Google’s Achilles Heel: It’s All About the (Multiple) Accounts


If any company wants to go right for the jugular with Google, they should focus on the poor experience of using multiple Google accounts. Google has struggled since inception to get this right. Multiple accounts  kinda work — but only intermittently and awkwardly; add the desperate prompt to create a Google+ account for every email, and it’s chaos.

Problem #1

Android design flaw with Google Authenticator. If you have two factor authentication turned on for your Google Account (everyone should) then it’s virtually impossible to use the Google Authenticator App on your Android phone and enter the authentication code for an account on that same phone in a timely fashion.



Go ahead and try (Tip: The login screen for your Google Account doesn’t come up in the list of open apps, so every time you flip over to authenticator you have to create a new code and those are only good for something like 60 second, and then you begin this “beat the clock” race to re-enter your password and remember the authentication code before you have to start all over).


Yes you can get these codes by SMS, but I’m betting most people give up in frustration before even poking around to see how to do that. And these big companies wonder why we shy away from authentication and use passwords like “123”.

Problem #2


Just about every application you attach as an extension to your Gmail account will try to read your authentication for your currently open Gmail. This causes problems with apps like MightyText and similar which report that they cannot login to whatever account you have open. It doesn’t happen every time you use these apps, but it happens enough that I shy away from using most bolt-ons to Gmail. I find the user experience is sketchy when using multiple Google Accounts.


Problem # 3


I rather like Google+, but I don’t want to manage a separate Google+ account for every single Gmail account that I’m using. Stop telling me to create a fresh Google+ account for each Gmail! A better solution would be to allow me to link an existing “master” Google+ account. Having multiple Google+ accounts is not good for Google; it’s a royal pain to manage, and it confuses those who circle your multiple accounts. Who at Google thought this was remotely a good idea?  My guess is that Google is in a race to report high Google+ adoption numbers which comes at the expense of a poor user experience.

Problem #4


Google presumes that whichever account you login to first is your “default”.  No Google — it just happens to be the first account I logged into. Why can’t I set up my own standard list telling Google what my “master” account should be? Poor Google, they just cannot get out from under this multi-account mess. And why can’t I tell Google which of my Google+ accounts is my primary (only) active Google+ account?


There are more hidden “gotchas” to using multiple Google accounts in the same session. These are only the few that are top of mind this afternoon. Yes there are workarounds, such as using a separate Chrome Canary browser for your second Google account. But, really, by now shouldn’t Google have figured out multiple account management or is this so complex for them that it’s considered a moon shot ?

Categories: Rants and Raves


10 replies

  1. It makes me crazy that I can’t bundle my judie.lipsett and judie@geardiary email profiles into one G+ account. I created the judie.lipsett profile because at the time you couldn’t assign a G+ account to Google Accounts email addresses; by the time that they changed that, I was actively using the judie.lipsett account. Now I never know where I should post to. =P

    • It seems to me that the simplest solution would be simply to post to both accounts. Obviously copy and pasting every single post would be pretty annoying. So we have to figure out how to automate this process. (Note I said simple, not easy! Even so, everything should take only about 15-20 minutes to set up.) Google doesn’t make it straightforward, but what you need to do is a two-step process:

      1) Generate an RSS feed from one Google+ page
      2) Submit the content from a feed item to the other page.

      RSS Feed:
      For the RSS feed, you have a number of options: , Magenta River, the Feed+ app for Chrome, and Gplusrss. There’s plenty more, but those ones are off the top of my head.

      Submitting content:
      This part is a little bit more involved because Google doesn’t have an API for submitting yet. bamajr(dot)com/2013/02/16/posting-to-google-plus-via-email/ explains how to enable posting to Google+ via email. Skip to the section “Configuring Google Voice & Google Plus, to Play Nicely”.

      You’re not quite done yet! We have the content, and we now have a destination; now we have to get it there. That’s where IFTTT comes in, and is arguably the simplest part of this whole operation. For those who aren’t familiar with it, IFTTT is a very simple yet powerful service that awaits a Trigger (that you set) to perform an Action (that you tell it do).

      In this case, your trigger will be Feed, specifically New feed item. Drop in the RSS url from (1) here. Then select your Action, Gmail: Send an email. Once you do, it should pre-populate an email template. Drop in your Google+ email address, leave the subject blank, and delete everything from the body except for the EntryContent object.


      • While I admire your ingenuity … the steps involved make this solution leave me thinking that you *must* be joking. 😉 My solution is just to periodically post reminders saying that I do the majority of my posting on the judie.lipsett account. 😉

  2. For the two factor authentication problem you mention, I just have a site-specific passphrase set up so I don’t have to enter the second factor on the phone. In fact, I seem to recall when I tried to enter my “real” password in for my google account on my phone, google error end and told me specifically to create a site specific passphrase.

    For the other problem – using multiple google accounts on a desktop browser – I just create multiple users in the chrome browser, one for each google account. I have only one account used in each chrome browser account. (I’m not talking about Chrome OS – it’s a pain in the neck on chrome OS because they don’t have the ability to quickly switch to another user account, unlike the Mac and windows versions of chrome. In those versions, tap the smiley face in the top right corner and set up a new user. Or create it in settings.

  3. I agree with most of your complaints… but the first one I don’t understand.

    >those are only good for something like 60 second, and then you begin this “beat the clock” race to re-enter your password and remember the authentication code

    This is a headscratcher. Statistically speaking, you have an average of 30 seconds before the key expires. (Actually, you have a few more seconds than that because there’s a grace period). Even on the the ridiculously tiny iPhone keyboard where I can just barely manage about two characters per second when autocorrect isn’t available (i.e., all password fields), it takes me less than 15 seconds to punch in a 30-character password. Do you have extremely long passwords, or are you a slow-password-typer like me? :)

    For that matter, how often do you need to re-type authentication codes? It’s a little silly to not take the “trust this device” option whenever it’s given since the Authenticator app is… on the very same device.

    Which reminds me of something else: since you’re on Android, is there a reason you don’t use KeePassDroid or 1Password?

    • When you have a Google Apps for Domain account you’ll have to authenticate twice when two factor is enabled.

      The first is through the regular Android “enter your password” dark screen. Then once you’ve passed that test Android kicks you to a web UI where it asks you to re-enter your credentials again then once those pass (again) it kicks you to the screen to enter in your two-factor single use code.

      Yes you can copy/paste the code from authenticator but that copy of the code must happen before you get to the authentication prompts from Android because those prompts will not show up in task switcher so it’s impossible to switch to the authenticator then switch right back to the password entry screen (you have to start from square one).

      It’s much easier if the Google Authenticator app is NOT on the Android phone you are trying to enter a password/authentication for. However since most people don’t have multiple smartphones active I deem this a poor design on Google’s part.

      • This is not true for me. I can create an application-specific password and enter that and it will not use the second factor on the phone. This is true for my domain account as well.

        • Wasn’t Authenticator supplied to be a type of replacement for app specific passwords? I’ll have to try an app specific password .

          • Sure, that was the intention. But when two-factor first started, when you logged in to an Android phone it wouldn’t even let you use your “real” password with an authenticator second factor – it told you to generate an app-specific password. This may have been an Android 2.x problem; I have been doing it that way ever since that I didn’t even know that you could use your real password and an authenticator token.

            As I am sure you know, the app-specific passphrases are a necessary evil for things like computer mail clients, where an IMAP and SMTP server has no way in the protocol to prompt for a second factor of authentication (that I know of.) While it does seem less secure, it does give you the ability to deauthorize that particular passphrase if you are having a problem, lost the phone, suspect that the passphrase was captured, etc.

            I did try putting in an app account on my phone (running KitKat) and was able to use an app-specific passphrase, so that method is still supported.