Front line of the like brigade

Mar 27, 2012   //   by Alexander Lyon   //   Blog  //  Comments Off on Front line of the like brigade

Techcrunch have released their weekly/bi-weekly “Google+ sucks” post. In a slightly surprising twist of events, Robert Scoble weighed in to agree on certain points.

I don’t agree with Devin Coldewey, nor really with Scoble’s arguments. Google+ is by far my preferred social network, and although I haven’t closed my other accounts, I probably do qualify as “addicted” by Scoble’s standards. Unlike Facebook, I can easily and clearly post messages to the people I want to hear them. All my friends aren’t interested in the same thing, not all of them speak the same language, and sometimes I want to just speak to people with certain interests. Unlike Twitter, I’m not shouting out a link, a hashtag and praying that someone is connected -right now- to see my message and remembers to “@~” me in reply. I can actually engage with people, share discussions, go beyond “look here” or “I like & U?”.

If Google+ is doomed to be a failure, then I’ll be on the front line of the like brigade. I’ll charge into the cannons until the very last second, because it’s a genuinely -social- network. One that thrives on real interaction, not one-way pseudo-interaction.

Back to the article :

Just as a caveat: the problem with criticizing Google+ is that it’s a good product. It’s not for everybody, and there are problems with how it models social networks, but the only real problem it has is that there’s no one engaging with it. There are, of course, some people on it, but it’s hardly at a level that would make it what Google obviously intended it to be.

Whilst there might be fewer people on it, I definitely get the feeling G+ has much more engagement. The last 25 items in my FB timeline contain 13 by “pages” with repetitive and trite content. Sure, they’ve got about 400 comments, but the vast majority of those comments are only one line (or even one word) long. To be honest, I don’t care for “U rock!!!!!” as a comment. So, what about the other 12 items that aren’t by pages? 32 comments, 29 “likes”. Oh, but if you don’t care for comments under one line (short lines too), then that’s only 9 comments. The top 5 items in my G+ feed beat those figures out of the water, with over 1000 “+1″s, and 300 comments (of which at least 40 are over 2 lines long, I stopped counting). What’s more, all five items in my G+ feed came in over the same period as my 25 FB feed items.

What was Google+? A single product, made to compete with an entire ecosystem. A product, moreover, lacking the single most important ingredient: users.

The real problem I have with this is that I don’t care about users. I care about people I know, people with the same interests as me, people I want to engage with. Not users. I don’t really care if millions of people are using one tool or another, as long as the tool I choose to use enables me to do what I want with it. G+ doesn’t yet have the depth of Facebook, but it’s much better than Twitter when it comes to exchanging with other members.

It seems to me that [Google] only needed one part of [Google+]: the +1 button.

Whilst it’s an interesting idea, I fail to see much benefit for the user. Sure, if you use 4-5 social networks extensively, the ability to configure various actions might be interesting, but for people who only use Facebook and Twitter, why bother using Google as the middle-man? Facebook could update their “like” button to give the ability to comment/post after liking, and Twitter share buttons are pretty much everywhere on the web too. The only thing that seems to be of interest for users is to have a record of things they liked… Given how that worked out for del.icio.us and other bookmark websites, I don’t think that’s a particularly big draw for web users.

Now, this information is of course private by default, and although you contribute to total metrics, your individual +1s are anonymous outside of your account. But a few people will want to make them public. And why shouldn’t they? People like to share things, and this +1 thing is straightforward, user-friendly, and versatile. So they make it public. Now people can see what they’ve +1′d.

Once a few are public, why, of course people will want to see what other people are doing. And you don’t want to have to go to their profile all the time. So Google will let you add them as a connection, probably with rules like they can’t see things with certain tags, or what have you. How do you add them? You go to their profile and +1 it, of course. Now when they +1 things, it’ll show up in your stream, and they can tweet or post it on Facebook later if they want.

Seeing what other people have +1’d is not social interaction. Facebook already has a “like” button, if you want to see what other people “like”, just use that. Twitter already lets people “follow” what other people like. Again, this is not social interaction. It’s perhaps 21st century stalking or something cool, but it’s not social interaction. del.icio.us already went down the path of “bookmarks you can share” and that didn’t work particularly well. Not because it’s a bad idea, but just because it’s so extremely one-way. Seeing that people like X or Y is perhaps interesting, but what’s much more interesting is their opinion, seeing -why- they liked it, what aspects they agree with or disagree with, having a conversation with them about these aspects. Following a list of things people “+1’d” or “liked” is something that doesn’t interest me at all. It’s like back in the day when BBS boards were new and fancy, people would start massive “What music do you like” threads not to discuss music but just so everybody could list the 300+ bands they could think of. I didn’t care for it then, I don’t care for it now. If that is what Google+ passed up on being, well I’m not shedding any tears.

They might have built an Internet-wide community of individuals who want to track, save, and share what they do on the web.

Like del.icio.us. Which 1) isn’t very big and 2) didn’t work well despite Yahoo!’s weight behind it. Again, no crocodile tears here.

Two years ago, Google was a utility. Now it’s a monopoly being watched not only by the government but by every user, many of whom have been burned or frustrated by one of the many changes. Two years ago it was Facebook in that position, and people were excited about the prospect of a better, more independent social network. Now people are uploading videos to Facebook instead of YouTube. Think about that.

If one is going to re-write history, surely a better job can be done. The US Department of Justice took Google to task in 2008 for their association with Yahoo! in search advertising, the Author’s Guild of America was suing Google back in 2008, and even in 2006 some companies were suing Google for abusing their power by distorting PageRank. The EU Commission has been keeping very, very close tabs on Google since at least 2008, if not before. Claiming that two years ago Google was a neutral utility loved by everyone is nothing more than a big, fat lie. As for Youtube vs Facebook video? Comscore’s study shows Facebook video engagement is particularly weak: 43 million unique users for Facebook vs 147 million unique users for Youtube, and also 23 minutes per viewer for Facebook against 418 minutes per viewer for Youtube… Just a reminder, last year it was 46 million unique users for Facebook vs 141 million unique users for Youtube, and 18 minutes per viewer for Facebook against 262 minutes per viewer for Youtube. Facebook lost 6.5% of their audience and increased “engagement” by 22%, whilst Youtube gained 4% in audience and increased “engagement” by 60%. Saying Facebook’s online video performance over the past year or so (when Google+ was created and Google “became a monopoly”) has been better than Youtube’s is laughable.

I haven’t mentioned Twitter much so far. I probably won’t. I barely use it, as it lacks noise filtering and is completely non-social. It can be a good tool for some cases, but I don’t consider it to be much of a social network.

On to Robert Scoble’s comment :

Facebook has its users addicted. Deeply addicted. Google+? Not so much. I’m followed by something like 4.5x as many on Google+ but get fewer people engaging with my items on Google+ than Facebook. That’s evidence enough of addiction and lack thereof on Google+.

Different anecdotes, but I don’t feel like many people are “addicted” to Facebook. Sure, most people check on it once or more a day, and often have a tab with it open at all times. But I wouldn’t call that “addicted” any more than saying people are “addicted” to e-mail or Google search. The real difference is “what is engagement”. I looked at the 6 posts Scoble had made on both FB and G+ before he commented on this Techcrunch article. G+ had 337 “+1″s, 70 shares and 101 comments. FB had 776 “likes”, 0 shares and 77 comments. In absolute terms, more people took some kind of action with his FB posts. But I would disagree that more people “engaged”. Pressing a button to say “like” or “+1” isn’t really engaging. It’s more akin to recommending something. Engaging is sharing content with one’s own views or commenting on it to discuss with the author. In this respect, G+ does have more engagement than FB.

People who are addicted to FB and those who are addicted to G+ aren’t the same kind of people. I don’t care about being able to “like” something, and I don’t always remember to “+1” things. What I love is being able to discuss, communicate, talk and not just shout into the void. Google+ is much better than FB for that. In fact, look at the response to your very own comment on this Techcrunch article on Facebook and Google+. FB has 10 people (including yourself) commenting; 6 comments that are less than 20 words long (33%) and 3 that are over 100 words (17%). On G+ I didn’t count the first comment, which is the repeat of your comment on Techcrunch, but I counted the 56 following comments : 40 different people (including yourself), 10 comments that are less than 20 words long (18%) and 14 comments that are over 100 words (25%). The average comment length on FB was 55 words long, but on G+ it was 77 words long. Sure, it was a negative piece on G+, so it’s normal that people engage more on G+ than FB. But still, this is a significant difference between the people who like one and those who like the other.

Clicking +1 on an item INSIDE Google+ doesn’t do anything. You can’t see every item that I’ve clicked +1 on and they are way behind Facebook in adding web-based +1s to profile pages. Using Highlight I can see what “likes” I have in common with other people. That’s totally missing from Google+.

I genuinely don’t care about this. This is non-social. It’s like wearing a band shirt, and imagining you are bonding with someone else you meet at a party because they are also wearing a band shirt. Social goes beyond that and into actual discussion about things, shedding light on shared experiences, opinions and why you like what you like. Sure, seeing what people have “+1’d” could be a neat conversation starter, but if you don’t have the conversation, it’s meaningless.

Comments don’t have videos and photos. These little things make Facebook’s comments more addictive.

There isn’t granular noise controls. On Facebook I can quiet down a single person, or single data type. On Google+ I don’t have control of the noisiness of my feed.

Valid comments. Video & photo integration as well as further improved noise control would be very nice. However, on G+ you -can- control the noisiness of a certain circle, whilst on FB I can’t see such control. Sure, you can “hide all posts by X” or “stop following/unlike X”, but that’s not really noise control. That’s a blanket.

Google+ was largely started to protect the search engine and its revenue stream. Google and Facebook are both intent satisfaction machines. Old style is Google. We’d search for “sushi Palo Alto” and get a list of results. The new style is social “what sushi place should my wife and I go to in Palo Alto?” Increasingly the Facebook answers were better than the Google ones.

I might be a strange case, but I have never, ever had a better answer through Facebook than through Google. Ok, perhaps for bars/restaurants (even then, I find texting people works much, much better), but apart from that it’s a ghost town. “What book should I read to improve my understanding of American inner city sociology?” gathers roughly 0 answers on Facebook, whilst on Google I get good answers based on peer review and recommendations. I don’t even think I’m alone in that situation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a question in my feed, and definitely never answered one. I just checked by looking at the past 4 days in my newsfeed… 0 similar questions. I doubt my friends didn’t make any Google searches during this period.

All in all, I’m happy with Google+. Sure, it’s not finished, sure, it’s got a lot of room to improve. But the community there is really something different from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest… And is much closer to Reddit, Digg or Slashdot. We are prepared to exchange, talk and actually be interested in what other people are doing and saying. We don’t want to just shout and not care about what others are saying (or mechanically click a button without bothering to form a thought). If that means I’m going to have my heart broken in a few months/years when Google+ suffers its “inevitable” demise, well too bad. At least the ride will have been glorious.

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