Google+ is a game changer in Social networking and I would love to switch over to it as my primary social networking site. But what is the point if my community is not there yet? I had the opposite feeling with MySpace. I loved hacking my profile to customize the view and the music sharing. I begrudgingly moved to Facebook as my community did. After the move, I used to revisit MySpace on occasion until they inserted adverts that competed with the music. Of course Last.fm, Pandora, and turntable.fm have become my music destinations now. So why Google+? What would compel me to switch?

In this post I cover

Who uses it, who doesn’t?

Today I use Twitter as a compliment to Techmeme.com to keep track of conversations on current tech events, Facebook for my personal life, and LinkedIn for my professional. I see the opportunity for G+ to be the perfect marriage of what I love about FB and twitter; but like most people, I am on social networking overload. I only have a finite amount of time and if I were to really engage on a new site, I would have to abandon another one. I don’t believe in feeding one stream to another and I block people who stream their twitter feed to Facebook.  If my community came to G+, I could save some time. However, when I tried to use a tool to automatically add my twitter contacts to G+, only 14% of the people I follow mapped their twitter aliases to their G+ feeds. I haven’t tried doing the same with Facebook yet. So if my friends aren’t on it, who is?

Well, Tech folks are generally the first to adopt new tools and with G+, it is no different. Power users who have a dedicated following have had the most success switching. If I were driving conversations like Jason Calcanis or  stirring up the pot like Tom Anderson, I could see the value in switching over completely from Twitter. A good way to start using G+ is to follow tech journalists. Robert Scoble has a nice list  here. For a big picture view of who is on G+ today, check out the infographic from Bime Analytics showing the demographics today:

source: Bime Analytics

Why it is exceptional

Despite the fact that my larger community is not on G+ today. I still believe the technology is exceptional. Here are the highlights:

  • Hangouts take social engagement to a new level – chat, share Youtube videos, and more in public or private groups
  • Tracking likes – I can see all my +1′s across the net
  • Discussion threads are superior to Twitter
  • I can edit my posts – I hate typos lingering
  • Picasa photo viewing – I can stream my photos to my TV as a slideshow
  • Public profiles and Nearby encourage people to meet
  • Circles – I love that I can have my family in one circle, work colleagues, and friends in others
  • No hashtags – they have their time and place, but mostly they’re annoying
  • From Andy Ihnatko ”Twitter: I shouldn’t have to click four times to block someone and report them for spam. Not when spam comes so damned often.” – Invite only solves this problem, for now.
  • I own my content, I can download my posts, pictures, comments, etc. (In settings — Data Liberation)
  • No noise from companies asking you to like their Shredded Wheat
  • No annoying game status announcements unless you are actively competing with someone

Areas for improvement

So why hasn’t my community hopped on to Google+? Beyond simple inertia on Facebook and Twitter, what could make Google+ compelling enough?

Natalie Villalobos of Google asks for feedback on this post. Here is mine.

Disclaimer: Before I publish this post, I know it will be obsolete. Why? Because the Google engineering team is moving at lightening speed. Shortly after highlighting the fact that discussions were not easily shared, they fixed it. They’re adding new features and fixes all the time. Also, these are my opinions and reflects only minor research with other users.

I love Gmail and have been a user since the early days. Everyone I know fell in love with Gmail for it’s simplicity. After years of using Gmail I still like the look and feel. In fact, I don’t understand why Google+ uses a different, more gloomy white on black top level navigation. It is as if I feel I am leaving a seamlessly integrated environment. Perhaps Google wants to sufficiently differentiate G+ integration and not have another Buzz kill repeat. By that I mean, before Buzz was released, GChat status was a thing. It was widely used to bait your friends, share amusing and distracting links, laugh, and even flirt without the expectation of anyone leaving comments. It was a way to engage your friends into a private dialog in chat or email. Buzz ruined this. Now the GChat status messages are mostly stagnant and Buzz sits there unused. Sure you can turn off Buzz in your settings if you want to, but most people don’t know that. Most accidentally drop into Buzz trying to click on their inbox. Instead of unread messages, they are bombarded by people using Buzz as yet another distribution channel for their twitter or RSS feeds. Why do you need Buzz if you have Google Reader?

Oddly enough, I recently turned Buzz back on when I realized it was the only way to highlight my Tweets on my G+ profile page.  I would rather just have direct Twitter and RSS Feed integration on the G+ pages and put Buzz to rest. It is misleading to see Buzz on my profile page when really what I am trying to highlight is my twitter feed. People will go back to using GChat status for its purpose, a short sweet one way status message.

An annoying little tidbit: why send me emails notifying me of updates in G+ by default?  My inbox is for work and private messages, not social networking. Don’t clutter my inbox! Google knows I already looked at my social notifications, which is why there is a 0 in my notifications box. Don’t make me delete twenty emails on the topic or remember to change my G+ notification settings.

 

Now take a look at my G+ stream. If I click on rebecca.dias@gmail.com, I would expect to go back to my email. Instead it is equivalent to clicking on my profile image on the menu bar which pulls up a summary of my G+ profile.

+Rebecca isn’t grouped with the other G+ menu items on the top level nav, but I still get that it is G+ related. If I click on it I would expect to go to my G+ profile page. Instead it takes me to my circles stream like the Google+ image and the icon with the list with a roof on it. I need to click on my name without the + sign or my larger profile image to go to my profile.

If I click on Photos on the top level nav, I go to my photos in Picasa. If I click on the Photos stream, I see everyone’s photos on G+. But the experience feels disconnected. It feels like Picasa versus G+.

Chat looks different on this page from my gmail account, buy not really.  What is truly different here? It is critical that chat does not become as noisy and annoying as facebook. I don’t want to be bothered by anyone in all of my circles at all hours of the day. I would prefer to keep my close friends and work colleagues separated from my larger social graph. There needs to be a fine balance here… don’t ruin Gchat by making it too noisy as my circles grow. Don’t Buzz kill my GChat!

All of the images of people in my circles on my stream screen are empty, but if I click on my profile page, the images show up. Bug?

The #1 problem with G+ today is lack of Peeps and the amount of activity on their feeds. Naturally, I want to get my close friends on the site first. There is a list of suggested users, that I assume must already be on G+. What a minute, I can’t see Michael ever using a social networking site, why is he being suggested to me? And Brandy at school is just a dead email address. If I add a suggested user to a circle, what happens, do they get an invite?  Hmmm, I wish I could just import my current social graph, like my Facebook contacts?

On my profile view, why are there three ways to get to my photos? How will uploading a photo to Picasa or to G+ change my experience? Which leads me to my #1 beef with G+: the photos integration. From the Picasa support page:  ”Google+ provides unlimited storage for photos, which are automatically resized to 2048 pixels. Videos up to 15 minutes in length are also free.”  But, there is a 1 Gigabyte limit if you’re going through Picasa directly. Ugh! I have 1647 photos on Facebook from my world travels. An easy way to migrate over my community would be to begin tagging people in photos and sharing them. I was elated when I found the plugin from Amiworks to migrate my Facebook photos to G+. It failed shortly after the migration, why? Because the plugin uses the Picasa APIs, which makes the free limit of 1GB storage kick in. Am I going to pay Picasa money so I can move off of Facebook and onto G+. Nope! Fix this problem or the site is dead in the water. Tagging is the critical piece of gold that will get my community to at least log in and see what photos I have posted.


Summary of recommendations to the G+ team

In summary, I have the following recommendations:

  • Make it easier to mention people not in your circles in posts i.e. if I go to your page, have mention there
  • Kill buzz – keep my email focused on productivity, invest in G+ and Reader instead.
  • Provide robust twitter integration into G+ or Google Reader or both (embrace the competition) – consider hosting comments to a twitter status like Facebook did with importing blog posts to notes.
  • Allow email notifications as an opt-in on a per post basis, or with other general settings.
  • Align all key Google properties with a common look and feel. Stay true to simplicity and tight, seamless integration. Clean up the menu bar, make it more intuitive and consistent across all properties.
  • Have a consistent top level nav regardless of the property. Consider grouping +<username> with the rest of the G+ dashboard. Make the link to the profile page be more intuitive.
  • I know my email address, put that in the drop down for the quick profile view.
  • Rethink Suggestions. Show people on the G+ network that you are not yet connected to. Have Send invitations integrate into your address book or more importantly, your twitter and Facebook accounts (Provide dev APIs for plugins for this if not native).
  • Monetize some way other than storage on Picasa.
  • Invest in TV and tablet viewing experience of photos and videos.
  • Fix bugs in +1 links.
  • Prioritize comments based on likes akin to Quora and other discussion forums.

In general, focus on getting some key social people on G+ and make them love the platform. As they tag their friends in pictures & posts, the people will come with time. I have 547 friends on Facebook. If I could easily start tagging them in posts, their curiosity would bring them over.

That’s all for now. Now I am signing off of social networking sites so I can get some work done.

Note: I didn’t try to tackle the names issue on Google+, but here is a great post on it.