Google+: Who You Know Changes Everything

Like all social networks, the people you connect with change the experience.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s very hard to make sweeping statements about Google+ right now.

I’m seeing three principal reactions from people who are using it:

  1. “It’s great. Love it.” – this was my reaction in my post yesterday, and you can see more of it in this public thread I started earlier today.
  2. “It’s dull and empty” – this is summed up by this cartoon. It’s principally a social problem right now – these people have yet to find interesting people on the service to follow.
  3. “The user experience is a real problem”

Initially, I struggled to understand that last response. It just wasn’t congruent with my time spent in the service at all. And then I spotted something in my RSS reader that made it much, much clearer.

Joanne Jacobs has written a long piece of criticism of Google+. There’s much I agree with in there – the current mobile interface is a joke, for example, and the lack of search functionality is shameful – but also bits I disagree with. She’s right to point out that posting from Tweetdeck or Seesmic-like clients would be great, but I think she does Google a disservice by not mentioning the fact that they’ve promised an API for this until the comments. I think it’s perfectly justified to not want to lock down an API when they’re still field testing the service. And I’m not sure I agree with her point on the user experience issue, simply because this statement is just not my experience of Google+:

G+ enables long form posts with long comments.  Sure, this means you can explore an issue in more detail, but because most posts are long, the amount of scrolling you have to do to access new information sources is just unusable.

My stream is largely populated by shorter posts and links, and not with longer posts at all. I’ve hardly seen any in the last fortnight. This, perhaps, suggests that Google+ really is a framework for interactions, and if your social circle choose to primarily engage in long-form interactions, the service is, in its current form, not the place for you to be doing so. Mine aren’t, so it’s working OK, for now.

But on the other hand, people clearly are using it for long-form posts, including some people (in what looks suspiciously like an attention-seeking move to me) are even switching their blogs over to the service.

And so Google clearly has a design issue to deal with, because people are using the service in ways it doesn’t appear to be intended for.  Now, if Google really doesn’t want it used this way, it’ll be a self-limiting issue. Those who try will eventually be driven away by the frustrations (or their audience will). Problem solved.

But thing’s don’t often seem to happen that way. Those of us who joined Twitter waaaay back in 2006 will remember a system without any supporting apps, which had no support for hashtags and no support for @replies. The last two were both user innovations which Twitter only supported later. In the case of @replies, they actively resisted the move for a long time, before acquiescing. When it came to retweeting, Twitter effectively bulldozed the user-created style with their own native retweets.

Google+ is even earlier in that cycle. It’s only a couple of weeks into a limited field test – a 0.1 release more than a 1.0.  They’re evidently listening and learning, and with significantly more attentiveness than Twitter ever has. But I don’t envy them trying to build a system that people are forcing into such widely varying use cases.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.