Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Google+ is backwards. I can't believe it took me this long to notice.

I've said before that I like Google+. I still like it even though I'm not really using it for the moment, and that's because most other people seem to have said 'meh' and carried on regardless with Facebook.

What Google+ has been quite good at, is grabbing some smaller communities for whom look and feel matters. My circles have fewer marketers than Twitter, but more data visualisation people. Photographers have jumped on. There are a lot of sports enthusiasts (yes, I'm talking about paragliding again) sharing photos and video.

Circles were supposed to make those distinct groups work, but they don't. Google+ is engineered backwards, on a push rather than pull model.

Take yesterday's Wallpapering Fog post. I shared that on Google+ and I shared it publicly, because I'd like as many people as possible to read it (let's face it, we're pretty much all vain that way.) It was a post about analysis software and so probably most interesting to my data visualisation circles, but if I restrict it to them, then people who follow me but I haven't placed in a circle, can't see it.

So I write a blog post on marketing or software and post it publicly. Everybody who follows me sees it.

A few people follow me on Google+ because I also post about paragliding. They don't want to read about Visual Basic and Excel. Oddly, some people do, but the paraglider pilots don't.

Circles are absolutely no help to divide up the content you post. They were supposed to let you have multiple online 'personalities' but they don't, because most of the time you want to post publicly and if you do that, circles go out of the window. You're forced to post primarily on one topic and have people follow you for that reason. If you were very polite, you could put everybody who follows you into a circle and split up the content that way, but it would be far too much effort. It would also end the asymmetry of allowing followers that you don't follow back.

There's a solution, but it goes to the heart of how Google+ works and isn't a quick fix. We don't just need circles - circles aren't enough to control our content - we need topics.

What if you visited a Google+ profile and it said that the owner of the profile (see if you can guess who the owner is) posts on marketing, data analysis, paragliding and politics? When you add them (to a circle) you get a quick choice to subscribe to some of those topics, or all of them. Instantly, you've segregated that user's online personalities and allowed them to post as much as they like on any topic, without causing followers of other topics to be bombarded with content they're not interested in. All it would need is at the point of posting, for the user to be asked, "what's this post about?" and be presented with a list of their topics.

Just think, you could follow your friends but untick the 'babies' topic. Now that would be fabulous.

You'd need a way to be informed if somebody you follow changes their topics, but that's easy enough as a separate news feed. It would even be an interesting little aside, "oh look, Paul's started posting about sailing, I didn't know he did that."

Topics would shift Google+ to a pull model where you consume the content that you're interested in, which has always been key to how the web works. At the moment, all users are broadcasters. Circles don't fix that.


SteveG said...

This is exactly how Pinterest works. I follow quite a few people there, and many of them are women. Unfortunately I have little to no interest in shoes so I can easily unfollow that pinboard and still see everything else they do.

It's simple, it works. And it makes it easy for me to follow the topics I like without seeing a lot of extra noise.

Neil C said...

That's a great point. In all the fuss about Pinterest copyright, I'd missed that boards let you easily consume only the topics you're interested in.

Could be a big part of the explosive growth...