I became very hopeful about Cake since someone I follow on G+ shared @Scobleizer's recent conversation, Can Cake clean up Silicon Valley's social problem? It's rare that something posted online makes me say that you should read it and read the comments, but that's the case here. I'm glad to find something like that now, one week into a somewhat disappointing effort to try out a variety of "G+ alternatives" since the sunsetting announcement. That experience has been partly an exercise in feature comparisons, partly a chance to reflect on what I actually want from an online service and the people behind it. It turns out I want more than just another social media site; I want a place I might be able to trust, or at least not actively distrust, to give me space to write, read, and connect with people. Cake's got two out of three of those so far, from what I can see. As of now, it looks like a publishing platform that's smarter at handling comments than the internet at large; but if it could be a truly social experience, run by people who stick to their ideals and take care of their users, that would make it the heir apparent to G+ as far as I'm concerned. I just can't tell yet whether that's actually the direction it's headed, or my own wishful thinking.
A number of things I've seen around here do look very promising to me: There's some nice UX for composing posts, especially compared to G+'s strictly markup-based formatting and frustrating lack of autosaving. (But I sure wouldn't complain if Cake added bulleted/numbered lists, improved cursor behavior, and a publish button under the post, to hit after you finish writing.) And I appreciate reading comments by @Chris in the aforementioned conversation, noting how they're building a business model around something other than surveilling users, and trying to think about communication differently from misguided men valorizing "free speech" without really thinking through what that actually means, and for whom. (That last part is especially heartening after so many of my G+ contacts have migrated to MeWe despite growing concern about a strictly libertarian approach to moderation and outreach.) To be honest, I'm still not sure what Cake has to offer feature-wise for semi-social, long-form content compared to Medium, where I go for most reading I do on UX these days. But then again, I also don't really see much conversation on Medium of interest to the (sometimes quite politically-minded) gaming communities I travel in—maybe Cake would be a better home for them? And in an era of trolls, bots, and organized and abusive gamers and "fans," Cake's focus on following conversations instead of people seems potentially quite clever. You can't harass someone if you can't "follow" them—or even call them up in site search results!
All of that said, you lose a lot by not being able to "search," "follow," "friend," "add to lists," or anything else that would allow you to formalize a social connection. And I like connecting directly with people. I have to assume this omission is purposeful—either an unfinished feature to be added later, when they know they can get it right, or an intentional design decision that wasn't made lightly. I hope it's the former, as I have a hard time seeing myself using Cake in the long term without some features to enable and encourage person-to-person connection. Reading and writing long-form posts has been one of my favorite things about G+, but it's not the only thing I went there for. I've gotten so much value out of the site because it has blended in-depth analyses, quick conversation starters, and methods to help users cluster ourselves by interests, including following individual thought leaders and champions of diversity and inclusion. I'm sad to be losing all that, not just a means to get eyes on what I write and draw in some comments. I don't just want an audience; I want a community.
The lack of affordances for person-to-person connection here also presents some simple UX annoyances when I think about what I'd want to use this site for. I think it's excellent, for instance, that you can tag specific panelists into conversations here rather than having every publicly readable post be either a free-for-all or closed to comments. I can imagine posting things specifically inviting a dozen or more people, figuring only a few might have a chance to contribute in a given week. It seems like not an insignificant hassle, though, to have to enter every username or email address one by one every time I start such a conversation, without any way of curating a list of relevant people associated with various topics of interest to me.
All of that said, I'm cautiously optimistic. Reading through replies on that aforementioned post, it sounds like Cake is aware of at least some of these kinds of concerns, and things are still in an early stage around here. (And I figure it must be pretty early if I was able to snag a username as short as "JasonT.") I'll be impressed if the slower rollout of social features is actually just because they're being very careful to determine which this specific experience actually needs, rather than what users of Facebook, Twitter, and G+ think we need because it's all we've known to date. And as much as I have appreciated G+, Google seemed to struggle with that very question themselves. As they tried to zero in on how people wanted to organize their contacts and browser for content, we saw shifting emphasis from "Circles" to "Collections" and "Communities." Given that the result still led to G+'s closure, I wouldn't want to see a promising service copy a dead-end approach and suffer the same fate. While I would love to see more person-to-person options now, while my G+ timeline is gradually quieting as folks emigrate to MeWe and parts unknown, we do still have another 10 months to explore our options, in theory. It'll be interesting to see how Cake develops in that period.
In the meantime, like many others lamenting the loss of G+, I figure it's time to finally get around to starting that blog I've been grumbling about for months. To be frank, the whole G+ situation has left me feeling wary about trusting for-profit enterprises to not close the doors on something important to me. Having my own space, under my own control, feels more important now than ever. Even so, it's been awhile since I saw a new online service that piqued my curiosity as much as this one. Maybe I'll crosspost some content to Cake for a bit, too, and see how it goes.