Google+ – you're just using it incorrectly

I have recently started using Google+ a lot more and the more I use it the more value it has for me. Rich Mulholland recently quipped that I am the only person using Google+ in South Africa and it turns out there are a lot more South Africans on Google+ although I don’t have a sense how many people are actually using it. I suppose that’s the point. Everyone can be signed up but if no-one is using it then it is still irrelevant. I don’t think that is the case at all (for one thing, the metrics used to compare Google+ with Facebook and Twitter are not appropriate), though, and I came across a post in my stream this morning which is worth reading (even by Google+ naysayers). It is titled “How I learned to love Google+” and its not written by a tie-dyed Google fanboy. This one paragraph sums it up for me:

People who find no value in Google+ are using it incorrectly. I’m sorry, it is the truth. You cannot be a watcher on Google+. On Twitter it is perfectly fine to sit back and watch the tweets go by. Pick up some information here and there and get your fill. You probably aren’t getting the most out of it, but it works because there’s so much information. If you are just watching Twitter, you will not find the same experience on Google+, mainly because there is information overlap, but also because Google+ users have oriented their posts and their experience towards conversations.

What I have realised about Google+ is that, while it can work pretty well as a Facebook-style social network, it works best if you look at it as a Twitter-style social network. Most of my friends and family are not on Google+ (even my wife terminated her account and has no real interest using it) so Facebook remains the place where I share all that personal stuff with them. On the other hand, Google+ has become a source of terrific conversations around various interests and topics and it’s structure is far more conducive to coherent conversations than Twitter, despite Twitter’s moves to draw conversational elements together.

Google+ doesn’t replace Twitter although I go through phases where I spend more time on Twitter and others where I spend a lot less because it frustrates me. My Twitter use is more out of an acknowledgement that there is huge value is going where the people are than a particular affinity for the service. On one hand I have tremendous respect for the work they do to protect their users’ rights and, on the other hand, aspects of the company culture bug me. Still, I have over 3 200 people who notionally follow me on Twitter and who form part of a terrific community who add real value to my life.

I am also not sure how much I should be relying on Google+ given its emphasis on Google’s platforms over others but balkanisation of the Web and social services seems to be a trend we are going to have to live with. The battle lines are forming between Google on one hand and an Apple-Facebook-Twitter coalition on the other side and that means co-operative interoperability remains a dream for the time being. What this means for me is that my publishing strategy remains complicated with different levels of engagement across Twitter, Facebook and Google with a fair amount of cross posting where the content is relevant to all 3 communities.

None of this is to say you must use Google+ but its worth having an active profile there. For one thing, Hangouts are worth being part of the service if you use nothing else. This feature makes Google+ really compelling to me because it is incredibly easy to do things like this (there is some wonky stuff happening with this video embed so if it doesn’t display, check it out on YouTube directly):

With Hangouts I can have a Q&A session with marketers about relevant legal issues without hosting a conference to get the points across. Well, conferences afford people with other opportunities and I intend doing some of those too but Hangouts give me a way to engage with a couple interested people and talk about issues that interest them in an informal setting and then the “On Air” bit allows me to stream that video to YouTube and embed it for later viewing. Oh, and the cost is time and the little bandwidth Hangouts consume. Wow! My mind is still blown away when I think about this even though this has been a feature since Day 1.

Going forward I’d really like to see an iPad version of the awesome iPhone app or a better Web app but the versions available work well enough. I’d also really like to be able to write to Google+ from apps other than Google Reader but that may come soon. Google I/O happens on the 27th of June and we may see some announcements there.

Bottom line here remains what I said about a year ago in my post about Google+:

If you are coming from Twitter and Facebook, Google+ may not be all that appealing to you. It may be because you are missing what makes Google+ so interesting or because your contacts and friends won’t be moving across so there is no incentive for you to either. That’s ok. Just bear in mind that there is something really dynamic and powerful happening there and you’re just not part of it.

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