Monday, July 11, 2011

Google+: Cutting down on the irrelevant cruft?

If you have to look up the meaning of cruft, you might not be ready for this.

Several months ago, I wrote about the relative levels of utility of the social media platforms to which I have subscribed.

Where did this all start? With this blog, of course, on August 2, 2006:

The other day, I was reading a NY Times article that mentioned that only 1 CEO of a Fortune 500 company had a blog. I don't run a Fortune 500 company, but I do run Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a large academic medical center in Boston. I thought it would be fun to share thoughts with people about my experience here and their experiences in the hospital world. This is my first blogging experience, so please excuse if I mess things up . . .

Later, I joined Facebook at the suggestion of Nick Jacobs, former CEO of Windber Medical Center, the first hospital CEO to write a blog. He told me about Facebook, and I said, "Why on earth would I want to do that?" He replied, "It's fun. Try it." Now, I have over 4000 intimate friends.

When people started to ask me how much time I was spending on these social media, I rationalized it this way:

Writing a blog does not take much time. After all, how long does it take to write 400 words? But, to achieve effective outreach with a blog, you need to invest the time in creating links with others and reading their posts and commenting on them. Your goal . . . is to create a sense of community with potential constituents who happen to like this medium.

Ditto for Facebook. The time you spend on Facebook is infinitely expandable, as you invite friends, create groups, create causes, and the like. But here, too, your goal is to create a sense of community with potential constituents who like and use that medium.

Then, over two years ago, I explained how I had been led to Twitter.

When you have an addictive personality (any doubts, check my blogging record here), you have to be careful what you start. I figured, though, that I could trust Scott Hensley, one of the guys who runs the Wall Street Journal Health Blog. He strongly suggested that I sign up for Twitter, noting that their blog appears there.

Oh, it was all too easy to slip into this. After all, I already had a Facebook account and was used to the idea of that kind of social media interaction. Sure enough, after just two days of updates (42), attracting followers (60), following others (35), Hensley writes: "You're on fire! Good stuff."

But it was too late that I learned. As noted in an early update to me, Bob Coffield, who writes the Health Care Law blog, "Facebook was the gateway drug that led me to the crack that is twitter."

And now Google+ has come along. With the benefit of experience, I knew I should be careful. But, no. My addictive personality craved an invitation. I clawed at the first one I found available. I have already signed up.

But, I did post this query on Twitter:

Comments on Google+, please. Inherently worth it in terms of design and functionality? Or a must-do to keep up and in touch with others?

After one partial reply, I expanded:

But is G+ just another site to spend time on to have to cover, in addition to FB, or does it offer some potential value?

A friend saw the tweet, forwarded it by email to a colleague, who sent an extended reply, which I now print it on this blog, whence it will be posted on Facebook, and whose link will appear, yes, back on Twitter and, of course, on G+ itself.

The most dispassionate advice I can give is that it's probably too soon to decide. Most of the value of any social network is about who is on it. Since it's existed for only a week and is in closed field trials, it's only got early adopters on it right now. As an early adopter, you get to appear "on the cutting edge" or "abreast of emerging trends". That's a good move for celebrities, publicists, journalists, technologists, or anyone who feels that they need to have their finger on the pulse of social media. But it's hard to imagine that there is some terrible fate in store for a retired professional if he's a few months (or even a year) late to the G+ party. If, however, a year or two from now it has a billion users, it would probably be a mistake to ignore it. :)

As for its qualitative or intrinsic differences from Facebook, I would comment that in theory the privacy architecture is very different, and has some important implications. For example, I predict that because G+ lets you speak to (and listen to) both small, close Circles and also large, broad Circles, the resulting conversations that happen on G+ may be much more relevant.

That is, on Facebook I can only be "your friend" or "not". If you've got 4100 "friends", then you broadcast (and hear) a pretty tame set of things across a wide blend of topics that are guaranteed to be, in part, uninteresting: You simply don't love every single thing that all 4100 people might post, and you simply can't post something to 4100 people that they all find interesting. Any given post is always interesting to some people, and noise to most others.

In contrast, on G+ you organize people into as many disjoint or overlapping circles that you like. You could make circles for "Friends", "Family", "Redskins Lovers", "Gardening Nerds", "Medical Discuss", and "Jerks I Ignore". (The people in the "Jerks I Ignore" circle don't ever find out that that's the name of the circle you put them in. It's handy. :) And when you post, you always post to specific Circles. So you can share medical stuff with only your "Doctor friends", and share your gardening stuff with only "Gardeners", baby pictures with only your family, etc. And you can politely and easily ignore people that are irrelevant to you.

The theory is that this feature will allow your posts to be much more relevant to the people who see them, and of course also cut down on the irrelevant cruft that is coming at you because other people are doing the same.

The nature of circles could also make these discussions more candid: for example, if I found a controversial article about religion that would be very interesting to 18 of my friends but will almost certainly offend some of the other 4082, I sure as heck will not be posting it on Facebook. But I would certainly share it with a small circle on G+. So if you're on G+, you might receive that kind of more candid post from others. If you're on Facebook you probably won't.

But again, that's just the theory based on the intrinsic design of the two products. How often these kinds of scenarios will actually happen in practice is something that the users will only show us with time. For all I know G+ could become primarily used by locksmiths and nobody else, just like MySpace is now only really for musicians, and Orkut is only for Brazilians.

Here's a less reverent view of all of this:


PJ Geraghty said...

Just a point of order about Facebook (FB) can group your FB friends into Google+ (G+)-like "lists." It's not as easy as it used to be, but it is possible to have different lists and share different thoughts with those lists, without sharing with people not on those lists.

As well, FB allows you to group lists together, and to set a "default" group for routine status updates. Mine, for example, excludes children, employees, and a group I call "non-status," which is comprised of acquaintances whom I know or suspect could be easily offended. You can adjust this default setting as needed for individual posts.

I find G+ to be almost eerily FB-like, to the point where I suspect a "look and feel" lawsuit may not be far away. As your friend's colleague notes in his/her reply, though, right now the cachet of G+ is its exclusivity. Once G+ becomes as open to the rest of the world as is FB, the two will duke it out on their respective merits. My money is on FB, mainly because they got here first.

Joe S. said...

Hey Paul just to show you I read the whole thing...what's wrong with locksmiths? My brother's one..and even works for the about job security... :) Cheers!

Rachel said...

interesting commentary from PJ. While I don't disagree, I would add my thought that google+ circles are easier to use than adjusting your facebook settings. Additionally, I like the integration that google+ provides, and believe this may add to their popularity. I think the web has become populated by a plethora of different apps and platforms, but that ultimately people are looking for integration and ease of use. If google+ can provide this, it may make them competitive. Personally, I enjoy the way google+ is integrated into my whole google account. Eventually I'll have one stop shopping for searching (especially google scholar), email, groups, documents, calendar (LOVE this feature), blogs, and social networking. If google acquires and incorporates other popular apps such as Yelp, PayPal, or ???, then who knows where their service could go?

With regard to facebook triumphing because they were first... take a look at MySpace. I guess we'll see how it all pans out...


Matt Leo said...

Hey, I knew what "cruft" was back when "nerd" meant what we now call "geek" and vice versa. Don't have a G+ invite though. :-(

Circles are *exactly* what I've been saying Facebook needs to fix many of its privacy problems. Facebook knows this too, but its business model benefits from having user networks as large as possible.

DeathofMay said...

This is a great blog, it's funny, but still relevant. Well done.

ImageNations said...

I enjoyed this post and the long reply. I have also dithered on joining G+. Guess I would wait for sometime.

Thiago said...

In my country we use Orkut. I think this network provides a more inteligent and rational use of the internet than any other

Mike Woods said...

Rachel and PJ both make great points. Google has a seemingly unlimited array of resources to heighten the social networking expericences (or at least more than fbook) I guess it comes down to what holds the most clout the worlds largest social network or the worlds largest search engine? Either way it will be a battle. Even a lawsuit wouldn't stop this (fbook has survived multiple)

Karen Ussene said...

Huumm interesting article.
I don't have google plus... my friends tried to send me an inb«vitation and the system says that my email is invalid... wtfudge? (and it is a gmail email).
From what I saw on the videos on youtube about google +, in therms of circles, for me no news cause FB does that. The "plus" will be I guess the group chat (like Skype I think), and text messaging a bunch of friends at the same time... humm.. I just hate the invitation thing... like the first days og Gmail, you needed an invitation to have an account there -_- bah