Of Google-Plus And Circle-Jerks, Part II

Google+ grows on me like a fungus. Like a scaly patch of ringworm, I can’t stop itching it.

I don’t really know why. I think in part I’m scratching to peel away layers, to dig beneath the rashy skin and find the potential buried beneath — because, at this point, I’m growing convinced that some real potential is there. But I’m also growing convinced that most of that potential is too hard to see and isn’t yet manifested.

*itch itch itch, scratch scratch scratch*

Let’s rip through the meat with our fingernails and see what else we find.

Caveat: Twitter Is My Main Gal

Twitter isn’t for everyone. I get that. But it’s definitely my one true social media gal pal. It took the formula put out by Myspace and Facebook and flipped it on its ear. Twitter is the beat poetry version of social media. It’s some crass noisy combination of soapbox-shouting, flea-market-hawking, carnival-barking, stand-up-joke-telling, and haiku-having. It’s got the motion and madness of a city street with all its sounds and smells. Twitter is ever the low but persistent hum. I merely need to tune into its Zen frequencies for a time. It requires no massive investment. It demands little of me. I splash about in its waters like a spider monkey who has never before played in the ocean. Splish-splash.

But — but!

Twitter is shit for conversation.

It’s great for banter.

But conversation necessitates deeper investment, complexity, and nuance… and Twitter just doesn’t do that well. You ever see two people have a long protracted discussion on Twitter? It’s like watching two bricks tumble around in a washing machine. And Zeus forbid that the conversation suck in more than two people. Then it becomes the clumsiest gang-bang you’ve ever seen. (“Is someone wearing an oven-mitt on their dick? Is that a nose tickling my perineum? Who let the peacock in here? It smells like peanut oil.”)

Imagine tuning two different radios to different shows and having those shows “converse.”

Doesn’t really work out so well.

And so, I give you, Google+.

The Googlecrucians Want You To Converse

G+ is setup for you to converse. It’s like one big forum — whereas Twitter and Facebook limit the length of updates and comments, Goo-Goo-Plus has no such interest. It wants you to fill the space with your words, and it wants other people to fill the space, too. “GO AHEAD,” the Lords of Google are saying. “SPEAK AT LENGTH WITHOUT RESERVATION. YOU HAVE THIS ENTIRE BLEAK DESERT OF POWDERY WHITENESS IN WHICH TO BLOVIATE. THE LEASH IS OFF. YOU DOGS MAY RUN FREE.”

And that’s awesome.

In theory.

It’s not quite working for me. Not yet. It can! I can see it coming together and working — while the brownies here are definitely soft in the middle, this remains a beta release and is sure to grow and change.

Here’s the first thing that’s not working for me, though: a big conversation is like a fire circle or a parliamentary session. It’s a rock around which you sit — a stable, single location that people come to where they can join into the conversation or just sit back and listen. This blog functions like that. It’s a static location in the digital space-time continuum — you come to me, I don’t come to you.

But G+ doesn’t work like that. It, like so many other social media sites, is a stream, ever-flowing. Which means the conversations are always moving downstream, which means those conversations are hard to grab hold of, hard to track — it’s like I’m constantly trying to grab hold of a slippery length of intestine and it just keeps squidging free from my grip. (“Squidging” is a word. Say different and I’ll sic the hounds upon you.) Imagine if those aforementioned fire circles and parliamentary sessions were all on rafts, and we were all traveling together down a raging river. Yelling at one another.

The conversations at G+ are just plain hard to track — at least, in my estimation. (I’m kind of a dipshit, though, so keep that in mind.) Harder still when they become big, swollen discussions.

Rob Donoghue — the ever-wise — noted that, at present, G+ is built around people, but what if, instead, it were built around conversations? As in, that’s what you tune into more than the people who host the discussion? Right? That’s how forums work, but forums are often craptacular.

Can G+ give rise to The Ultimate Forum?

Maybe. But it’s not there, yet.

Mostly, I find myself looking at big conversations there and thinking, “I’m glad people are having them.” And then I click away and don’t read the conversation because a nap sounds better.

Ways To Enhance The Conversation

Here, then, are some ways that Guh-Pluh can advance the way the site deals with conversation:

1.) The notifications are too much. The site’s like a needy puppy with these things, constantly getting muddy pawprints all over my — well, not my pants, since I don’t wear those, so let’s just go with “hirsute calves.” Half the time the notifications are about dead useless anyway. “Nobody has added anything to the conversation! Look! +1!” Since notifications have become noise, I’ve tuned them out — not ideal for following the flow.

2.) Threaded (or is it nested?) comments. Allow me to reply to a comment, not just the post. Further, let me break away into little sub-conversations if need be. I pull you three and we go into this other digital room disconnected from the main and we sit there and chat about whatever it is.

3.) I want a rope to pull myself back to the conversation. Blogs are great for this. If I know a conversation is going on at a blog post I like, I can just wander back there with a link. I need that here, too. In fact, Rob Donoghue earlier posted that thing about conversations only in Google-Plus, which means I can’t link to it like a blog. I can’t say, “You, dear reader, go look at that.”

4.) Speakawhich, I pray to Internet Jesus and melt a motherboard on his altar that Google+ does not become a source of blogging. First of all, G+ is, at present, so spare it’s somewhat ugly. It’s a Spartan, utilitarian space with all the flavor of a Communist bread dole. I like that blogs are part of the personalities of their keepers. I don’t mind if they’re “connected,” but so far, reading big chunks of text on Google-Plus is about as pleasurable as reading legal documents. (Sidenote: this is true of e-books, too. I long for the day that the Kindle, f’rex, allows books to have their own look again. It’ll happen, I just don’t know when.) A weird little part of me wonders if we go back to the Myspace-like customization within reason. Which leads me to a site that already does that well…

5.) Tumblr needs to get on over here and inject its Tumblrian DNA into the Googlecrucian experience. I actually like Tumblr a lot, but have tuned it out in favor of Google+ simply because of time commitment. That’s a shame, because Tumblr was something different, where for now, G+ is mostly “more of the same.” (I know, people are going to tell me that G+ is a revolution. Not yet, it ain’t. It’s Facebook 2.0.) Tumblr allows the sharing of content lickity-split, and further, Tumblr allows for connected and easily-customized blogs. Where Tumblr fails is — drum roll please — conversation. And so I demand that G+ and Tumblr have SOCIAL MEDIA BABIES. Go on, you two. Here’s a room. One of you is ovulating — I can smell your Internet ovum. Have some lube. Go at it, jungle cats.

6.) Circles haven’t really worked for me yet. Well, correction — they work to let me break apart my social media flow into littler “radio stations,” so on that front? Total success. But in terms of enhancing conversation, not so much. Part of it is that in terms of broadcasting, I have no guarantee The Circle I Choose is even listening. Going back to that fire circle or parliamentary session image, I’m at the podium but I’m blindfolded. My audience might be nowhere to be found. Sometimes it’s be nice if circles operated like “opt-in” groups — “Hey, this is my book club circle, and we’re all in, and we can all see one another.”

7.) I hate to say it, but I want Wave back. Wave was a great idea that failed to perform. It was like saying, “I’m creating a teleportation device” but what you got was a giant catapult that “teleported” you into a concrete wall. But what Wave promised was actually pretty awesome — “Hey, let’s you and me and whoever else get into this little pocket of Internet space and just fucking communicate.” It was some gallumphing mutation featuring strains of chat, e-mail, and social media — it just failed to come together. I want that back. I want it jacked into G+. I want to be able to pull people into that space and have those kinds of conversations that are disconnected from the larger stream. We shouldn’t have to “follow” each other as circle-jerks to have a conversation.

8.) Bring all parts together. Right now, to me, G+ is a Frankenstein Monster of limbs welded together with lightning but the bolts, staples and solder-marks still show. I don’t know what these pieces are doing together. In a conversation I need the ability to say, “Fuck it, we’re doing a Hangout right now, just you people in this discussion.” I need the ability for Sparks to generate from the chatter I’m making, not from topics I choose. I need the ability to hand-pick people and say, “Let’s get into a space where we can draw on the digital walls like white-space and collaborate on some stuff.” I need it to be more than Facebook.

It Will Be, If The Lords Of Google Will It (And The Creek Don’t Rise)

My estimation of Baby Huey’s Gooey Kablooey (Plus!) has risen considerably since I posted my last rant — but that estimation is based almost solely upon speculation. It’s built on the promise of the site more than the current incarnation. Because right now? It’s just more of the same. I know, I know — IT’S A REVOLUTION IN SOCIAL MED… stop that. Just stop. You can’t make something a revolution just by saying it’s a revolution. I can’t just say, “There’s a revolution in my pants!” and when you get there, it’s just a plain old dangling wang down there. No worker’s rights or health care for everybody — just a regular penis doing regular penis things. Like playing badminton. Or watching the BBC.

Right now Google+ is stumbling around like a newborn fawn because… well, it is a newborn fawn. Again: that bitch is in beta. I have confidence that, if the Googlecrucians continue their devotion to the site, in a year’s time you won’t use it like you use Facebook. It’s just… right now, I’m using it like I use Facebook. Outside of the Hangout (with my Wangout), I don’t see anything all that special at present. That means we’ve a pretty significant redundancy in the system.

I suspect the way we make Google+ better and help them bring these disconnected pieces together is by telling them what we think. The Lords of Google have been responsive so far.

Which is a good sign, and another glimpse of promise.

I thought about putting together a “Google-Plus For Writers” post, by the way, but once again, outside the Hangout, I don’t know if there’s any there there, yet. (Though, it may be worth asking what G+ could become for writers… what would writers want out of it?)

We shall see.

In the meantime, you will continue to find me on Twitter.

Anyway. Feel free to add your thoughts. How’s Gee-Plus doing for you?