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More thoughts on the Google SUL

Given that I covered the launch of new Google's Suggested User function, sharing +Bradley Horowitz's post feels nearly obligatory.

After the dust has settled, I stand by my initial assessment, with these addenda:

*Highlighting Plus accounts that are infrequent posters, at best, is a surprising choice.

*A "Politics" category that is only politicians looks relatively barren.

*The "News" category, which +Craig Kanalley examined today, is missing many of the truly great reporters and editors that are on Plus and includes users who, while active and interesting, are not "News" people.

*The UI for the list itself uses iFrames, scrollbars and doesn't show anything more about a user when you roll over him or her. There's only the option to circle or not circle. Contrast that to Craig's page of links. It's not a very welcoming welcome screen to a new user, or this old one.

*I hesitate to say this publicly, given how widely the last post I shared here was quoted, but I will go ahead and do so, given what I've seen on Plus this wekend: following the dispute over real names vs pseudonyms, the introduction of this list is causing a rift in the existing Plus community. Concerns about transparency, free advertising, influence, diversity and even accuracy have been raised by voices I trust. It's a second self-inflicted black eye and suggests that the hard-earned lessons that Twitter learned from its own SUL haven't been internalized at a high level in Google.

There is still time to refine the user interface and iterate on the way that "suggested users" work but I this initial effort is flawed. Replicating offline social graphs onto online networks may turn out to be an effective strategy for growing a base for targeted advertising. I'm unsure whether it will be an optimal approach to organically cultivating a culture of relevant knowledge sharing.

+Robert Scoble has been working very hard to outline the issues that exist here and share the lists he has built, many of which look rather different than the Plus SUL, and I recommend the comment threads which have sprung up around his posts for further discussion.

*Finally, here's the obligatory disclaimer: I was added to Twitter’s “Technology” recommendations in early 2010, after the first version of the Twitter SUL was scrapped for an algorithm that I suspect is at least partially based on Lists. (Twitter's inclusion criteria isn't completely transparent either). My account @digiphile) now has over 94,000 followers, though some of them are no doubt bots and spammers. For those that follow me there or circle me here, know that I’m much more interested (and grateful) to see how many of you reply to me, read me or share my work than any follower count.
Bradley Horowitz originally shared:
There’s been a lot of excitement about our new “Suggested User” functionality in the last 24 hours... and a bit of speculation as well. But mostly I’ve heard from a lot of people rightfully wondering out loud about how they might get on the list, how the current list was constructed, etc. So I wanted to provide some insight and practical advice.

How can I get on the list?!
Be interesting. It’s your thing, do what you wanna do. Say something that literally engages people, and inspires them to add you to a circle, read your posts and +1, comment, and reshare them. Oh, and Hangout! Folks who are engaging with their community face-to-face-to-face are typically both interested... and interesting.

I’m probably the world’s foremost authority on extreme knitting... but you don’t have an extreme knitting category. What should I do?
Be interesting and stick to your knitting. ;-)

It’s true that right now we don’t have categories for every interest in the world, but we consider this a bug. A Google+ user ought to be able to find and connect to experts, interesting people, and compelling content in virtually any domain he or she cares about.

Isn’t this the “filter bubble?” Doesn’t driving a lot of attention to the same few users defeat the entire point of social media? Isn’t it “elitist?”
Today’s list isn’t yet personalized. At first personalization will be “lite” - users in different regions and languages will get different recommendations. But per above, we intend to allow people to deeply personalize and connect with like-minded people that create great content around almost any topic they care about. Just as Google Search helps connect you to web pages about almost anything, Google+ should help connect you to people who deliver content you’ll find interesting - on any subject. Stay tuned!

There’s actually quite a lot of diversity on the initial list, and I expect that very few of us had discovered all of these folks. I know I’ve discovered some great new folks I’d never heard of!

Won’t the “rich get richer” with any system like this?
Not necessarily. In order to retain a position on the list, a user will need to continue creating compelling content. But we should probably allow for folks to take an occasional vacation without concern about their rank dropping... ;-)

But more importantly - see above. Almost everyone is an expert in something, for some audience who trusts him or her... Allowing users to harvest that contextual expertise is a lofty goal, but one that we take seriously.

Did you use an algorithm exclusively for the initial list?
Google+ is still only weeks old, and we don’t yet have a long history with our users. Interesting users are joining every day. As such, in addition to algorithmic ranking, we’ve seeded the list with some folks we knew were either already creating great content on Google+, and/or were known to be interesting on other systems. Consider them hypotheses we’ll test. Inclusion in today’s list is no guarantee of placement into perpetuity (see above.)

You tweeted and said you wanted to talk to Twitter users with more than 100k followers? Do they get on the list automatically? I have 11 followers on Twitter. Don’t you want to talk to me?
We want to talk to users of all kinds. I’ve had no trouble finding people or talking to users with less than 100k followers on Twitter. There are approximately 6.5B of them on the planet! According to, there are only single digit thousands who have amassed that many followers. We’re curious about their experience and expect we have a lot to learn from them.

No one gets on the list “automatically.” But again, in the early days, we do want to make it easy for users to connect with people they might find compelling. If they prove not to be, justice will be served, and all will be right in the world.

And of course I’d like to hear from you... leave a comment! Start a conversation. Do your thing.

- edit:
Alida has a very nice perspective that states some of the above points... and more:
Shava Nerad's profile photoAlexander Howard's profile photoDaniel Ibanez's profile photoCraig Kanalley's profile photo
Great post, +Alexander Howard. As I'd said in your last post about the topic, I think that the SUL did have some really good names in it. However, the lack of categories and some obvious omissions and questionable inclusions made the entire idea counter intuitive.

Although +Bradley Horowitz's rebuttal to some of the concerns was heartening, I believe that Google is gonna have a really tough time curating the list and making sure they're including the right people and are covering a wide variety of categories. However, the fact that it is a, in the end, just 'a list' automatically ensures that it is never going to be 100% approved by all users.

The bottom line really is that no matter how well the list is curated, the celebrities who've little to say will continue to enjoy a huge following and topical experts who post nothing but quality content on the subject of their choice would have a limited follower base. But then, as you've said, it'll be much more interesting to interact with people who actually have something constructive to add to your thoughts!

And going through +Robert Scoble's list of programmers drove that fact home. I've had the chance of interacting with a lot of talented developers as a result of following some of the people in his list and since a lot of them aren't flooded with comments and mentions, they find time to respond and I end up learning something new. And I don't think I can find a better use for this platform than that!

And as far as the debate on pseudonym-ity goes, a (modified) quote by 'The Nameless One' from the game Planescape: Torment (one of my all time favorite games) succinctly summarizes the importance of protecting your identity:

"Fear names. Names have power in identity. Others can use names as weapons. Names are a hook that can be used to track you across the planes internets. Remain nameless, and you shall be safe."

I've found Google's approach to this debate a little out of character so far. Let's hope that they can find a solution to this mess that doesn't alienate the huge population of quality contributors who prefer to use pseudonyms.
Thank you for the thoughtful comment and sharing your experience with +Robert Scoble's developer list. I continue to be impressed with the quality of interactions I'm finding here. I rather enjoyed the metaphor of planes for internets, incidentally. Reminds me of many wonderful hours of gaming and epic fantasy reading.
Hey, how can I get on the suggested user list as a source on identity politics? ;)
Thank you +Alexander Howard for this important post. I hope Googlers take to heart your major point here (this is significant):
following the dispute over real names vs pseudonyms, the introduction of this list is causing a rift in the existing Plus community. Concerns about transparency, free advertising, influence, diversity and even accuracy have been raised by voices I trust. It's a second self-inflicted black eye and suggests that the hard-earned lessons that Twitter learned from its own SUL haven't been internalized at a high level in Google.

+Bradley Horowitz +Vic Gundotra +Natalie Villalobos +Brian Rose +Toby Stein please listen to Alex. He's one of the smartest voices around in media/tech.
My plus on this one too. I've known Alex personally for years, since well before he was on his current beat, and he's solid. I was being glib above, but it was based on long acquaintance ;) The article is spot on.
Well, shucks. Thank you, +Robert Scoble and +Shava Nerad. I reposted a slightly edited version of this again, after another tech journo told me it would be easier to share on its own. As always, I'm grateful for the help from the community.
No problem +Daniel Ibanez .. the more I read about the controversy surrounding this, the more I think this is serious. And hopefully Google can resolve it sooner rather than later.
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