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?

27 comments

  • Anyway.

    I… want it to grab me. I’m laying splayed out on the bed in negligée begging it to seduce me… And yet I keep going back to Twitter.

    Now, that’s not really true. I check my g+ every day, and that’s more than I can say about Facebook. But see, there’s this inertia…

    I got sick of the notifications, so I turned them off. Which means the only way I know when something is going on is when I check the site. Which means I don’t really know when something is going on. But with Twitter, I have the app sitting over there on my other screen, and it just flows. And if someone mentions me, I’m fairly well guaranteed to see it. The asynchronous nature of it relieves me of the burden of attention.

    Right now, I feel like g+ is too similar to Facebook in that the speed of communication (and worse, the speed at which those little communication boats slide away down the stream, out into the estuary and off into the ocean) is overwhelming. As you said, there needs to be an easy way to return to the conversation beyond the little red box next your name in the header.

    That’s a start, yeah, but maybe it should be like a forum, where a post “bumps” a topic back to the top. And maybe Google, arbiters of SEO and its edicts that we use intelligible URLs should listen to Michael Fucking Jackson and take a look at the Man in the Mirror. You can link to a post. There’s a little down arrow at the top right of every post with options, and one of those options is “link to this post.”

    But the resulting URL is hideous. https://plus.google.com/102598717561259337811/posts/AgA61Addd9e is the post you actually made on g+ linking to this blog entry, for example.

    Blah, I’m way too tired, and I’m rambling. Sorry.

  • Just not having the same problems with the notifications. I let them pile up, then either go back and forth through them (conversation by conversation) or I go to “View All” and skim that little bit of the stream. Of course, I am not a world famous, much-in-demand demigod of authorhood either, so the most I may get in any half hour may be 6 or 8 notifications. Often I get only one or two

    Got into a hot conversation tonight, as it happened. Some 50 comments rolled into someone’s post within about 30 minutes, with (I’m guessing) 8 or so people plus the original poster involved. I checked in on it, read what interested me, piped up, and then wandered off as my interest (and the conversation) wandered.

    I also tend to go to people’s profile pages to see if I’ve missed something (even though I filter my stream via my circles). Certain people tend to be more prolix than others. Some few post just ephemera which I am happy to see float downstream.

    The only other place online, outside of a pre-troll forum or the occasional blog comments, where I’ve managed to have much conversation comparable to this is on Goodreads, which is a slow little backwater eddypool in comparison. FB never did it. Twitter tried but, yeah, no, not happening, too many peacocks.

    And it may be that this is once more a case of Your Mileage May Vary. I don’t believe that any one social medium will be THE ONE for every user. I just don’t think that can be. It will be a great fit for some, a reasonable substitute for others, and still others will either hit it and leave or never come because they can’t get comfy. Sort of like pants.

  • Funny, I wrote about this yesterday Why Google+ Doesn’t Get You – you are much kinder to Google+ than I am, I think.

    I have to disagree on one point though – you don’t think Twitter is capable of conversation? For me, that’s what drew me in. I see your point about ‘banter’ but those of us who get to know one another through Twitter find our way to converse, as well. What I’m picking up from G+, so far, is being talked TO. Sometimes even DOWN TO and that leads to the next bit:

    Much as I like the organizational aspect of circles, I do not like the inference that I’ve seen from some users that they will and are using them as a means to create what amounts to ‘cliques.’ There’s a snobbish attitude that filters in and out of Google+ and it is hard to define, it’s like smoke.

    Something I read just today:

    “Just wait until they let the non-geeky peeps in. LOL. You only want to put a select few in circles on G+”

    I take it with a grain of salt, still. To me, it’s off-putting.

    As for your question about writers on Google+ – there are plenty and already swarming in their own circles. Debbie Ohi is putting some together and you can add yourself to her lists (or the links she has): https://plus.google.com/115121110877145330939/posts

    Best wishes
    DJ Young
    @dijeratic

  • I’d like to see conversation tagging, where you can create a temporary mini circle and hitch it whichever floating barge of a conversation takes your fancy.

    I would like anyone flopping it out on G+ hangouts to be given a hefty electric shock.

    Also for (+1?) Chris’s suggestion that Google take a look at the url’s they’re spawning. I should feel my sanity slipping just by looking at a link.

  • The “Link to this post” option under the triangle only appears to be present on public posts, however all posts do have a URL of their own, and you can access it from their timestamp a little to the left of the triangle.

    I’m finding empty circles to be a useful tool for tracking particular posts that I don’t want to flow through my fingers. E.g. have an empty circle called “Posts to Watch” and then reshare anything of interest to that circle (and make sure you include the URL of the original post so that you can get back to the actual conversation, not just stare at a pretty picture of the post). If the post has had resharing disabled, then you can still send just a simple post with the URL to your empty circle. When something is no longer of interest to you, simply delete the post that you shared with your empty circle.

    I’ve also set up empty circles to keep track of individual categories of posts that I make (“My Posts – Erudite”, “My Posts – Witty”, “My Posts – Cavalier”, etc.). Whenever I make a new post that I think I’ll want to remember, I just add the appropriate empty circle to the list of recipients. I’ve also set up a circle called “Me” that just contains one member, though I’m not really sure whether that does anything different from just visiting my profile page.

    I share your feelings about Wave. It’s too bad it’s no longer a Google product, or they would’ve found a way to integrate it into G+.

    • @Jan: That’s an interesting idea. Tracking posts with an empty circle. Hm.

      @Andrew: Yes! I think Rob D. said something about convo tagging, too — that would be pretty great.

      @DJ: I guess I should define my terms better — Twitter is great at conversation when it’s just that. When it’s more “chat.” But when Twitter moves into discussion space, it becomes like trying to have a baseball game in an elevator. It’s too much. The brevity of tweets combined with the speed of tweets and affected by the fact it’s all real-time and public makes it very hard to have a serious discussion without a) devolving into an argument b) the point being lost and c) others getting annoyed at the giant discussion now kludging up the pipes.

      @Murphy: This is all definitely YMMV — like I said, I think G+ is primed to become about “the conversation.” The simple combination of Circles + Longer Posts/Comments is already leading to it — I just don’t think it’s enough yet. And again, it’s in beta, so it probably doesn’t have to be. It’s good I can smell the potential even if it’s not there yet. I just want it to be there now because I’m an impatient 4-year-old at heart.

      @Chris: Exactly. Those little boats move fast. I have no doubt I’m missing a lot. In Twitter, I’m okay with missing things — these little bite-sized pieces often come back around in the form of retweets or what-not. Content there has an almost Darwinistic quality. G+ doesn’t have that yet. And mostly I’m using it in the same way I use Facebook. I step in, say something, step back out. I’m having a hard time scanning other people’s streams. The organization of Circles helps, but it’s not robust enough, not yet. And it requires, frankly, too much work on my part for a guy who needs to be, well, doing other shit. Like wordmonkeying and storysmithy.

      – c.

  • THE ILLUSION OF INTELLIGENT LIFE

    I think you have to distinguish clearly between conversation and broadcast. When you write a piece and send it out into the ether, it is broadcast. That I happen to be here writing this to try and engage you is not conversation … yet. That would happen, say in my case, when you actually respond to me. That is magic, no doubt.

    G+ so far has been the purgatory of repressed twitterers (or is that twits?), who need more than 140 characters to appear to have said something. It has helped, as far as it seems now, to create the illusion of conversation and camaraderie, with everyone on G+ having someone or the other “in common” with everyone else. For the rest of them, the Facebookers and the Myspacers (and everyone else in between), it has been a breath of fresh air and a heady rush of ‘being there’ before the floodgates open to change the game once again.

    For the so-called blogeratti, and the self-appointed kings and queens of the social networking world, it opens yet another medium of calling attention to themselves. For the novices in the arena, it create the illusion, yet again, of having joined their dream universe… of having ‘arrived’. Soothsayers abound, predicting the future of G+ with unabashed self-importance. But then, that’s IS what we asked for, isn’t it? The illusion of a level playing field?

    Having those people “in common” has been organic to the success of G+. The feeling of oh this person’s not a complete stranger, after all, we have someone ‘in common’ (you can’t call them friends now, can we?) is the one thing that gives us the hook to populate and take up for our imaginary (OK, maybe just alternate) world where we have so many people we know without really knowing any of them.

    That’s where I come from. And I like being here :-)

  • What I use Google+ for:

    1) Place to have long conversations with multiple people about a particular subject.
    2) Outlet for long-form writing that makes zero sense as a blog post.
    3) There is no #3.

  • I’m having similar difficulties with circles. I can’t help but feel Google is conflating inputs and outputs. Circles seem to primarily be a method of organizing the information that I’m consuming. Yet Google seems to want us to also use them to filter our posts–and that just doesn’t feel right to me yet.

    For example, I have a circle filled with really interesting people who have really great ideas. I’d love to have a conversation with those people about my really great ideas–but if I send a post to that circle, I’m not sure if any of them will actually see it. Worse yet, since I limit the post to a circle, it cannot be re-shared to the greater internet. I’m locking myself into a limited audience who probably isn’t even listening.

    I guess if the people you want to communicate with are all on G+, and if they also have you in their circles, and if you really want to send them a private message, then it might make sense. This is sort of the “sending pictures of my kids to my family ” use case. But, that feels like the exception not the rule.

    Or maybe I’ve just been using twitter too long…

    Anyway, i say basically the same thing using a whole lot more words, if you’re interested: http://www.freelancemadscience.com/fmslabs_blog/2011/7/15/confused-by-google-circles.html

  • So far, its main advantage over Facebook to me is that it’s mostly people I know having discussions, not four thousand aspiring authors trying to market to me. And yes, I see the hypocrisy of that.

    • Haha, @JD — but I hear you, I don’t disagree, either. This leans again toward how I think maybe G+ is best-used, which is in a small way, not a big one. Dial back the broadcast component and dial up the conversational component. Then make Circles faster and looser — or, create some subset of Circles where they can be more temporary and less committal, ala email or Wave — to help facilitate conversation in that way.

      Or something.

      I might just want all the damn kids to get off my lawn.

      GET OFF MY LAWN AND QUIT POOPING ON MY PLASTIC FLAMINGOS

      In my day we had Twitter. And we had to fight a race of primordial giants to use it! And we were thankful to fight those giants!

      – c.

      • Idea:

        G+ should not host blogs.

        G+ should host a blog’s comment section.

        Farm the comments to G+, but keep the blog hosted locally.

        Gives greater dynamism to comments. Lets G+ act like a doorway to conversation, but still ties it inexorably back. Doesn’t require circles.

        LORDS OF GOOGLE HEED MY CRIES

        – c.

  • I appreciate @Jan’s idea of the empty circle, but they MUST find a better system for bookmarking or “favoriting” posts to return to later when you don’t have to time to follow the link or the conversation at that moment. Creating a circle and all that jazz seems unnecessarily convoluted. No?

  • My big love for G+ is the Circles feature. I actually have several Twitter and Facebook accounts that I have to manage for various businesses or ventures. It gets really annoying having to sign out and sign back in with each individual account to post things. I know there are programs to use that can handle this for me, but not every company likes this sort of thing. Plus, I really think it should be something built-in and I really appreciate that G+ automatically gives us that option.

    However…I agree with most of your points as well. G+ is not all there yet. That stream thing gets filled up rather quickly so I feel lost just like on Facebook and Twitter, trying to keep up with peoples’ conversations without going to every single one of their profiles and scrolling down to eternity. I prefer a blog for that or some sort of filter option that allows me the option to choose who I want to keep track of what information from – and not just the most recent posts, either.

    I also see the benefits of having Google+ for just people you know really well. Honestly for me, though – I would likely end up just calling them, e-mailing them, posting a thread in Facebook, texting them, or something of the like. I have a lot of people I know who aren’t even in Google+ yet and I guess I’m just not that into it to bother going to that extent. Maybe if they gave me bacon…

  • On point nr. 2, the nestedness and “forking away discussions” thing:

    Wave had exactly that.

    People didn’t get Wave.

    So I can sort of understand the “Let’s skip what made people really confused and stick to with innovating what they know” business.

    • I’m not sure people didn’t get Wave — I think it was easy to get, it just didn’t work well. It was really slow. Really clunky. Great idea, funky execution.

      G+ is prime for a reintegration of Wave.

      – c.

  • IBTD, Wave worked _really well_ after a few weeks (as in, blazing fast and working almost all the time), which is about the time when most of the “normal” people came in to check it out.

    Then again, the early adopters who have next to no clue about what “scaling software” means were probably put off by the fact that the performance was stifled so much by load, yah.

  • Great points. I am with you on all of it.

    @Jennifer Bridges – If you are not doing so already, use different browsers for different accounts.

    Re: Google Wave – It still exists. While it may be cutoff at any moment its still there.

  • First up — anybody seen the “Neil Gaiman Leaves G+” thing? (Warren Ellis, the same.) http://pulse2.com/2011/07/11/author-neil-gaiman-leaves-google-will-others-soon-follow/
    I think his point is pretty spot on — filtering Circles is a lot of work and it moves pretty fast and it can fast turn into noise if you don’t Whack-a-mole those people into suitable organizational cubby holes.
    Tobias Buckell helped me understand Google+ a week ago when he noted that it was about information organization first above social media — and that to me is a critical distinction that G+ needs to embrace. G+ needs to be *smaller* — not smaller in user base, but smaller in how it’s being used. They need to assume it to be an intimate conversational space, not a tangled mess of inputs and outputs ala Facebook. IMHO.
    – c.

  • It sounds to me like many of the commenters here (along with the original author, yes you!) have added way more people then me, or at least way more active people, and that’s the source of some problems. For me, notifications come in at a leisurely pace of maybe 4 a day, and they are very convenient.

    Perhaps there should be a way to only get notifications from specific circles.

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