But They're Stripping Out People!
I keep hearing this from people accustomed to the old G+ who are struggling with the new one. It's one of those statements that sounds so seemingly logical it goes as an assumption... but like many assumptions, it is itself rooted in false assumptions.
[Puts On Psychology Hat]
Now, I get it, you have formed some amazing connections on Google+. Maybe you've developed an ongoing dialogue with people you like; maybe you've HIRL'd; maybe you've become fast friends outside and beyond the web. Hey, I have! Why do you think I stuck around when all my IRL friends stayed on the Book of Face?
But you and I, however different we may be, I can almost safely assume share one trait in common: we are willing to enter an online forum, with little structure beyond privacy settings subject to our human fallibility (if we even bother with those pesky things) and engage total strangers. We were also willing to put in at least some minimal effort in forming these online connections that goes beyond simply Friending everyone you've ever met in real life, their friends, their friends of friends, and on down the line.
This is a unique quality and precious, in that way a beautiful flower is precious: because that beauty is so easily destroyed. The Interwebz, if you hadn't noticed, can be dangerous and frightening places, all the more so the less structure and moderation a forum provides, or provides but makes difficult to use. Humans easily develop a fear of strangers if they weren't raised with one, and for most people it doesn't take many bad interactions to turn them off. Nor will they wait long for some magical 'connection' to form spontaneously that keeps them on a social network.
Google+ was supposed to have an ace up its sleeve: Circles. But unless you're one of the aforementioned types who reaches out to form online connections with strangers in a poorly structured online meeting place, Circles depended on the thing that never happened: everyone jumping ship from Facebook. OK, maybe it wouldn't have taken everyone, but a lot more people than eventually did start using the network.
Worse, since Google had no idea who you knew already (compared with Facebook), if someone you did know joined after you had already joined and stopped using it, you might never even know. Everyone you know could have signed up at different times, and each might still think they were the only one.
The perfect world of Circling people as Coworkers, Friends, Chicks I Might Get It On with Later (which you would actively maintain, moving Girl C perhaps from that Later Circle to a Now Circle as appropriate) never happened. It became more of a power user tool, and its prominence an active hindrance to new users... Circle whom, for what? Even if I found 500 tech people and Circled them, I'm not guaranteed a concentrated Stream of tech: those same people have thoughts about politics, the debt, the latest comic book movie, the smell of baby poop, etc...
That was the other failed part of Circles: we were all going to share only the right stuff to only the right Circles. In my experience, most people didn't even have anyone to share with, and the default privacy settings most people stuck with were private and to all Circles, thus negating the right sharing idea. There is a more basic failure: beyond a small handful of contacts most people simply can't maintain that kind of rigorous sharing, and thus not only did it fail as a privacy tool because there was no one for most people to even share privately to, but it failed as a power tool because I have to maintain perfectly curated Circles even as they approach huge numbers, always remember the right ones to share to, AND not be seeking anyone beyond that private sphere (i.e. it worked against their chances of competing with Twitter).
One suspects a vision was operating somewhere but that it depended on a massive and sustained growth that never materialized. They proved they could move heaven and earth to get hundreds of millions signed on, by some counts billions of accounts, but far fewer stayed and shared.
But, hey, in real life, we do meet and engage with strangers. So how do we do that? Well, sometimes we meet them through Friends and Family... but, oh yeah, Facebook has that sewn up. How else do we meet them? Work? Well, yeah... but our coworkers are on Facebook too and we know how to find them there.
But almost none of us can stand one group of friends, the same friends, whom we met through other friends or family, forever. We want to meet new people. So we don't just go to some room full of people and various tools, and start meeting new people: we go to structured forums. Places where a common activity or interest draws strangers together despite any reservations, but where there is at least a sense that someone will step in to moderate at least the worst offenders should anyone seriously misbehave. Clubs. Bars. Churches. Book clubs. Concerts. Midnight costume party releases of geeky British books for school kids with a surprisingly large adult fan base. We may even seek out places, at times, for common types of expression: discussion groups, activist campaigns, poetry readings.
These structured forms of expression and interaction, are not dissimilar from the Collections/Communities Duality of Google+. I feel safer following your Tech Collection at first than you (as an example); you might advocate the extermination of other races somewhere on your profile, and my even following you might be seen by some as guilt by association... but if your Collection is only about tech, and I like tech, and we only talk about tech... then that is a safe start. If I find no credence to the idea that you are in some way repugnant or offensive to me thereafter, because your tech Posts made me more curious about the man or woman behind them, then I already have a good start towards a real connection: I know you and I can discuss a common interest and, if necessary, keep it separate from other things until we know each other better than that. Maybe we never will, and we'll just be two tech geeks who talk tech for years to come... if we both enjoy it, what is wrong with that?
A Community, meanwhile, provides a similar focus to Collections but lets a community of users add to the discussion, like a 'Collection' made by many. Well moderated, they can be excellent places to take those first steps that ease strangers into their interactions.
So far from 'getting rid of people', Collections and Communities help save people, by not requiring us all to be either one-dimensional sharers on only one topic, hyper curated sharers with mastery of privacy tools, or people trying to balance presenting multiple aspects of ourselves with not wanting to force everyone who follows us to hear every single thing we have to say or none of it. If you hate my sense of humor but love my tech or vice versa, I don't want to force you to choose! And the coolest thing about Collections: the more of them I use or you use, well considered, the more we can find the common ground! We may never be best buddies, but that is OK, as long as neither of us feels we have to be!#PlusOnly