As the Great Google+ Migration begins - at least among geeks and the "geekerati" - it's still pretty great to see it getting things right on its first go. All the more interesting to see it get something wrong.
Randall Munroe, the guy behind our beloved XKCD, wrote a relatively brief yet thoughtful essay on the inability to make your gender private on Google+. You can choose "Male", "Female" or "Other", but something has to be there. Some of you might very well go "So?" in response, but the piece makes for good critique of interface design and how its shortcomings can get sticky in the real world. For one, he writes:
A male designer building an interface should try to keep in mind that there are reasons a female user might feel uncomfortable being told she has to broadcast her gender. Sure, someone's gender is usually obvious from their name, but there's no need to force people to draw extra attention to it-introducing myself with "Hi, I'm Randall." sends a different message from "Hi, I'm Randall, and I'm a MAN."
Fair enough. So why not just choose the "Other" option Google provides? Hold on!
There are quite a few people who are accurately described by an "other" option, and when they're sometimes struggling for recognition, co-opting their label for anyone who doesn't want to broadcast their gender seems a little off-putting.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of reasons Google+ would want to ask about your gender. But there's no good reason to pointedly make it the only thing in your profile that can't be private - and many reasons not to, starting with basic courtesy. It may be a small issue in the grand scheme of things, but I think it's worth getting right.
I confess I hadn't even noticed the issue before, which probably means this is not a big deal for everyone. But for the sake of those who do want that kind of privacy, Google needs the feedback. Again, it's worth getting right. [Randall Munroe via The Mary Sue, XKCD]