Think of the new Gmail/Google+ features as part of the identity jigsaw

Gmail and Google+

Last week, Google announced the addition of an interesting new feature to Gmail – the ability for people you know on Google+ to email you even if they don’t have your email address. And vice-versa.

I first heard about it through seeing posts and reports galore about “how to disable Google’s new Gmail feature,” clearly suggesting that an awful lot of people see this as something really bad and to be avoided.

In fact, I’m ok with the idea as explained by Google, that enables anyone in my circles on Google+ being able to send me an email just by typing my name and using the result offered by Google.

And crucially, says Google…

[...] Your email address isn’t visible to a Google+ connection unless you send that person an email, and likewise, that person’s email address isn’t visible to you unless they send you an email.

I’m quite happy with that.

Interestingly, there’s an aspect of this that is much more significant than the simple matter of exchanging emails with people you’re connected to on Google+.

In a post yesterday at re/code, guest writer Hunter Walk has an intriguing idea:

Here’s what I think the integration of Gmail and G+ messaging is really about: Making communications about people and permissions, rather than possession of contact info.

I like this future-thinking as he expands on that idea:

[...] Current generations of kids aren’t going to have to worry about knowing your phone number or email or street address. They’ll be able to press your name or picture, and depending on the app or need, will initiate a text, call, delivery, whatever. Twitter has been experimenting with various DM permissioning. And why do you think Snapchat’s user base didn’t care much when phone numbers leaked? Because the phone number is the least personal data on a phone, compared to your text messages, photos or other app data.

My bet is that a year from now, G+ will be much more about communications, with content sharing as part of the interaction, rather than a social stream. If you were building Gmail and G+ from scratch today, they’d be the same product. And that’s the logic behind the messaging permission changes.

Project that out further and think about this as one potential element in identity verification. Not just your G+ profile or Gmail address, but the whole concept of verifying “name + picture = you” via rich sources of information in trusted databases.

It brings to my mind something that already happened to someone last month where his Facebook profile was accepted by the TSA in the US as validation of identity.

This is a big canvas that paints a huge picture that is one piece of the digital jigsaw that is identity and verifying it, balancing privacy and a lot more.

Lots to figure out.