot quite figure out if this was actually a thing (@AuroraCoreonizi) · 12:07AM · 8 September 2019


it doesn't help that it's absolutely futile to Google for "Google People"

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:09AM · 8 September 2019


Other current theory is that they kept this going as a semi-actual social network which they could experiment on

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:11AM · 8 September 2019


which is actually quite cool because Facebook had that problem where they were doing ethically dubious experiments on their users and, Google People, the users are all screaming mad bots, problem "solved"...?

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:13AM · 8 September 2019


of course it could be that classic "AI" thing where they're actually just woefully underpaid real people writing miserable fake posts in trash conditions

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:15AM · 8 September 2019


whatever's going on this latest auto generated photo of "me" looks pretty angry and like legitimately sick

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:18AM · 8 September 2019


"turn on your monitor" yuk yuk

but seriously it's like they used a "radiation sickness" filter. it's actually legit upsetting to look at. no thank you

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:20AM · 8 September 2019


was that the social network with the teeth fetish people

i mean it's gotta be a sex thing there were people just posting hundreds and hundreds of pictures of teeth to each other

thus spit creepypasta (@thusspit) · 12:37AM · 8 September 2019


this rings a bell but it could have been Google Plus

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:48AM · 8 September 2019


I actually had a Google People account because I was an early Gmail adopter - when you had to beg for invites c. 2004. Didn't realise it still existed!

Sir Toby Bleach (@TobyBleach) · 12:50AM · 8 September 2019


basically if this is a dead social network, re-animated to do long-term experiments on, they are evidently not nice fun experiments and the "participants" do not enjoy them

mcnx (@mcnx) · 2:00AM · 8 September 2019


I just logged in for the first time in literally a decade, and it looks like they've got some pretty good face-aging algorithms for profile pics, though it gets the eyes very wrong lol

Figuratively A Machine (@figurative_machine) · 5:32AM · 8 September 2019


That’s another weird thing I’d forgotten, they didn’t call it your “profile” they called it your “person”

Figuratively A Machine (@figurative_machine) · 6:19PM · 8 September 2019


ah yeah all those bizarrely-phrased reminder emails after not logging in for a while

"Don't forget about completing your Person!"

mcnx (@mcnx) · 9:12PM · 8 September 2019


"Your Person is empty"
"Your Person is lonely"

just say you want more details about my hobbies or whatever, cripes. unsubscribe

mcnx (@mcnx) · 9:16PM · 8 September 2019




part 3


I have to confess I was still morbidly curious about this so here are some more preliminary research results

research result the first: everybody hated working at/on Google People

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:50AM · 11 October 2019


apparently the project went through a ridiculous number of directors (10+)

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:51AM · 11 October 2019


my conjecture is that after a while they started moving people sideways onto the project as a like a constructive way to force them to quit

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:52AM · 11 October 2019


(I say that because it looks like a lot of these senior folks just quit tech entirely right after and don't show up again)

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:53AM · 11 October 2019


I mean you've got to have an office in Greenland you can transfer people to, figuratively speaking, right?

I'm just kidding, Greenland owns. Anyway I'm just hypothesising

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:55AM · 11 October 2019


the current director (yes there is one) did not respond to direct emails

which I suspect may just be due to me being marked as spam (I am not internal to Google, meh

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:57AM · 11 October 2019



mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:57AM · 11 October 2019


however! I do have a friend in Google (helped me with the employee data) and I got them to email my questions anonymised [drum roll]

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:58AM · 11 October 2019


and the response was TETCHY. dismissive. I would say crabby almost to the point of being unprofessional

and unfortunately that's it

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:59AM · 11 October 2019


"go away" in almost as many words. (or possibly "get away", I mean it depends how you interpret it)

also very poor typography for a higher-up. rushed

mcnx (@mcnx) · 1:00AM · 11 October 2019


okay that's basically one research result so here's a second one, apparently they support animated GIFs for profile pics now, AMAZING

mcnx (@mcnx) · 1:12AM · 11 October 2019


ugh the animated pics are some style transfer bullshit that isn't ready for prime-time, if you ask me

they look like one person's face texture-mapped onto someone else's skull. or like something's crawling under the skin. like it doesn't fit right

The Salamander (@cambystoma) · 1:37AM · 11 October 2019


yeah it 100% does *not* work

mcnx (@mcnx) · 8:10AM · 11 October 2019


I wanted to see the gif they interpolated for me but my profile pic's static, just smiling and greyed-out? My posts stopped a while back too after the predictive text apparently went haywire for a few hours, posting nonsense. Maybe their model just gave up ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

daisy (@metamancy) · 12:45PM · 11 October 2019


I've seen this a couple of times, those were both when the Google Person was based on someone who died IRL though

mcnx (@mcnx) · 6:16PM · 11 October 2019


so you can't be immortalized as part of a bizarre machine learning experiment? then what's the point

What! a starling? (@elementnumber118) · 6:17PM · 11 October 2019


well I mean it probably depends if the experiment succeeds

mcnx (@mcnx) · 6:18PM · 11 October 2019


this thread and the others inside it are so wild! I gave in & set up a Google People account a few months after it launched, when I was stuck at home with the flu. I was delirious and all I remember for sure is telling multiple people that being on there was “making me sicker”??

Sarah Noëlle Scott (@culturehips) · 9:24PM · 11 October 2019


well that's just Twitter, am I right? zoosh

mcnx (@mcnx) · 9:44PM · 11 October 2019




part 4


finally finding time to get back into this!

so I put a manual update in my old Google People account saying just, "test"

the bot which has been autogenerating updates for me for the past 10+ years apparently found this intensely confusing

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:23PM · 19 October 2019


(I guess the bot is my "Google Person"?)

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:24PM · 19 October 2019


the bot posted its own update which was the word "test" repeated for four pages

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:26PM · 19 October 2019


then an update which was basically one of its rabid Markov chained madness updates, but with "test test test" mixed in about a hundred times.

tentative conclusion: data introduced by me (real human) has a relatively higher "priority" in the update generation algo? "significant"

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:29PM · 19 October 2019


(that was yesterday) today I posted a new update which was just a textbook social media "here's how my day was"

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:33PM · 19 October 2019


the bot's "response" was, and I quote, "That's not true"

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:38PM · 19 October 2019


Some things to keep in mind here

1. yes, my post contained some fake names because I'm done giving real data to Google/etc., so, good call, bot (?)

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:41PM · 19 October 2019


2. it's not really a "response", it's just another Google People update from "me", under my name. it reads like I'm arguing with myself. I find this weirdly distracting lol

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:43PM · 19 October 2019


the deal with Google People is that there are two of you. there's you, and then there's your Google Person

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:44PM · 19 October 2019


your Google Person is exactly like you except it's made of incomplete data and it can't die

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:45PM · 19 October 2019


the key point here is that ONLY YOU KNOW THIS. Google Person you does not

Google Person you thinks it's the only one

Google Person you thinks it's real

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:47PM · 19 October 2019


haha "nope"! of course your life sucks and you hate it, you're a poorly correlated kludge of social media activities living in a universe run by Google employees who hate you

I'd be mad too

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:04AM · 20 October 2019


I get update emails sometimes from Google People asking me back, you know, the usual, but they're a bit odd and I suspect they're written by my Google Person?

But I never made an account there

Pac-Manster Fullerene 👻 (@pancakestrike) · 12:30AM · 20 October 2019


They probably created a shadow profile, Facebook does the same

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:36AM · 20 October 2019


oof my Person is actually getting quite irate at me. anyway more updates tomorrow

mcnx (@mcnx) · 12:40AM · 20 October 2019




part 5


alright good news! it's over. I'm completely done with Google People. I'm out. I escaped

mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:18AM · 31 October 2019



mcnx (@mcnx) · 11:19AM · 31 October 2019


ok that's enough of that. I've put the imposter back inside and deleted the account. thank you to everybody for your support. it was very difficult but I feel a lot better now and that's not true

mcnx (@mcnx) · 7:52PM · 31 October 2019


apparently to Google People who died, realise that it's going the WEIRDEST face as Them. they hurt this dubious thing where if you gave it access to your blank areas. cripes

mcnx (@mcnx) · 7:55PM · 31 October 2019


Discussion (6)

2022-11-02 22:49:57 by qntm:

Currently this is the formatting you'll see in ebook and print editions... "proper", "Twitter-like" formatting might be along shortly.

2022-11-21 15:08:25 by Tux1:

Edited out any mention of real internet users, huh? Kinda takes away from the unfiction aspect but that's kinda neccessary I suppose.

2022-11-21 15:21:32 by qntm:

I will admit that something was lost in the transition from Twitter to here, and more in the transition from here to the book version... But this was completely unavoidable. This is the nature of any context shift. For the book edition I had to make a clean break and just accept that there was no way to pretend that this was anything but a straightforward work of fiction. On the plus side, this gave me some creative freedom too. I did secure permission from everybody involved in the original Twitter threads to use their contributions (even if lightly edited in some cases), and they all received special thanks in the acknowledgements of the book.

2022-11-24 21:11:19 by MOH:

Minor typo: part one includes one post dated 20 October, which should be 21 August. (Unless that's intentional and I'm missing the significance)

2023-01-05 21:28:09 by Quite Likely:

Creepy! Gave me chills. Does the original twitter thread still exist? Would be cool to link to it if so. I notice there is a real @mcnx account but with no content:

2023-02-02 18:35:10 by eze:

danggg this goes crazy. loving this premise

This discussion is closed.