Initially Google+ was the darling of most media pundits. It was shiny, new and it grew like no other social network before. It was a typical infatuation with a new hype. Now that most Internet power users have already joined and been trying Google+ for a while the honeymoon seems to be over.
Several issues have marred the rise of the new Google social network.
Most of the issues are home grown. The dynamics of a top down social media launch, where the tech celebrities and social media mavens get the invitations first, can scare off the average user. However, these people are the backbone of Facebook’s success.
Real name fiasco
Probably the most covered Google+ problem is the massive number of deletions of user accounts by Google. Seemingly everybody suspected of not using her or his real name got banned. Prominent business accounts such as Mashable have been removed as well, in preparation for the launch of regular business accounts. Even well known users who actually were using their own names were banned. Last time I checked there were still many “keyword accounts” on Google+, so the crack down on fake names isn’t as successful as it might seem.
After the initial frenzy and explosive growth of the Google+ user base, the actual usage of the site tanked. There were conflicting reports, but at least two independent analytics providers confirmed that downward trend.
Endless and obnoxious discussions
Two things I haven’t yet encountered on Facebook and Twitter are endless and partly obnoxious discussions. I’ve already argued that Google+ is basically like a huge forum and that it encourages discussion with strangers but also some rather obnoxious ways of arguing. I have been disrespected almost like on old school “social” sites, such as Digg, Reddit or StumbleUpon. These might not be downright flame wars that were common in the early days of the Web but encountering complete strangers in heated discussions can contribute to such behavior, despite users arguing using their real names.
Tech celebs flooding the stream
When Google started sending out Google+ invitations, it was mostly their social media cheerleaders who got them at first. The usual suspects, such as Robert Scoble, tried to convince their following to join Google+ as well. Google+ also suggested some of the tech pundits by default for you to add to your circles. I did add just a few of them and they almost immediately flooded my Google+ stream, making my regular peers almost disappear.
How Google+ deals with Google +1 votes
The way Google+ deals with the +1 votes on third party websites and search results is not self-explanatory. On Facebook you send the likes from other sites directly to your stream. On Google+ you don’t see the +1 votes from elsewhere. They get displayed in a separate tab on your Google Profile, which nobody really checks. Also, the website buttons do not count +1 votes from Google+ itself. Both types of +1 votes seem to be disconnected completely.
Adware infested tools for G+
While we are used to having lots of third party tools for Twitter and Facebook and most of them being trustworthy, the first tool I installed for Google+ was a rogue attempt to hijack my browser search and other preferences without my prior consent. Why? They replaced my default search engine with a Google Custom search that they make affiliate money on. Most other tools are limited to Google’s own Chrome browser. So apparently they want to bundle Chrome and Google+ in a way like Microsoft did with Windows and Internet Explorer back in the days. Do you really have to use Chrome for advanced functionality on Google+?
So how do we deal with all these issues? Are there enough annoyances to leave Google+ already? I don’t think so. I’m not an early adopter for the sake of early adopting anymore. I use tools when and how it makes sense.
For now, Google+ is a worthwhile addition for some use cases.
For example, it can be a good substitute for blog comments that are dominated these days by people who want to sneak in a link. Here you can get real feedback from people who are actually interested in what you write.
As I had a Google Profile with my real name long before Google+ I didn’t have to use a fake identity or a pseudonym. If you don’t want to use your real name you should stick with Twitter, or even better Tumblr, where people mostly use nicknames. Otherwise wait for the official business profiles.
Whether the traffic is really down or not, the growth in users does not equal the same level of growth in engagement. Well, this was to be expected as people do barely have the time to socialise on the several sites they are already members of. Some people will be less active on Twitter and Facebook to make time for Google+. Other people may return to the networks they are used to.
I was less active on both Twitter and Facebook during the initial testing phase of Google+. Now I use it only when I really want to. I seldom do, because the use cases for Google+ are not useful enough yet. It’s too small for sharing yet, and I don’t have the time to discuss much, so I will only show up once or twice daily, mostly to check my notifications. Is this a sign of a premature death of the network? Not really, it’s just the routine arriving.
Discussing on Google+ sometimes reminds me of the days of so-called Newsgroups, aka Usenet. Back then you had to use your real name as well, and despite this people lashed out at you. Many “experts” were keen to show off their skills by making you feel inferior. IMHO that’s one of the reasons why the Usenet is now almost forgotten. I simply contribute less to discussions or do not return once I notice that the discussion starts getting personal and over the top. You will always find people who disagree for the sake of disagreeing, but you can get away from such futile discussion without much fuss despite the notifications.
Ignoring technology celebrities who talk all day long is not that easy when they flood your stream. You have to remove them from your circles and then the flood stops. Google+ suggests you add them again afterwards, but you can simply click the “x” then. You also have to look out for which discussions you take part in. Tech celebs get dozens or hundreds of comments, so you keep getting notification for days with stuff not related to your own reply. Just engage with your peers and everything will be OK.
When the Google +1 button appeared on Google search results I wasn’t impressed. Later the website button was released as well and I found out that for me it was much better to be able to approve of great content and sites without having to share each one of them. The number of sites I plussed quickly grew but I didn’t annoy anybody. Entering Google+, I assumed that I would at least be able to +1 an article from the Google+ stream so that it would show up on the site as well. It doesn’t work though. So I have to click +1 twice. It seems the buttons are connected to entirely different databases.
I click +1 on Google+ to express gratitude and approval to someone who has shared a good piece of content, while I do it on websites and search results to say “thank you good post” to the webmasters themselves. This way I can or have to click +1 on the same item several times, as many people can share it and I can +1 it each and every time. Sometimes I do. It’s like on Twitter: you can retweet the same post more than once.
On Twitter I’m also used to lots of third party tools I could improve Twitter with. The first thing I wanted to install on Google+ was a Twitter client for it, but it not only did not work, it was also a scam. As I mentioned earlier, the rogue software changed my browser preferences without asking me to make money off my search usage. It took me a while to fix the problem even after uninstalling that rogue script. I haven’t installed any Google+ enhancements ever since. I only occasionally use Google Chrome in its Google spyware free version called Iron. I do not intend to install lots of Chrome extensions to enhance my Google+ experience. Indeed I don’t feel the need to.
The Google+ notifications are distracting enough. I’d prefer not to use G+ more than once daily. I use Twitter throughout the day and I don’t need Google+ to add more work to my schedule. Ideally I can check it once daily along with my emails. I have disabled most notifications though, as I got flooded with them via email. So I only check them when logged into my account.
So all in all, these Google+ annoyances are manageable. Google+ is not perfect but it’s not yet bad enough to abandon it. Like Facebook it probably never will. We will swallow everything once we depend on it, but that’s another story.
* CC image by Christine.