Mike Elgan on Google + and Why It Rocks So Hard



aNewDomain.net — Our John C. Dvorak asked Mike Elgan, a contributor at aNewDomain.net, to justify why he’s so in love with Google+ …

Google + is my favorite site on the Internet. I probably spend between six and 12 hours per day actively using it. I’m a certifiable Google+ nut and have been for two years.

But why?

The answer to that question is self-evident to anyone who really uses the site. Critics tend to be dabblers, non-users or people with some gripe against Google.

To use Google+ is to love Google+, for most people. If you did what I did, which was replace my blog, email newsletter, Skype, AIM and social networking accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and others, with Google+ here’s what you would discover.

First, Google+ is qualitatively superior to other social networks in every meaningful way.

There are some aspects of Google+ that are clearly and quantifiably better — and others that are in my opinion subjectively better. Let’s start with the obvious ones.

For one thing, the pictures are better. This is especially-true for people who are not professional photographers.

Simply clicking a check-box in the settings leaves your photos in their original state, uncompressed.

Facebook, by comparison, destroys every picture you upload — even in its lousy “high-quality” mode. On Google + smartphone pictures upload automatically.

And Google+’s photo magic applies brilliant Photoshop-like improvements to photos without any action by the user. The Auto Awesome feature creates new pictures out of your old ones, automatically and intelligently making animated GIFs, panoramas and even Brady Bunch-style collages.

It will even fix group shots where somebody blinked — it accomplishes this by grabbing their open eyes from another shot.

New photo editing tools let you take more control, but without having to learn anything. All these changes can be reversed; the original picture is always accessible.

Also, search is better. Google+ lets you use real search operators to surface whatever you’re looking for easily, then you can slice and dice by content type and sort by relevance or time.

mikeelgangoogleplusanewdomain

Video chat is better. Skype is supposed to be integrated into Facebook, but I don’t know anyone who uses it. Google+ video hangouts, on the other hand, is easily the best group video chat service anywhere. It’s easy to use, high-def, flexible and free. You can add new participants on the fly — even non-members connecting only by phone. Nobody doesn’t love Video Hangouts.

YouTube integration is better. The single most astonishing capability in all of Google+ is Hangouts On Air. Any random user can broadcast live video, which can be shared virally as it’s happening. If the event is compelling and viral enough, that random user can have a live audience larger than CNN in ten minutes. In the recent past, you needed a truck with a satellite dish, a crew, an FCC license and a million dollars to do what any Google+ user can do right now with a couple of clicks.

Once that live Hangout On Air is done, it’s automatically posted on YouTube for posterity. Plus posting existing YouTube or Vimeo videos with Google+ posts is super easy.

Google Drive integration is better. If you use Google Drive, it’s trivially easy to simply share whatever you’ve got there via Google+ — even content created by Google Drive apps. This is a fantastic way to collaborate on documents, because it combines the cloud apps (Docs) with the cloud storage service (Drive) with the world’s most flexible communication system (Google+). People pay a fortune for inferior collaboration tools, but all this is free.

Check-ins are better. Checking into a location is as easy as on other services, but are shared via a regular post from the mobile app, and can be narrowly addressed so you’re not spamming everyone you know with “I’m at Pizza Hut!,” a fact nobody cares about. Plus, you can also passively and automatically set up sharing with any combination of circles — the best of which is immediate family and nobody else.

Approved people can see your location by hovering their mouse pointer over the location line on your profile’s banner picture. Another neat trick is that you can share your city with one group — say, everybody or “Public”) and your specific location with only a tiny or narrow, private group at the same time.

Plus: No stupid badges.

Zero ads is better. Did I mention there are zero ads on Google+? As Facebook and Twitter spam users mercilessly with increasingly annoying and intrusive advertising — while the whole Internet gets taken over by in-your-face ads — Google+ remains 100% ad-free.

Google+ is better as a site. Remember that big hack attack that compromised everybody’s personal information on Google+? No, you don’t, because it never happened. G+ also has far less downtime than other social networks, especially Twitter. Google+ is a feature-packed product, not a feature masquerading as a product.

Let’s face it: Twitter is a feature, Path is a feature and Flickr is a feature. Despite its great feature, Google seems to add several real improvements every week.

I don’t think any reasonable person can argue against the claim that these Google+ features are far better than any mainstream social service, including and especially Facebook.

But there are other aspects of Google+ that I believe are better, but about which reasonable people could disagree. For example: Circles are better.

It’s possible to follow and address groupings of people on Facebook and other social networks, but Google+’s circles concept is best of all. In fact, you can’t “follow” someone without categorizing them by putting them in a specific circle. Anyone can be in multiple circles, and even people who are not members of Google+ can be addressed in circles — they get the post via email.

Posts are better. Google’s cards metaphor, plus very clean design, make posts more appealing, whether you’re reading them or writing them. And the metaphor carries over nicely to mobile. You can create a post, easily address it to multiple circles or individuals and use limited markup for bolding, italics, and so on. And you can edit them easily after posting. Mostly, posts on Google+ just look way better. It’s also easier to know exactly who can see your G+ post. A Public post on Google+ is just a page on the open Internet, which anyone can see, link to or find in a Google search.

Conversations are better. Conversations on Google+ are better because they’re linear (listed in order of which posted first) nicely designed and easily moderated. For example, it’s easy to delete comments on your posts, or report, flag, mute and block people who wreck conversations.

Profile ID is better. Everyone with a job needs a page that says: “This is who I am, what I do and what I care about.” This is especially true for creative people who need to promote themselves or their work.

Google+ has an About page that’s ideal for this purpose, enabling all the standard information, but in a very clean, orderly interface and easy-to-edit tools to go with it. It’s especially great for writers like me, because I can use Google’s Author ID system to positively identify me as the real author of my work. When your search finds my work on Google Search, there’s my face with a link to my Google+ About page.

Google+ users are “better.” By “better,” I mean they’re more passionate, more helpful and more international. I would rank Google+ passion up there with Apple fanboy devotion in some quarters. Some people love Google+. And if you’ve got a question about how to use it, people will come out of the woodwork to volunteer their time to help. And, finally, people from all over the world circle each other. Google’s universal “Translate” button means anyone can talk to anyone else.

Okay, okay. Google+ is clearly superior. But people wonder: Who has time to waste on yet another social network?

Let’s flip that around: Who has time to waste chasing conversations on multiple social networks?

Google+ cures social media overload by replacing all others.

Maintaining a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Pinterest, Foursquare, Flickr and also on a personal blog can drive you nuts. And what about App.net, Pheed, Path and other hot new upstarts? Shouldn’t you get busy there, too?

Each of these social sites specializes in some aspect of social networking. Facebook is best for keeping touch with high school friends, following Aunt Mildred and also for spying on your kids. Twitter is best for snark, self-promotion and simple links to content elsewhere.

Linkedin is all about business, especially the part of business that involves getting a job. Pinterest is picture-centric. Foursquare is location-based. Flickr is for beautiful photos. App.net is for elite geeks. Pheed is for hollywood types and wannabes. And Path is great for private social networking among very small groups.

If each of these social sites is best at its core strength and lousy at all others, Google+ is second best at all of them.

Instead of maintaining a separate social life on each of 12 social networks, Google+ lets you maintain 12 social lives on one network.

One stream has your most private, intimate conversations; your most shameless public self-promotions; your most beautiful photographs; and your quick-and-dirty links and Internet memes. That one stream is your personal lifelogging content, your important business communication and your goofing-around content with friends.

Plus, you can use Friends+Me or some other service to automatically post your public G+ posts to Facebook, Twitter and/or Linkedin. That reaches out to those people you’ve already cultivated there, and invites them into Google+ with a link so they can join the one, single conversation.

There’s no doubt about it, Google+ improves your life.

Maintaining a different identity and social group on many social networks can make you feel scattered and burned out. By consolidating all your social activity into one site gives you a feeling of clarity and control.

In the same way that Facebook dumbs you down, Google+ smartens you up. The conversations there can be very good, and the topics substantive and stimulating. (And if they’re not, you need to circle and block until they are.)

Google+ saves you time by helping you eliminate clutter and noise (and ads) from your communication. It uploads, processes and sorts your photos for you, so you don’t have to. The notifications view lets you zero in on exactly the conversions that are active, ignoring the inactive ones.

Of course, Google+ isn’t perfect
As much as I like Google+, I do have some gripes about it.

While Google+ cures social media overload, it doesn’t cure information overload. In fact, G+ is addictive and there is more content and comments posted every day than you could “consume” in a lifetime. This, I guess, is the downside of unlimited post sizes and 500 comment maximums.

There are some aspects of the Google+ user interface that fail to provide a sense of “situational awareness.” For example, if your post includes multiple pictures, the each picture can have its own comments stream, in addition to the comment stream for the main post. So whenever I post multiple pictures in a post, I invariably get comments with individual photos of people saying “what is this?” — people get the pictures without the post somehow. Also: Public and private posts should be more clearly marked.

Users often complain that Google+ posts don’t get indexed on Google Search quickly or at all, in some cases.

And, of course, the biggest gripe many people have about Google+ is that most of your Facebook-bound family and friends aren’t on G+, or aren’t active, anyway.

Other people see this as a feature, not a bug.

And finally, Google+ isn’t for everybody. Some people are unalterably smitten with other services, such as Reddit or Pinterest. Others actually want to be fenced in with limitations, as on Twitter or Path. And many people don’t care about the quality of a social network — they just want to be where their old friends are, as on Facebook (and will endure any abuse to be there).

But for most people, Google+ is the best social anything ever, and is likely to continue pulling away from the pack as Silicon Valley’s most innovative big company continues to pour incredible talent and resources into the service.

For aNewDomain.net, I’m Mike Elgan.

Based in Santa Barbara, Mike Elgan is a veteran tech journalist and tech culture columnist. He writes most-visibly and frequently at Computerworld, Datamation, Cult of Mac, Houzz, PC World, InfoWorld, MacWorld, CIO Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle and The CMO Site. Now Mike is a senior commentator with us at aNewDomain.net. Follow Mike’s stream on Google+ and on Twitter @MikeElgan. The best way to reach him is via Google+. Email Mike here at aNewDomain at MikeE@aNewDomain.net.

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  • Max Konitzko

    very interesting, very good!

  • Geo

    Damn you, Mike Elgin. You’re going to keep at it and make me sign up! I’ve heard (and enjoyed you on TWIT) where you’ve made the same points. Thanks, I guess, for the effort. I enjoyed this post a lot.

    • MikeElgan

      Thanks, Geo! Now let’s see if we can convince Dvorak to drop that two-bit, no good Twitter and post on G+ (with auto-posting on Twitter)! ; )

  • http://vabulous.com/ Vania

    oh yea! I agree and certify most of these points!!!

  • acidogio

    being this passionate about a social network isnt healthy. just saying

  • Gina

    I would say that three-quarters of the community following this site — and about half the staff we have — originate from Google+

    We launched BYTE the same week as Google+ and much of the audience we’ve got followed us to anewdomain. I love the freshness and passion of the Google+ gang — and I spend a ton of time on it, too. Great piece, Mike. Welcome to the team : ) gs

  • Michel Saade

    Well said !

  • GreenPea

    As soon as I knew that there would be a social site from Google I pestered everyone until I got an invitation. I’ve loved it since day one, when every news was about how “wrong” Google had it. All my half-hearted efforts everywhere else were abandoned. G+ gets what I want from a social site.

    My one small gripe is very mundane: I liked the games within G+. They were not intrusive, had their own stream, players easily got their own circles, etc. Never understood why they got the axe. Most of the friends I met through those games still play them (somewhere else, obviously) and then we keep coming to our game communities in G+ to discuss it because G+ is where we are.

  • I_warned_ya

    Google+ sounds great! I especially like the way Google is forcing everyone on YouTube to use it, or lose control of their channels! Maybe Google could kidnap children or use torture to get an even higher rate of compliance!

    • Guest

      you don’t have to use it. just sign up for it.

    • http://attackoftheandroids.com/ Mat Lee

      Lol, because that’s the same thing…

    • http://google.com/+DeAnoJackson DeAno Jackson

      Google+ is the backbone of all of Google’s services, like it or not. You don’t have to use the actual stream ever, but yeah, you need to have an account. I know that seems weird, Google forcing you to have a Google account to use Google’s sites, and sets a bad precedent. Before you know it, Amazon will require you to have an Amazon account to use their Amazon sites as well!

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  • http://wp.theoblogical.org/ Dale Lature

    I cannot find how to “check in” on Google +. Where is there anything on Google + or Google Maps that says “Check in” when you are at a location?

    • http://attackoftheandroids.com/ Mat Lee

      It’s under location in the Google+ menu.

  • http://tradematch.us Rob Gordon

    It is worth mentioning that he gave the worst advice I have ever heard – that everyone should dumb their blogs and dedicate their lives to Google+. For this, he was put on Google’s corrupt “suggested users list” and rewarded with millions of followers by Google. His post are mediocre at best. I also like Google+ – have a fair number of followers there, but this extreme fanboy culture is ruining it.

  • http://attackoftheandroids.com/ Mat Lee

    Love Google+. Cool article Mike!

  • http://TheSocialNetworker.com IdoNotes

    Welcome to the team Mike!

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