I have been covering Google Plus since its inception three years ago. In that time, I have been a fan, a proponent, a critic, a skeptic, and conspiracy theorist.
If you don't want to read a long article then here's the short version of my analysis of Google's latest in a series of failed social networking services: Like China, Google is building a state-of-the-art super-city in the middle of nowhere, where nobody cares to live, irrespective of whether anyone actually wants to - or is - living there.
It feels to me like a very rich, very opinionated Google has decided what the right way to do social media is and they're going to implement this utopian vision whether or not anyone else is interested in joining - or attending - their Church of Plus.
Ceci N'Est Pas les Médias Sociaux
Before I go into G+ as a social network or social media platform, let me remind you that not even Google calls G+ a social network, it calls it a "social layer" and an "authorship tool." Google isn't trying to draw us out of our shells, it's trying to identify us. The only reason why Google+ exists is as a bait-and-switch trap - a honey pot - to draw the makers of online content into the clear in order to associate them with their web content and then put a Real Name with a face as a Turing Test of sorts, as a way to separate the men from the bots.
Up until Google search started cleaning up Search Dodge of all of the spam, the shysters, the fraudster, the Black Hats, all you needed were mad linking and backlinking skills. It wasn't hard to dupe Google into putting you or you clients onto the first page of Google if you had enough money, resources, time, and a flexible enough morality. This isn't about a social network in the same way that research on mice isn't about the mazes.
The mazes serve a purpose in the research of rodents, but the purpose transcends the maze; the purpose of G+ has nothing to do with creating a lovely virtual commons where cool post-Twitter and post-Facebook techies and hipsters can hang out, it's a mad olly olly oxen free. It's all about flushing the grouse, getting all of the anonymous content creators to reveal themselves, to come in from the cold, to associate a real name and identity with videos on YouTube, articles in the Blogosphere, columns in online publications, etc.
In the past, it wasn't hard to just create a Gmail, Yahoo, Me, Hotmail account and sign up for YouTube, retaining certain level of anonymity. Same thing with Blogger and blogs, social networks, Tumblr, and just about everywhere else online, including the Googlesphere.
Now, as Google closes in on all of us, this will probably be really good for those of us who are makers, creators, original artists, original writers. As Google is able to tell who we are, where we write, Google will better understand where ground zero is and which copies of all of our work, our words, our images, and our art are copies, replicants, replicas, echoes used possibly without prior approval and exclusively for bandit content remarketing as a way of ginning and gaming SEO.
Is G+ Google's Ellis Island?
My great grandparents all came through Ellis Island from Ireland and Austria-Hungary as immigrants. Folks who were coming in on steamers were checked for their identity, their names, their health and wellness, before being allowed into the US.
Is Google+ actually a place that has been trying to take the virtual tired, poor, and huddled masses, wretched refuse, the homeless, tempest-tossed, and sort them out to see which are the earnest writers, makers, producers, content-creators, tweeters, bloggers, journalists, authorities, academics, students, experts, curious, influential, and which are the Asian link farms, the copy-and-paster, the plagerist, the conman, the SEO grey and blackhat?
Is this a way to try to offer some forgiveness to those newbies and fools who don't actually know they're doing dastardly things? Who don't understand things like on-site duplicate content or how best to optimize for title, description, or copy? To see whether people in this immigrant line are sweating, are ornery, look shifty, or have a history of doing really dodgy thing. And this explains why there's no advertising on Google+: this isn't a place where consumers are want to hang out. Google+ is a place for the makers and creators to come, where they can feel safe, where they can brag and promote and post and see everything rendered beautifully.
Google+ is a staging area for all the poets, writers, advertisers, marketers, copywriters, screenwriters, playwrights, webwrights, publicists, designers, artists, critics, authors, columnists, bloggers, coders, painters, photographers, and architects get to spend their time while Google gets to know you while they're sorting out which ones of us will bubble to the top of Google and which ones will be removed completely from Google's index full stop.
Google+'s Influence on Search is Always Changing
Up until recently, giving up all your information to Google on your Google+ about page (mine is https://plus.google.com/+chrisabraham/about) would pretty much guarantee Google would associate my pretty face with any content that came up on Google Search that was mine. It's connected to Google Authorship. However, according to Search Engine Land, Google Drops Profile Photos, Google+ Circle Count From Authorship In Search Results.
So, while I will still be associated with search results whenever they're my work, my face will no longer draw your eye. That said, it hasn't rolled out everywhere because, as you can see, my mug still comes up when you search for my articles on when I show up on Google News through Business 2 Community, for example.
But Search Engine Land is probably right. The reason is probably because the illustration probably takes the eye too powerfully away from paid contextual advertising, which is antithetical to Google's desire to make lots and lots of money from Google Adwords and Adsense ads. Even Google understands not to bite the hand that feeds them. Advertising dollars underwrite everything else, including self-driving cars.
The Church of Google+
And you know how religion has figured out coercion and compliance through sin and redemption? Well, Google+ has that, too. If you want to end up reliably in in the top spots on organic search, you'll need to do anything and everything that Google tells you to do with regards to Google+ (like Christianity, if you want to know the Father, you need to go through the Son). For example, in order to be saved, you'll need to do more than simply pay a monthly stipend to Google Apps for Business and possess a Gmail account.
With both, you'll have YouTube and Google+ built in; however, possession is not enough. In order for salvation, you'll need to pay more than lip service. While you'll be able to watch videos on YouTube without buying into the Google+ - or any Google properties - if you want to like or comment, you'll need to build out your personal Google+ profile page. If you want to produce video content on YouTube, you'll be required to create and build out a Google+ brand or business page for your YouTube Channel.
Sort of like, if you tell a prospective employee or vendor that you'd be happy to hire or do business with them if they'll marry your unmarriageable son or daughter. I mean, it might be worth it if your entire business depends on it (which is the case when it comes to some companies who make their entire living based on whether they're at the top of Google organic searches or if you're suffering an online reputation crisis and getting to the top of Google search literally pushed negative or untrue content down).
That said, 99.999% of the 540 million members of Google don't own online - or any - business they need to promote, don't have an online reputation worth noting - or don't notice or care much about that sort of thing, or have any intention of creating content for YouTube, commenting on YouTube, or even tracking calendars, writing documents, storing files, sharing images, or anything else outside of email. In this case, Gmail.
The only reason why Facebook is so popular is because everyone - everybody - you have every know is there, especially your kids, friends, classmates, and family are there.
No, it's not because of Facebook Business Pages or because their favorite brands or celebrities are there - that's where Twitter shines - but because that's where the baby pictures are. Hell, Pinterest and Tumblr do a much better job than Google+ when it comes to this, and that's not even their core competencies.
The Denizens of Google+
I am an experiment of one but I have very little engagement at all. It might just be me but I spend a lot of time on G+ - probably a lot more than you, but not as much time as Google+ monotheists (I am decidedly a social media polytheist).
Three years ago, I had a lot of engagement on Plus; however, of the 5k+ people I have in my circles, I almost never get a +1 or a comment or anything - even when I am dropping bombs, being bombastic, or baiting on guns, gun control, the second amendment. While I may well have been frozen out of the cool kids clique on Google+, I don't think so as I feel like my friends are singling olly olly oxenfree as well, in an attempt to see if they're posting into the void.
Case in point, my friend Jonathan Swerdloff (www.google.com/+JonathanSwerdloff). He's been online since the 90s. He's popular to the point of probably being a cult leader. While he only has 351 followers on G+ (I have 5,721), it's not like he just arrived onto Google+. Even he is gently tapping on the mike, asking a genial "olly olly oxen free," wondering where everyone else is. He like G+ and considers it a superior product. He's said things like, "Hello world.
"Again. I have approximately 10 friends, give or take, using Google+ that I can see. That's just... so weird to me. I think it's a structurally better system than Facebook Oddly, several of my smartest friends (and I'm not just saying that to flatter you) are on here and don't seem to be on Facebook. There have to be pitfalls of this place but I haven't seen them. Except the identity issues, which are big, but Facebook has them as well."
The reason why he said "again" is because he had come around before, quietly asking where everyone was, why he felt so alone on Google+ when it seemed to be such a better product. He said, "Google plus remains an odd social network but I have to admit - I still like it better than Facebook. I'm not saying that just because I'm here, mind you - I like the hangouts, the interface, the lack of advertising (for now), and my biggest disappointment is that there aren't more people using it." Don't worry, buddy, I feel the same way, too.
Google+ Clone Wars
Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn that allow one Profile to support many email identities and even social network logins, Google+ is a little like season two of Orphan Black: orphan clones are everywhere on G+ if you don't watch your steps. And it can really become an issue. So, here's my mess: my Gmail account, [email protected], represents my official Verified G+ account, google.com/+ChrisAbraham; however, I also belong to at least three other Google accounts, my company's Google account, Gerris Corp, The Social Media Monthly Google account and my Unison Google accounts.
They all have potential Google+ profiles associated with each of them. There's no way, currently, to hook all of my Business Apps personal profiles to my G+ HQ - so, unless I am constantly vigilant, I have all of these clones running around, clones that not only look like me but sort of are me, but not really. They're not impersonators, they're authentic clones. But I neither want nor need them.
And, to be honest, Google, this is a rookie mistake, especially considering what a terror the managers of G+ were back three years ago when they were summarily shutting down accounts that were doubles or organizations. Nobody else does anything this stupid, Google+ gang. No, not even LinkedIn or Twitter. Any doubles or triples that happen on other social networks are done completely intentionally - what happens in the G+ Clone Wars is just appalling logic, workflow, usability, and logistics.
Sharing to Google Plus Sucks
I can't share my Instagram photos to Google+. I can share them to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, and Foursquare, but not Twitter. The same thing goes for every one of the mobile apps I use every day to document my life. If I want to include my friends on G+, I'll need to go out of my way to switch apps to G+ and then write a completely separate post, which I never do. And nobody ever does.
At the end of the day, I might post a synopsis of the day, rolling all the day's photos into one album, gallery, or post, and that's only because I have my G+ app set up to auto-backup all the photos from my Google Android Nexus 5 and Apple iPhone 5 to Google, which is build in on both apps. But even then, not every time and always in time delay, hours and hours after I had the experience. As an afterthought.
When I talk to Google folks or Google+ fanboys, they always say that that's to avoid spam. Well, who spams with Instagram? Who spams from mobile phones? And, if it's to defeat spam, it's kind of control-freaky: do it my way, by using the G+ plus app each time, or don't do it at all. I won't do it at all. Plus, even if I did use the G+ app to do my photo blogging, there's no way for me to concurrently cross post from G+ to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Flickr either. It seems like Google is saying, my way or the highway. Well, Google, see ya!
The folks at Google must really be a bunch of control freaks. Google hates off-label use of its software. Google hates it when we play with the box and not the toy we were given. They not only melt down about it but have bonafide temper tantrums. It hasn't always been this way. Google used to generously offer all of its services as APIs, it used to follow open standards. and it used to be a leader in share and share alike. No more. Google's been hurt before. Innovation is disruption and disruption opens the door for abuse.
Plus, there's some hypocrisy there: you can spam to Google+ all you want if you're a client of professional content marketing tools like Buffer, GaggleAMP, and HooteSuite. If the only reason why Google+ doesn't allow me to crosspost to Plus is to decrease clutter and increase engagement, you would think that Google would only enable cross posting from mobile devices and not from professional marketing platforms. Isn't it ironic, don't you think.
What I think it that Google is heavy handing the adoption of the G+ mobile app and web app as "homeroom" for social media and multimedia sharing - and it's just not working at all. Not at all. PS: Dear Google: the serious denizens of the Internet and the early adopters tend to be pretty Libertarian and don't respond well to heavy-handedness or hegemonic coercion.
Google Plus' Robot Zombie Army
I don't know what your experience of Google+ is but all I ever see whenever I go to my notifications are posts and not engagements. I rarely see anyone +1, share, or comment on any of my content - content that draws likes, retweets, and comments on Twitter and Facebook. When I scrolled down my river of news comprised on the three-thousand plus people I have in my circles, very few of the posts had +1s (G+'s version of the Like or Favorite star) and none of them had any comments.
Maybe I have a stilted filter because I am a shameless content marketer - maybe I am not posting enough heartfelt, revealing, and compelling content (and I really can't because it's so tough to post to G+, as I said before), but it seems like posting to Google+ is pretty much an automated afterthought, something I too recommend to my clients, "hey, be sure to have a G+ Page," I advise, "but just cross post the stuff you prepare for Facebook, it'll work. I can hook you up with ways of easily cross-posting using HootSuite, GaggleAMP, and the Buffer app - no worries." But all I see when I go in is 80% posts from Chris Pirillo, 10% from Madonna, and the rest from various and sundry people who are probably including Google+ as part of their SEO routine.
As I said before, in order to please Google organic Search, you need to contribute passionate and completely to Google+. Unfortunately, the only people who are willing to go this extra step are the sort of inauthentic, shamelessly self-promoting, content marketing operators like me.
If the only people who tithe to G+ are only there to pay for their sins - if there are no passionate players, actors, choir, the evangelical - then there will never be much engagement and the general tone of Google+ will be all talk - blah, blah, blah, blah - and no listening, engagement, or sharing (which, of course, are the most essential parts of social media anyway, and the things that Google+ gives lip service to as being essential for the future of Google's search engine algoritym.
Google+ for Google Juice
The only people who care about links, keywords, backlinks, page rank, relevence, or Google juice are marketers and people who have things to promote. Most people have nothing to do with entrepreneurship, startups, small business, affiliate marketing, brand promotion, selling, sales, or online reputation. Most folks have jobs or are in school. Most people are employees and not employers. The juiciest of content is not the content shared by people with an external or commercial agenda, it's between people who love with each other or are passionately in love with some third thing, such as a hobby, parenting, a club, school, profession, life experience, etc. There are a number of types of communities including community of action, community of circumstance, community of inquiry, community of interest, community of place, community of position, community of practice, and community of purpose; however, there's no such thing as a community of shameless self promotion. There can be advertising, promotion, sponsorship, underwriting, and marketing, but only on top of a vigorous, deep, persistent and durable community.
Real communities realize that in order for the bills to be paid and to remain a viable community, one needs to pay dues, run bake sales and hold raffles. Clubs never form because they get to pay dues, sell ads, run bake sales or hold raffles. I fear that maybe Google+ does things backwards: it made G+ too compelling to the sort of people who only talk and never listen, only take and never give. There might very well be some very special, intense, and smart little eddies of engaging and engaged communities.
I know my favorite podcast, No Agenda, has a number of self-organizing Google+ Communities that are thriving around the production of the No Agenda show, but that's pretty much because Adam Curry hates Facebook and John C. Dvorak quit Facebook - Google+ is the only place they're willing to be, so their producers and listeners have followed them. Other than that, many of the communities seem to have a lot of people as members, around 24k each, but I really have never been recommended them, invited to join any of them, so who are these people? I really don't know. Maybe I have been excommunicated or exiled from the cool kids on G+.
I won't even go into Google Authorship or the Penguin and Panda algorithm changes that favor real people, authentic online engagement, and viral content that demands real human interaction and legitimate movement over social networks and through social media - that's all inside baseball. And that's the thing, Google+ is too inside baseball, it's too AV club and not enough prom committee. It's way more USENET and not enough AOL.
It's more Dungeons and Dragons than going on dates and it suffers from a staunch desire not to open up its doors for fear of ruining it. Ruining it? Oh Google, how can you brag 540 million active G+ members and not want any of them to use it for fear of ruining it. You're a member of a club that has such a small member ship that it very well might be elite and exclusive - but it's not because Google+ is just the open admissions school that nobody actually wants to go to.
Good luck, Google+, on your 3rd anniversary. I really like you. For now, only because of your potential and because I am always trying to impress your dad, Google. And for now, I will pour a lot of time and energy into your social networking service (and yes, really just to impress your dad, Google Search, and yes, I will also recommend you to all my clients, and for the same reason). What I would really like is to love to spend time on Google+. To leave Facebook behind and make G+ my number one social media wife.
Right now, it's dead last, even behind the Adventure Riders, Motobrick, and BMW MOA forums. And even behind Pinterest, a social sharing platform that I don't understand or get but need to check religiously because my awesome girlfriend sends me pins that really make me happy, so I spend more time on Pinterest than even you, Google+. You may well be a beauty but the fact that we don't like you is not because we're haters or because we're just jealous, it's because you're dull, uninteresting, and all you talk about is work.
Let me know what your experience is with Google+, YouTube, or any of the corporate or local pages. How are you experiencing Google, circa 2014?
And, don't forget: go git 'em, Tiger!