We all wish we knew what we were doing on Google Plus

Public Service Announcement

I have a number of colleagues who are die-hard Facebook users but due to relentless assimilation by the evangelizing hegemonistic swarm that is the Big G, they have been forced to try Google+ for the first time. I’ve noticed them all struggling with similar incongruencies.

Posts are not chat channels

The biggest difference is controlling distribution; for instance, the following scenario is common:

George Jones shared a photo of their “business” trip with all his friends!

Andrew Cowie writes a comment praising the beach and sunset in said photo.

George Jones replies “Hey, yeah, it’s great. So I heard you were in Europe last week?”

What George doesn’t seem to realize is that he just asked that question not of me but of the thirty people he shared the original post with. Which is probably not what he had in mind. I’ve run into this with my parents a fair bit; Dad keeps commenting personally on my public posts. Not sure he quite realizes several thousand people will see his remark :)

Circles aren’t as useful as they seem

Which brings me to posting publicly vs sharing with a given circle or circles. Most of the people I know gave up on circles and are just publishing most things they write as “public” — which makes Google+ posts a long-hand version of Twitter. I certainly am followed by tons of people who aren’t in my circles, so they only see my posts if I hit “public”, which is annoying: I don’t really want to bombard my family with my professional and technology posts. But there’s no “public except this circle” visibility setting, so if I want a wider audience for my general posts, I’m sorta stuck with it. This leads to a much lower signal-to-noise ratio for my friends (the people I care about the most!) for the dubious benefit of writing to people I don’t know, and also leads to the aforementioned friends and family thinking they have to make personal commenting on such posts.

Posts are not really a communication channel

Using Hangouts for casual 1:1 chat is much easier than trying to conduct chat in the comments of a formal post. Someone commenting on a post does raise it to the top of your stream, but when that happens it’s not obvious that a comment on that post is actually the continuation of a personal discussion; all you see is “The post about the Muppets has a new comment!”. Yeah, I bet.

Meanwhile, after years of being a disaster zone, Google has finally merged GTalk, Google Video, the former Google Hangouts, the in-browser Chat sidebar, Gmail chat, the Android G+ app messenger, and lord knows what else under the banner “Hangouts”. So it’s unified now, which is a big advance, and at last you can rather seamlessly and in a device independent way switch between chat and video. This is very awesome.¹

Name prefixing considered useful

If you are going to reply to someone in a comment stream on a (public or otherwise) post, you might consider prefacing the comment with the person’s G+ username; that way a) they’ll [likely] get a notification and b) it’s obvious you’re speaking to that person and not to everyone.

“Hey +Andrew Cowie, I’m glad you like the picture. Heard you passed through Europe last week. Pity we didn’t quite connect. Catch you next trip!”

Or so.

Build it and they will [be forced to] come

Google Plus has been a hodge-podge since the beginning, but it’s also evident that they’re working really hard to improve the integration between services (interesting read about “cleaning up the mess” over at the Verge about this). I don’t want to seem that enthusiastic about it, because frankly it’s absurd that they didn’t have this wired tight before they launched in the first place. For me the fact that Hangouts are now an integrated messaging system is a watershed; I can only hope this model of cross functional team collaboration helps Google improve other areas of their services so desperately in need of some QA.

No say me too

Last thought for people new to Google+: it’s really quite unnecessary to post a comment that says “Thanks”, “Me too”, “I agree”. Not sure why so many people do; that’s what the “+1″ button is for. You’d think people would get that, seeing as how it works identically to the “Like” button on Facebook (via +Calum Benson).



  1. I should make it clear that I’m incredibly frustrated that Google has killed off GTalk, or, more to the point, that the new implementation of Hangouts is both proprietary (not using the XMPP open standard like GTalk did) and closed (they aren’t supporting external clients or server-to-server federation; it’s nice that I get a bling notification on my phone using their app, but on my desktop I have a really good presence framework [yeay, telepathy] which is completely now unable to integrate with Google’s services). This kind of closed behaviour represents one of the things that is unacceptable about Facebook a massive step backward on the part of Google. I like that Hangouts (finally) actually work, and I’ll use them for a while, but we will happily use Video-over-Jabber within our company and with anyone who is (or whose employer is) competent enough to run their own federated XMPP server. The fact that Google just dropped GTalk/XMPP without telling anyone is just another example of their disregard for their users like terminating Reader was. So no surprise, but every incentive to find alternative and better services. Google should think about how well alienating power users has worked out for Microsoft.