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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Google+ and why I 'like' it.

For the last couple of months, I've been using Google's answer to Facebook, Google+, and while I've yet to get any meaningful number of the people I know using it, I've still had a really rewarding experience with it.

I'll admit right off the bat that I'm a bit of a Google-whore. Whilst some of the services they've introduced have ended up being flops, I've pretty much tried them all, and found them all useful to different extents. I organize my life with Calendar, Gmail takes care of my messaging needs, Feedburner keeps track of my podcast, Blogger lets me share my thoughts with the world, my important documents are all on Docs, and all my pictures have a home at Picasa (not to mention I have an Android phone that lets me get to all my stuff on these services when I'm away from my computer). So when they announced their social platform, it seemed like the final missing piece of the puzzle had been found. Even better: Google seems to be treating it as that final puzzle piece, and slowly, all these services are now being integrated into each other.

I'm not bothered in the slightest by the tech pundits already claiming that Google+ is a dead duck, because Google has not only the power, but the persistence to make it work in the long run. Back when Android was still young, there was a lot of the same words flying around - just look at this one from only 2 years ago, and compare it to the market today, with sales of Android smartphones far in excess of those of the iPhone. If Google uses that same persistence and market power with Google+, then there's no reason why it can't become another valuable service. For me, it's already there.

So, if I've not managed to get a whole load of my mates away from Facebook, and onto Google+, how can it have been such a rewarding experience for me? Because of the difference between the ways that Facebook and Google+ work: To listen to what someone has to say on Google+, you don't need to know them. Facebook puts a lot of emphasis on the fact that if you're friends with someone, then they by definition are friends with you in return. It's a 2-way-street, which means that if someone friends me on Facebook because they want to keep up with my music, I'm also subjected to seeing all their posts in my stream too. Ok, so I can go to their profile and reduce the number of posts from them that I see, but that means I have to be proactive about it. Not only that, but all the posts from everyone in my friends list shows up in one long, disorganized stream. It's not even by 'newest posts' any more (I've given up trying to work out how Facebook organizes my stream these days, which is part of the reason why I've given up looking any more - regardless of how often I check, chances are there's always going to be something important I miss amongst all the "I had toast this morning. lol" posts).

Google+ approaches all this from the opposite direction. If someone wants to follow me on Google+, they're welcome, but I'm not under any pressure to follow them back. They'll see anything I share publicly, but until I add them to my circles, the only way their random ramblings get into my stream is if I specifically look under the 'Incoming' circle. For the last few weeks I seem to have been getting a lot of new people adding me to their circles. Every couple of days I go through the 'incoming' stream to see what they've been saying, and if they have anything interesting/constructive to say, I put them in one of my many circles. The users who are clearly just spamming, I block, so I won't see anything from them again. They can spam all they want, and I'll never see it!

Because I've set up a whole load of circles relating to each thing I'm interested in, I can pick any one of those streams depending on what mood I'm in, and read all the day's posts related to, for example, music production, or Android. Because I'm seeing relevant posts to what I'm actually interested in at that particular moment in time, I'm actually paying attention to what people are saying, and joining in the discussion. Contrast this against the Facebook methodology, where it's rare that I even get to see stuff that I might be interested in because it's lost amongst all the spam and crap that people post, and straight away you can see it's a much better way of doing things.

Through using Google+ in this way, it's put me in touch with a load of really interesting people, who've become active commenters on my posts, and vice-versa. Had these people friended me on Facebook, I would have accepted them (perhaps) if they had mutual friends, or they sent me a message along with the request saying they liked my music or they'd met me at such-and-such a place. Then I would have promptly ignored them unless they got in touch with me directly or posted something on my wall.

Other things I like about Google+:

  • Using it is easy and logical. I don't have to hunt for hours just to find where the button to rotate a picture, or connect my blog has gone. I'm still trying to work out how to connect my blog back to Facebook after they moved stuff around a few years ago. It's still connected to my age-old mySpace blog. Erk!
  • The community - if people have put the work into sorting people into their circles, they're much more likely to be seeing posts that are relevant to what they actually want to look at at that particular moment. Therefore they're much more likely to write something constructive/relevant in the comments than start a mud-slinging match (which I've seen happen on Facebook more than once). 
  • Really long posts/comments, you're not limited to some arbitrary number of characters like Facebook/Twitter.
  • I can edit my posts and comments. Now my typo's and spelling mistakes are finally correctable. 
  • I can make a post sharing more than one photo, without creating an album for them if I want. They all get organized automatically within my Picasa album. 
  • All my photos I take on my phone are automatically uploaded to it. When I get home, they're already there waiting to be edited/sorted into albums. (Although it would be nice if the Picasa desktop software could sync with the 'Instant Upload' folder too).
  • You can edit your photos to a pretty advanced level using the built-in Picnic editor.
  • I have to approve it when someone else tags me in a photo. Suddenly there's no point in people tagging an irrelevant picture with hundreds of people who aren't actually in the picture (spamtagging) just to get me to look at it. If they've shared it with me, I'll see it in my stream if they're in my circles. The bonus is, I can set it to automatically approve tags from people in certain circles (like friends/family).
I'm sure I'll find more, Google seem to be rolling out new features on a weekly basis, without interfering with the existing features (which is more than can be said of Facebook). I can't wait to see what else they come up with!

If you're not on G+ yet, give it a try. As with anything else, the more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it. Don't give up on it just because your mates aren't on it yet, set an account up, put a few interesting posts up, and see who else you can find that shares similar views, who knows, you might end up meeting some new people that you would otherwise have passed over on Facebook! And while you're waiting for all your mates to catch up with the cool kids, I'll keep you company over there!

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