Among Google+’s many flaws? Marketing
If I was as good about writing here as I should be, I’d have an arsenal of posts on the flaws of Google+. Now, I actually kind of like Google+ and feel that it still has potential in spite of the fact that its foundation—Circles—is about as wrongheaded as a social media network’s foundation can be.
But one of the biggest flaws of Google+ that I keep coming back to (because I keep wondering if it could be true alternative to Facebook) is how they’ve marketed it, where marketing = how they suggest it could be used.
In a word, Google thinks you should approach G+ always thinking MORE. Add more people to your circles. Add entire circlesto your circles. Put huge images in your post so that you create an immersive experience on the mobile app.
This might work for Google (though it also sounds a little desperate), but one of the biggest causes of death of social media networks is when you’re following too many people and you can’t keep up anymore. Google is taking that common cause of death and marketing it as the way of life on Google+.
How to have Instagram photos go to Google Plus automatically
While we’re all sitting around waiting for the Google+ to have an API that allows posting from other sources (as well as waiting for Google+ to become relevant enough to have peoplewantto post from other sources), here’s a pretty decent method of having your Instagram photos post automatically to a Google+ album. Well, I guess it’s semi-automatic, which also makes it sound like a gun. Which it so isn’t.
- Dropbox account
- ifttt.com account
- Google+ account
- Picasa desktop client installed
- Create a task in ifttt.com that saves Instagram photos to a Dropbox folder. There’s plenty in the recipes.
- In Picasa, add the new Instagram folder in Dropbox to your watched folder lists.
- Sync the new folder in Picasa with Google+.
Simple. One of the minor drawbacks to this (the part that makes itsemi-automatic) is that you have to have the Picasa application open in order for it to post to Google+. So you either leave Picasa open and your computer on all day long, or you have to be content with opening Picasa every now and then to sync up.
The other minor drawback is that you only get the photo: no caption. Still, I think those two drawbacks are worthwhile to a) getting a easy archive of your Instagram photos and b) having a complete album that you can view and show off on Google+.
As a side note, I took the excellent recommendation of my friend Bynum and created a secondary Dropbox account and then shared the Instagram folder with my primary Dropbox account so that I’m not giving ifttt access to my primary Dropbox folders. Not that I think that ifttt isn’t trustworthy, but when the connection says that they have access to everything in your Dropbox…better safe than sorry.
If you love dumb comments threads, you must love Google+
Like most people on the internet, I actively avoid most comment threads. The vast majority tend to be filled with nasty insults and/or pointless agreements or even spam. There are good points around, but it’s so difficult and disheartening to wade through the meanness and thoughtlessness that it’s something that few people actually take on.
But now, with Google+, following an opinionated figure means having these comment threads forced on you. Take this recent post by the cranky (that’s a compliment in my book) MG Siegler. It seems that there are a lot of people who follow him simply to comment how wrong and dumb he is. And the way Google+ is set up to show the most recent comment, it’s impossible to avoid.
Even the friendlier people I follow like Avinash Kaushik and Felicia Day still get the pointless “I agree” and “LOL” style comments, hiding the one or two useful comments and forcing exposure to such triteness (at best) and nastiness (at worst) simply because we thought we’d check out Google+ one day.
It’d be simple to fix: contract the entire comment thread to show only the number of comments and require us to expand the comments to read. It’s a necessity, as Google+’s success depends largely on us following public figures, but forced exposure to dumb comment threads means it’s becoming one of those places making the internet a source of depression.
Gmail merges with Plus & Twitter improves, but does it bring us closer to them?
The two big pieces of news in the tech/social media world today were 1) Twitter is showing off its new interface and 2) gmail is integrating more tightly with Google Plus.
Both of these changes were expected (and in Twitter’s case, long overdue), but my first reaction to both is wondering if these designs will really bring us closer to the products themselves. The Twitter design looks nice and it puts more emphasis on mentions and conversations, but is it really going to make me quit Tweetdeck, where I can manage multiple accounts easily? Is it going to make it easier to have a conversation on Twitter?
Likewise, with Google Plus + gmail, is this something that will make me cozy up to Plus a little more, make it make a little more sense and give it more utility? Or will it just be more of those damned useless circles everywhere? The unified address book is great—if someone changes their contact info, it changes it in your address book—but is that anything more than a nice feature?
Due to my strict policy of being cynical, I remain cynical about both moves.
Why I think pulling the Google Reader share function is a huge mistake
Sometime this week (supposedly), Google Reader is going to lose its social feature to Google Plus. This is a damn shame, since the People You Follow space has been, hands down, THE best social sharing tool I’ve ever used. In fairness, I think that Reader has been as great as it has been because the number of people I knew who used it was a pretty small group that was limited mostly to my closest friends who have a great deal of insight and share judiciously. But I also love Reader in that it’s extremely easy to share, easy to comment, and easy to control privacy, all on articles that you often don’t have to leave the interface to read in their entirety.
Some of my Reader friends have taken this news pretty hard, and that was my first impression (and really, second through sixth as well), but I’m kind of curious to see what the Plus integration will hold. It’s possible that, a month or two from now, we’ll be raving about how great Plus is for sharing articles from Reader. But while I hold a little bit of hope, my guess is that it’ll pale in comparison:
- It’s most likely that sharing from Reader will now be much more like using the “Send to” feature, which is several extra steps, enough to lower the number of things people share.
- Articles will just be shared in their snippet form, rather than being able to read the full article like you can now do on shares in Reader.
- With Circles, people will no longer be able to request that you share your Reader articles with them. You have to decide who sees your articles up front, meaning you’ll be likely to miss some people who would be great to share with. It’s that huge flaw of Circles rearing its head again.
The one thing that really bugs me about this is that Google is making the huge mistake of trying to force Plus on people. There’s no reason that they couldn’t have kept the sharing functionality in Reader exactly the same way while also allowing your shared articles (and comments) to go over to Plus as well, the same way it used to work in Buzz, with the comments showing up in both places. This would have left the great Reader experience intact while also allowing a ton of new content to start flowing into Plus.
In other words, rather than focusing on making Plus the best product it can be, they’re pulling the plug on everything else so that it’s the only product there is.
Goodbye to Google Buzz, which had a lot of potential
Google announced today that they’re going to be discontinuing Google Buzz. That probably won’t come as a surprise to most people, who’ll probably mostly be amazed that Buzz was still around, but for me, it’s actually kind of a disappointment. Buzz had become pretty useful for me, mostly as a better interface for commenting on Google Reader’s shared items.
The thing is, Buzz could have done a whole lot more. That exact same idea (Reader shares, Twitter and blog incorporation, status messages) could have been implemented in gmail AND been given a separate space. You could have opted out in gmail, but still used the standalone site to interact and share. Their one big misstep was automatically adding friends rather than letting you build those from the ground up. If they had been more patient with it and started with a simple on/off privacy mode rather than trying to force everyone to use it with frustrating privacy settings, I think it could have succeeded.
In short, everything they needed to create a good social media hub around Google was there. They just did it wrong, and they’re doing it wrong again with Plus. The difference is that Plus gets praised and Buzz gets hated, but there’s not much of a difference between the two. I wonder how many of these products Google will have to make before they get it right.
Google+ users should be able to select their own content, rather than you doing it for them
I was thrilled today to see this article today calling for what I think it crucially necessary for Google Circles: a way for people to choose what content of different users that they see. The “follow” Circle is really useless without it, unless you’re following a person who ONLY talks about one subject publicly.
The way I think it should work is much like the way I have my different Twitter accounts set up: I have a personal account, which is just kind of a dumping ground for my random thoughts, including sports and politics; I have my professional account, where I talk mostly about tech, web services and business and is set up to be completely open, public and findable; and my music account. I mix up the content every now and then, getting personal on my professional and talking about music on my personal account, but I’ve found that the division works pretty well.
But it’s still three separate accounts, and while Tweetdeck makes it pretty easy to manage them all in one place, it’s still far from ideal. To let other people know that I even have the other accounts, I have to retweet something every now and then or send out a promo tweet on one or the other. What would be great (and this is what the author of that article proposes for Plus) is to be able to have a single account, but to specify which subject it goes in, and when people follow me, they select which content areas of mine that they want to see. They’re deciding for themselves, not me for them, which is guessing and exclusionary.
There’s two things that the article misses that I think are crucial to making this work.
- You’d have to be able to make certain content groups private (user has to get permission before seeing the content) and have the option to block people from seeing certain content groups.
- You should be encouraged (by the process) to have a low number of content groups. I think that you should be able to create content groups and call them whatever you want, but if someone hauls off and makes 20-30 content groups, it could be confusing for the people choosing to follow you. I would have no more than 4-5 groups.
When you get down to it, it’s making the basis of Google+ more like blogs than like Facebook. You’re creating content and defining it and then people can see the parts of it that they want to, opting into and out of the types of things you write rather than into you as a whole. And that makes a hell of a lot more sense than the ridiculous “real life social networks
" theory that Circles is based on.
Google+ can merge longform content with statuses, but Twitter’s brevity is still an advantage
Ezra Klein (one of my favorite follows on Twitter) posted some thoughts about Google+ vs Twitter, giving the nod to Google+. It’s really not too surprising. He’s a political writer and, as such, he’ll want to be able to expand on his thoughts. Google+ gives him the space he needs for his thoughts and have conversations on it in one interface. Twitter just lets him post something simple and then link to his expansion on the subject.
It’s great, but Google needs to bake Blogger in with Plus and Reader, and allow people to post in any of those places, and anything that is posted to Public or a designated Circle goes on a page that can have a customizable, public facing template. It would be formidable competition to Tumblr, but most importantly, it would be a huge step towards consolidating our online thoughts. As much as I think
that Circles fragments our lives, incorporating these products would actually allow Circles to do what it’s supposed to do in the first place: make it easier
to share things.
But while I agree with Klein that Google+ is a better place for having actual conversations, I think he misses the real value in Twitter’s character limit: that it’s so popular precisely because it boils down people’s thoughts into more manageable chunks. It’s easier to get actual news from Twitter because people can’t go off into long, drawn-out thoughts. Comedians are forced to be even more witty. And inane comments or posts on subjects that don’t interest you are easier to gloss over than in longer forms.
I love that there’s a better place for having conversations, but I don’t think that Google+’s pros detract from Twitter’s pros at all.
Google Circles breaks two simple rules: simple steps & refusal to learn
There are two rule-type ways of thinking on processes and usability that I’ve come to believe very strongly in.
The first rule is this: the more steps involved in a task, the higher the desire of the user has to be to finish it.
The second rule: if people aren’t interested in learning something or lack incentive to learn it, they won’t learn it, regardless of intelligence.
I’ve been reminded of both these rules time and time again lately because of Google+’s Circles, which breaks both of these.
To be clear, I’m not saying that to use Google+ requires a tech intelligence, or that people are going to reject it because they’re lazy. I’m saying that to force users to make categorical decisions for every single person they add on Google+, and to then have to constantly mull over and edit those categories (rule one) when there isn’t a compelling reason to do so (rule two) is ultimately going to cost them users.
Don’t think of Google+’s success in terms of the tech curious, who have already adopted Plus and will likely stay, or for the technophobic crowd who have a difficult time understanding these things no matter what the payout. Think of those people who were reluctant to use Facebook; the folks that resisted for a long time and then finally got on just because it was the only way they could see pictures or because they felt like they were missing out on a lot, and even while using it every day, still feel kind of unsure about it and could, at any given time, take it or leave it. These are the people that I think Circles is going to have trouble turning into regular users.
Constantly deciding how to neatly categorize everyone in your life is a pain, no matter how much freedom you have to create your own categories and how many categories you can add them to. I actually find it kind of depressing to have to do this. Why should I have to define the people in my life so rigidly? It’s not difficult and it’s not complicated, but it does involve processes and decisions that are odd and annoying enough that they’ll likely to dissuade anyone except those people who are actively interested in using the product or highly value the content they get from it.
Why Google+’s Circles doesn’t fix anything
One of the biggest advantages of social media-style communication is the ability for your audience to choose itself rather than for you to assume interests and choose the audience yourself, likely leaving out people that would be interested.
Anyone who’s started a blog knows the surprise in finding that the people who read it religiously are the people you never would have thought would be interested, while many of those people that you thought would read every word never look at it. Likewise with Facebook, where many of the people I interact with are old friends from the past who have turned out to be surprisingly funny and interesting, whereas closer friends are never to be heard from.
The flip side of this is email, where every “To” box requires you to decide who your audience is. That’s all fine and well when you just need to get through to one person, but when sending information to larger groups, how do you know you’re not leaving out the people who would be the most interested, the most likely to be able to help you?
So what Google has made with Circles is social media that acts like email. They’re asking you to carve up your life into particular groups and then decide who gets to see what you’re sharing, when, in fact, you don’t really know who would be interested and who wouldn’t, no matter how well you know the people.
The standard line is that Circles is more about organizing the people you know the way you would “in real life”, but do we really silo people that much in real life? When we choose our social companions in the real world, we stop because we have to, not because we’ve exhausted the list of people we want to talk to and be around.
Like with books and music, Circles is another attempt to force our long-standing ways of doing things into a digital world where the possibilities are so much greater. Our real life social silos are created out of the limitations of the physical, and if Google really wants to “fix” social sharing, then attaching those limitations to a digital product is the wrong way to go about it.
Here’s what I think should be done instead: the model suggested by the multiple personalities that are part of having multiple Twitter accounts; basically that you compartmentalize yourself and your friends and followers decide which parts they want to see. You set up the different parts of your personality as Circles (ie, Music Geek, Developer, Politically Opinionated, Nightlife, Family-Friendly, etc) and then when you post, you pick which Circles to post to, much in the way it is now.
Where it differs is that, rather than you selecting your friends and putting them in different circles of yours, they decide which parts of you they want to hear about when first adding you as a friend. And when they add you as a friend, you can choose to block different Circles for that particular friend, so if your boss selects the “Nightlife” circle of yours, you can block that part and have him/her continue to see the Family Friendly Circle. That requires maintenance, of course, but less than the current method, and it just makes more sense for social sharing.
Our personalities have different parts, yes, but I don’t understand why social networks seem to think that the people we know can be neatly defined and divided by groups. There’s better ways.