The Google+ Experiment (Part 2)

In my last post, The Google+ Experiment (Part 1), I shared my history and thoughts around Google+ that led me to go back and re-evaluate Google’s social networking platform. In this post, I’ll try to capture my thoughts on the experiment itself. I do not consider this a “new user” view because I’ve been on G+, built some circles and have already played with the platform. This experiment is in the context of a re-visit, enabling me to focus on what’s changed both from a platform and personal perspective that might make G+ a worthwhile candidate for my time and attention.

Differentiating between Facebook & Twitter

The first thing that I wanted to answer was how did G+ differentiate itself from Facebook and Twitter. This was hard at first because many of the contributions to my stream were people who thought sharing links endlessly was the best way to leverage Google+. That made G+ very noisy and difficult to follow.  As I started to evaluate who those users were, I started un-circling the broadcasters (people who share a lot of links, but don’t provide any commentary or context). I will say that this instantly made the content in my stream more interesting. I was left with 3 types of contributions:

Beautiful photos

Google plus has become a very popular photo-sharing site.  This is mainly because G+ is a very visual experience.  As a result of that, many professional photographers have shared their work here and I will say that some of it is stunning. I can follow the photographers that I like without having to be their “friend”, or having to click on a link to actually see the picture.

*Shared by David Pond

Curated Links

Shared links with people providing context as to why they shared it are especially poignant. If for example, sharing a 4 minute video, letting me know that the interesting part is at 0:44 saves me time and makes me more likely to invest a few seconds to check it out.

Conversations

People were engaged in deep conversations here and sharing real thoughts and issues. What I loved was that people could express complete thoughts and have the opportunity to make their points without being limited to 140 characters. This was why Google+ was interesting. Even on day 1 of my evaluation, I was involved in a conversation about the experiment itself that had 32 replies. Unlike Twitter, I was not left to fill in the blanks left by shorthand, I had real exchange of thought.

 

Circles

After getting rid of a bunch of noise, I knew the next step was to get a better handle around circles. This was one of my earlier criticisms and wanted to make sure that I correctly understood how to use them. I searched for information about circle management and came across this: Managing Google+ Circles : 7 Essential Tips. This clued me into something that I was missing. Circles should be used to target groups you share content with. Armed with this information, I instantly went and thought about the topics I share information about and went on to re-do my circles. Aside from the default circles, I added these:

Social Media Enterprise Social Entertainment
Geocaching Travel Bacon
Video Games Psychology New Jersey
Cool Tech Mobility Skiing
Football TV Home Theater
IT Communications Wet Shaving

I then went through my initial circles and moved them into this new structure. But, there was still something that was bothering me. We are lousy at classifying things others find relevant, so I feel like I’m building structure at the cost of serendipity. When I asked people on G+ about this, most said that they shared everything as “Public”, and used circles as a way to filter streams and content. I felt like I just went full circle (pardon the pun) and have realized that this is a big obstacle that Google still has to figure out.

Google’s delay in supporting Google Apps also led to many users having multiple accounts. If you browse to their profiles, they are listed as “Obsolete” and “Do not use”, when you are doing circle management, you have no way to know which is which without clicking through to their profiles.

I would ultimately like to be able to identify topics of interest and have people target their content to me if their topic aligns to my interest. But this is just a cursory view of what I think might make it better. I’m sure there are downsides to this approach. Bottom line is that circles confuse people and until they are made much clearer and simpler to individuals, this will be the single biggest barrier to adoption.

Filtering

Filtering is another area that I think needs more work. You have the ability to come in and mute posts, but that requires clicking and muting individual posts. It’s adequate for the 1-off posts that get noisy, but for more pervasive posts it’s weak.

It’s political season here in the US and don’t really care to be bombarded by content relating to the upcoming presidential election, but I have no way to automatically filter content on a topic without removing people from my circles. This is a shame because the person could have good content on a number of different subjects, but the fact that I now have to choose to manually mute posts or eliminate the user leaves me disappointed. I’d love a filter that says:

 Filter all posts about politics from all users

 This way I can follow people who speak about topics that  I am interested and block the subjects that I’m not interested in without additional effort.

Streams

I like the streams concept and think auto-updating scrolling is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you always have the latest information on your screen. On the other hand, if you are trying to read or edit something, having the content scroll can be annoying.

When viewing other streams that are busy (such as “apple maps”), keeping up with the flowing stream is challenging, much like on twitter. I would appreciate if Google would consolidate some of the shares and re-shares. Once nice feature is that If you want to pause the stream, all you need to do is scroll down which is fairly easy.

I also especially appreciate the fact that I can go in and edit posts. In other networks, if I make a mistake, I’d have to go and delete the post and re-create it.

Finding information

Due to the robustness of contributions in Google+, finding information is easier. Of course this being Google, you would expect it to be. But, even in writing this blog post and wanting to go back and find my contributions I’ve referenced, I was able to quickly find the content. There is room for improvement, as I’d like to be able to find my posts with more than 3 replies for example, but even today it’s better than what’s available elsewhere.

Mobility

Google has done a fair job at providing mobile clients. I can only attest to iOS, but on both the iPhone and iPad, they’ve created an environment where I feel I can browse my stream easily when I’m not home. The “instant upload” feature on the iOS platform is interesting, but I haven’t really had time to fully understand the implications of the service. I can only assume that Google’s Android client is as good if not better than the iOS apps.

Sharing Content

Sharing content to your G+ Stream is possibly the biggest challenge that I’ve found with Google+.  While applications like Flipboard have started to Integrate G+ via mobile, the process takes way too many steps and is far too rare. Not many mobile apps have G+ sharing. Even on the computer I expect it to be much easier to share content. I shouldn’t have to rely on 3rd party add-ons to provide this capability. I also don’t think tab switching is an acceptable answer to cut and paste links. The +1 social widget on many websites does help, but the lack of consistency on content I consume leaves me wanting more.

Enterprise Social Network?

In my previous post, I called out that G+ in my opinion was not an Enterprise Social Network (ESN). Since that post, Google has started to position G+ as an ESN, which when tied together with Google Apps gives you a sharing context to keep the visibility limited within the context of your Google Apps domain. This is scary stuff. It is very easy to miss-share information and if I were any business, I’d avoid it at all cost.

Scalability

This is one question that remains an unknown. Can Google help us help ourselves from over subscribing? If you look at your other networks, you probably have an action item to “review friends” or “review followers” but never get to it. This in part is because it requires a great deal of time and energy to keep our social flows at a rate that we can handle without it becoming noise. If you add in how rapidly our priorities change, having social networks that can switch context that quickly remain illusive.  The fact that Google+ alienated many people the first time around, actually helps people ramp up more slowly. Currently, Google claims 400m+ users, but I would venture that number of users that actually use Google+ are far fewer than that.

Other areas

After a week, I don’t feel like I could sufficiently address all the capabilities of G+.  Some areas that I didn’t get to because of time are still on the list for evaluation.

  • Games
  • Pages
  • Hangouts
  • Local
  • Events

All but hangouts are new features since the last time I checked out G+, but hangouts now offer more capabilities than they did when first released, so will need to check them out more closely.

Recommendations

In order to get the most out of G+, I think the things that helped me best are:

  • Develop a better understanding of circles (pick a use, sharing or consuming. Don’t use it for both)
  • Un-circle broadcasters that don’t curate and provide context
  • Start small and don’t go crazy adding people to circles
  • Engage in conversations involving topics that you are interested in
  • Share complete, rich thoughts. Don’t limit to 140 characters.
  • Add Google’s +1 share button to your site where you own content if you haven’t already
  • Evaluate your own experience and make your own judgment on G+

Summary

Google+ has come a long way since it was first introduced. Now that the platform is over a year old it has been enhanced to overcome many of the problems identified during launch.  I still believe the circle paradigm is difficult to understand and that there still is confusion how to use circles, even among the active user base.

I feel that Google has really dropped the ball on helping people understand the differentiators between G+ and other social networks. Instead, they leave it up to individuals to figure that out on their own.

If you overlook these issue, I found that the platform has matured and if you filter out the people who see this is as another broadcasting platform, there is really good content being shared here. I would encourage you to re-evaluate Google+ and see where it fits for you.

 

Greg Lowe

Greg constructively challenges the status quo to achieve real change in organizations. With a background in IT, communications and collaboration, Greg is passionate about making technology usable to make people’s jobs easier and changing the way companies do business. He does this by demonstrating value through building business cases and leading organizations to develop and support new behaviors, by working with leadership to help them understand how and why to leverage social business systems within their enterprise to achieve better business outcomes. He also writes and speaks about strategies and tactics that can be employed by companies to drive success in the Social Business space.

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