Google Plus: The Good and the Bad

I’m on Google+ and I’ve mostly found it pretty decent in the ~2.5 weeks I’ve been using it. (Also had an opportunity to do dogfood before it went live, but really, it’s a different world once it’s out there and being used for real, so that’s what this post is about.)

Thought I’d sum up my experiences to date. You’ll notice a lot of my comments compare it to Twitter, because after all the crowd has been similar so far. And honestly, I often find myself with something to write and having to decide whether to stick it on T, G, or both. The decision feels kind of arbitrary right now and will probably shift to G over time, unless Twitter gets its innovation seriously on …

The Good

Things to like about Google Plus …

  • The UI! I’ll call out the design first because it’s not been Google’s strong point in recent years. Yes, clean white pages were a breath of fresh air in 1997, but getting long in the tooth now, and Google Plus shows Google’s now getting serious about visual design, and beyond just statistical hue calibration.
  • Engagement. The overall experience leads to much higher engagement than I’ve seen with blogging, twitter, or anything else. For the big guys, you see literally dozens of comments in the first few minutes.
  • No size limit. You don’t have Twitter’s 140 character limit. Fortunately, Twitter taught us the benefits of brevity, so it’s very acceptable to write just a sentence or two. But you can still go all out with an entire paragraph and that’s fine too. And no more shoehorning txt,just 2fit the arbtrary char limit.
  • Comments. Compared to Twitter, I actually have all responses to my status in one place. On Twitter, there’s no UI to see all the responses to a tweet; you have to view them all individually. The comments also facilitate a conversation, whereas on Twitter, you’d end up with multiple tweets and no decent UI (save third parties perhaps) to view the whole conversation.
  • Mentions. Similar to Twitter @ mentions, but because of the comments, + mentions have more of a feel of being summoned into a conversation. It’s certainly easier to get the entire context of the conversation in which you’ve been mentioned.
  • Search. <rant> Seriously a shambles about Twitter is the inability to search through tweets. I can’t even search my own tweets!!! This was one of my initial motivations for using posterous, figuring I’d pipe everything through it. And same reasons others use identica, etc. The problem is you don’t get all the clients, e.g. Tweetdeck. So I ended up sending a lot of tweets which I can’t actually search through. They fall off Google and they fall off Twitter’s own search. It has constantly amazed me that a company in constant search for a revenue stream doesn’t have a full history of content available.</rant> Now, with Google Plus, there’s no search either, but at least advanced users have the option to search using site:plus.google.com. And in all likelihood, we can assume Plus will have search too. (Although Android search shows Google + Search is not a foregone conclusion of excellence…but Plus’s virtues to date promise good things.)
  • Hangouts. I think the concept of video hangouts is immense, as opposed to just standard VC, and will be a great asset for remote teams. (I know some teams already just keep an open skype session running all day.) However, I’m speaking out of my speculatum because I haven’t yet tried it, for reasons explained below.
  • Updates. The team is doing a great job of engaging with the community, listening to the feedback, and making updates. They’re doing a great job if the worst controversy is closing down accounts of sophisticated tech companies blatantly flouting the rules by setting up corporate accounts, complete with filling in their first name, surname, and gender.
  • Android App. A fine production.

The Bad

Things not to like about Google Plus, keeping in mind it’s still in “field testing mode” (“beta” is so web 2.0) …

  • Circle statuses aren’t public. The problem is I want my Twitter-like geeky status updates to be public, but not contaminate the streams of my non-geek friends and family. There’s no good solution for this right now. If I publish a geeky status update to my “webdev” people, they will get to see it, but it won’t be public. If I publish it to “Public”, everyone in my circles sees it. Right now, I’m opting for “Public”, and if others are doing likewise, their non-geek friends and family will freak out the first time they join Plus and run fast in the opposite direction.
  • No groups. A lot has been said about whether circles themselves are a good idea, given that people’s relationships are nuanced and dynamic. But what interests me more than circles is groups. I’m really hoping Google somehow merges Google Groups with Plus; private groups would be particularly powerful for workgroups. The cool thing about groups, like what Facebook has but few people use is: (a) compared to circles, the visibility model is easily understood and predictable – someone can see messages if they’re in the group and can’t see them if they’re outside the group…simples! (b) you don’t have 100 people all adding the other 99 to the same circle and all micromanaging their circles to stay in sync – the owner just adds everyone once…this saves a lot of hassle, it works better for mainstream users who can’t or won’t micromanage circles, and ends up with a single source of truth.
  • Comments UI. As I mentioned on + Comments UI works for the average Joe with a handful of comments. But for Scoble etc, they are reedeeculous! 100+ comments in an hour? With no threading. It’s a mess to read and removes much of the incentive to post anything. This stuff is write-only. Since comments are +1able, G+ should let the popular ones float to the top, or perhaps display them with the others being collapsed. There are some other good suggestions in the comments to the aforementioned + post.
  • Comments and Sharing. The problem with sharing is people will comment on the sharer, not the original. I think it makes sense for everyone to be commenting in the same space, or at least for some easy summary view. I think this is Google being initially biasing towards privacy measures to avoid adverse reaction, but it does lead to comments being even harder to follow.
  • Finding hangouts. I can’t. Maybe that will change now that PlusRoulette is here! Or not. I also hope Google adds the ability to record hangouts at some stage. Lightweight video podcast ftw!
  • No metadata. I get it. Statuses don’t have titles or keywords or anything else because people are lazy and sites that don’t realise that won’t go mainstream. So Google’s being smart here. But that said, for my own use case, there are times when I’d love the ability to tag a post with “announcement” or whatever, so I can later have a feed of those. Anyway, I guess one can work around it by including some hashtag-like token in the actual status. Just making that point, though I realise my own use case is not that which Google is targeting – it seems the lesson has been learnt from Wave et al that Googlers and assorted geeks shouldn’t always be the target audience.

Okay, that’s me done. I’m enjoying Plus and I’m hoping it spurs Twitter and others to build on the awesome. Are you using it? Any other goods and bads?

Update: conversation on Plus

6 thoughts on Google Plus: The Good and the Bad

  1. Good post.

    I would love to see search on Google+. Twitter does have an amazing archiving/search/retrieval challenge, with 350 billion tweets tweeted per day — which, as I understand it, is orders of magnitude smaller than the total, spam and all.

    A friend of mine who’s very active on Facebook made a comment about Google+ that surprised me, and struck me as insightful: ‘Yeah — it’s good, but I don’t like the Circles thing… I like all the random stuff I see from my neighbour, my uncle, my daughter… the way it’s all mixed up’.

    In other words, that Google is (in some ways maybe wrongly) focussing on ideas of targeting — so successful for advertising — as per Eli Pariser’s ‘filter bubble’ and criticisms of ‘personalised’, ‘relevant’ news.

  2. Thanks Sam. True, Twitter has a huge search challenge. They’ve made a couple of moves to open up the firehose, which could let Bing or someone index it (since Google I think dropped the Twitter search integration). I haven’t seen much evidence they’re interested in doing it though.

    I don’t quite follow the point about targeting, since the main stream view does mix everyone together? I definitely think most people do want the targeting though, but maybe that’s just a tech-centric view. I know the few non-tech friends I have on Twitter find my dev tweets an amusing interlude from those on their own interests (e.g. music).

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  4. Excellent review. I think Google Plus is a breath of fresh air, but haven’t decided yet just how much time I will invest in it.

    Twitter for me is great for building contacts and for auto posting what I am up to, but I haven’t really found it useful for anything else so far.

    Facebook is coming along with new features all the time, and the use of Groups in particular is proving very useful. It’s great to find that I can access support groups for multiple sites and topics all from the same place, as well as to chat with friends.

    What the next 6 months will bring, who knows, but Google seem to always come up with novel ideas, and usually well implemented.

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