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Ryan Schultz
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Lonely by Vali Vadanoiu
Shot taken in Dobrogea, Romania
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Fashion Street 2, 2012
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summertime by Agnès Hulin
summertime by Agnès Hulin
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An oldie, but a goodie.
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If you've never visited New York, you should go at least once.
 
Great timelapse from the streets/places of New York City

https://youtu.be/lP75QXyMKFs
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Been there done that you can keep that crowded dirty smelly rank piece of trash city. I'll take almost anywhere else.
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A Boat at Poda
https://flic.kr/p/bovg31
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A long read but a good one. Google+, are you listening?
 
Mountain View, we have a problem

Dear Google, I’m your friend. Really I am. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t take time to tell you there’s a problem. I’m not rage quitting, that’s an easy way out and unworthy of what you’ve built. I’m going to try to make this place better and if not, I’ll find someone, who’ll help me build a better place. That’s not an idle threat, because you know there are smart people with drive out there. Complacency and lack of direction make incumbents vulnerable. 

so let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late (B. Dylan) 

TL;DR
GPlus needs to change and put humans in the middle instead of compartmentalizing us neatly. Suggestions for improvement are also provided. A user group advising and providing feedback would be a good start.  Stop here or proceed at your own peril.


What do you want to be when you grow up?

My friends at Google, we know you have the smartest people, you have the best data, you’re everywhere in tech. Here we are having this discussion on GPlus, an absolutely fantastic site full of potential, but often frustrating to myself and apparently others too. I think I am beginning to understand why.  You don’t know what you want to do with GPlus; you’ve got data instead of people at the heart of the design. 

Just one man’s opinion

Clearly, what I am writing is from a very limited perspective. I lack the data you have. I lack the specialization in this field you have. I am not objective. Thus, this is admittedly only my take on things and I won’t presume to be a speaker for everyone, but I will speak clearly and earnestly with you. I want you to succeed, but if you won’t change in ways that make the experience better here for me, I will go elsewhere, because eventually someone else will offer a better experience if you do nothing. 

No free lunch

This is our implicit bargain.  You been getting my content, tracking me, selling ads using what you know about me. In return, I have been able to use GPlus and other great tools from Google (Search, Drive, Docs, Hangout/Chat, Translate, Scholar, Android, Picnik in the GPlus Photos, etc…) I think we’ve both been more or less content with this deal. I am no longer content though with the experience on GPlus, because it could and should be more.  

What you’ve done well

You’ve given us some very easy to use and powerful features on GPlus. The Hangouts on Air, while something I seldom attend, has been a great way for me to sample some musicians. Events have been great for specific, directed purposes. Hangouts / Chats have been a mixed blessing , but the fact that you offer it as part of the package has been great. You’ve built in a translate function that makes some languages that I don’t speak halfway accessible to me. It lets me follow people with quality posts in different languages. I love the photo quality and tools. Auto awesome, Auto Enhance, the Picnik toolset and the generous space have made sharing photos here easy and fun. Circles are a very good feature that rapidly became my favorite tool for dealing with the stream to ensure I saw what I wanted from people I circled and posted to whom I wanted. Let’s not forget your two-step verification, which gives additional security on the account. Blocking and reporting spam features have been tools that so far, thankfully, I have rarely had to use, but I’m glad they’re there. You deserve special credit for never going down the “Farmville” or “Mafia War” or any of those other games of similar ilk route. That’s definitely a laudable decision to not do something. Sometimes not doing something is just as important as what you do. 

I’m probably forgetting things that have become so second nature that I just take them for granted. That’s a compliment to so many things that are done well here. 


”It depends” Category

Google, you’ve got a lot of things that are a mess. Sometimes they are helpful and sometimes they are mixed blessings at best. I mentioned Hangouts above. One of the people I have followed for a long time on GPlus, who has used hangouts a lot more than I ever have or probably will, told me the other night that her Hangout turned into Chatroulette. If people want Chatroulette they go there. If people want a reasonable discourse a GPlus Hangout ought to be a good alternative. 

Communities  Yes, I get the purpose. I understand why it is good to have private discussion groups or focused forums. Communities have proliferated so much though, that I hardly go to the ones I have anymore. Despite invites I now only add a community once in a blue moon, because I just don’t have time to get to them anymore. I also think they are divisive and detrimental to engagement on GPlus. Oh, some people in communities are passionate and engage frequently and meaningfully within a community, but their voices are sorely missing in the public stream. 

Collections  Again, something I understand. I’ll get around to setting up some. I know that when I post a picture of a spider, even some of my most loyal followers get a shock. Putting spider pictures in a collection could be a good idea to deal with this. They can follow me, but opt out / suppress the spider collection. At least in theory. If someone follows 1000 people will they realistically go to that granular level, esp. over time? After all use of collections will be ongoing and dynamic, so users would have to continually update which collections to turn on or off. I’m sure Google has thought it through. My gut feeling is that collections serve the following purposes: 

1. It’s a Google version of Pinterest (simplistic, but I’m running with that for now) 

2. Google likes to have things categorized. It fits neatly into your most powerful capability: search. You guys can even search scripts and DOMs accurately. If you get people to cleanly categorize pictures and maybe even label them for you, you have another goldmine to make yourselves indispensable with. How could you resist getting users to categorize for you? 

The danger is that it’s going to put keywords and items in the center instead of people. We’re not discovering and interacting with people, we’re searching for and discovering photos associated with keywords. If we don’t know what we don’t know, how will we find something new? Won’t this lead to a progressive encapsulation or a type of filter bubble for our user experience? 

Ok. The intentions behind Collections are good, but I’m keeping an eye on this.


The Bad and sometimes Downright Ugly

November 2013 was a low-water mark for Google Plus. I believe you made an immense mistake that severely damaged the ecosystem. I liken it to an asteroid impact on Earth leaving a distinctive mark in the fossil record. GPlus was for the most part a community of people, who wanted to be on the Plus and who interacted with each other positively (my experience). Then you forced the integration of GPlus and YouTube . I know you’ve heard the complaints before and this is history, but it still echoes here. The YouTube integration marked a time when I started losing people that I enjoyed on here. They either abandoned the place or went to almost exclusively private posts. It is my subjective impression that GPlus went from exuberant adolescent to wary young adult in that period. Let me tell you GPlus that I don’t want my identity on GPlus and my identity on YouTube merged. I want to have a public and a private persona: even if you may know everything I do, I don’t necessarily want every like or dislike to be for public consumption. You overstepped there and you let the barbarians overrun Camelot. They weren’t even interesting barbarians, a better description of the horde would be cretinous trolls.

Hashtags  Please get hashtags under control. I do understand that you need some. Take a look at my attached snapshot evidence hashtaghell. When a post has a title and maybe one or two lines of text and then is followed by two pages of hashtags things are out of control. Do you really think that’s a good idea? Is that really how you want us to reach out to each other? Do you want to take SEO and the “Plus My Post” game to these extremes? 

Circle share abuse  well, you fixed that radically didn’t you? Was there no better way than to completely eliminate it? At what point did you discuss this with your users? I don’t miss circle shares that much and don’t really care. I wasn’t in that game, although I did benefit from shares and apparently was shared some hundreds of times. What bothers me is the lack of discourse with your users. There were legitimate uses for it, but you killed the whole feature. 

What’s Hot fix that too. Yes, you want a “trending” feature, I get it. Curate it How many times will a particular user with only 5000 followers get hundreds or thousands of “+1s” , a handful of comments and never respond to any commenter? Zero engagement, nada, zilch, but every day turn up on “What’s Hot”. Sure, some of those shots are good, but they’re not outclassing everyone else every day. Is that on the level? Maybe it is. Maybe it is the culture and the region. I think you’re being gamed. I damned sure am sick of seeing that. Oh yeah, I can block, but you’re letting it happen. Blocking only pretends it’s not going on. It would be an ostrich tactic.  

Speaking of gaming “What’s Hot”, apparently a couple of hashtags about bees will get you on “What’s Hot and Recommended” even if you don’t have much to say or a very good photo, while other people’s work that I have seen barely gets noticed. That’s a riddle to me too. There are probably other examples, but I think I’ve made the point that something is fishy in Denmark. 

You want users to spend their energy on hashtags and SEO? That’s what you’re going to get. We’re not all in this for money or fame. I understand businesses competing for top page ranks. Let that happen in the Search Engine Wars. Level the playing field on GPlus for normal users. Rigged games turn people off. I don’t think competitive hashtagging is where the majority of users want to wind up. 


Frustration: it’s got to be better than this

Lacking any way to get meaningful statistics inside GPlus, I’ve had to do some reading and use outside tools. Google says there are about 300 million active GPlus users in a month. Stone Temple Consulting did a study of public posts and concluded the number was close to 110 million active users. That’s a lot, but only about 0.5% of Google users. Only 6.7 million have 50 posts or more EVER on GPlus. About 3.5 million have 50 posts in the last 30 days on GPlus. 

Let’s get down to my numbers, because they’re the only ones I can speak directly to. Thanks to 3rd party tools: +CircleCount  and +NOD3x , I have some information I can use.

2171 total public posts from 20110715 to 20150513
2012 posts in statistics 
20.4 +1s per post
0.78 reshares per post
8.2 comments per post

Current numbers based on last 50 posts
20 comments per post
2 reshares per post
55 +1s per post
16992 followers

77 total engages (reshares, comments, +1s)

0.0045 Engaged Spread => 0.45 % interaction based on number of followers
(Reshares + Comments + +1s) /  Followers

0.006 Engaged Depth => .6 %
(reshares*3 + comments*2 + +1s) /  Followers

I can’t say if these are good or bad, but I do feel like I rarely reach someone new in terms of engagement. Mostly, I think, I have a loyal group of regulars (I adore you), with whom I have interaction in comments on my posts or on their posts. If I get past 150 people in a week I’m doing great. That doesn’t seem very good to me considering that I supposedly have almost 17k followers. That’s roughly 0.9% interacting with me. Is that typical? It seems pretty low to me as a layperson, but I do enjoy the interactions with the people I have come to know. I’m happy with the quality so far, but a bit mystified at such a low level of interacting versus the apparent base (17k). 


An eloquent comment by a friend

_ But it wasn't just me who changed. Google+ changed too._ The tone changed and some changes had a profound impact on personal interactions. I saw and still see, people pouring out their hearts and I wonder, do people even still see this? Have we, as in users of social media, become so jaded or is everything happening too fast? Has the neverending stream of information around us dulled our ability to see? (from a friend’s post. Not listing his name to protect him in case things go south on this post. If he wants his name in here, I’ll edit and insert it.) 


Making this place better

Sometimes you have to roll the hard six

I know that I’m opening myself up to be ripped into by lots of people, lectured by others and have still more shake their heads and say “bless his heart”. It’s ok. I don’t want to just criticize. I want changes and have ideas. I’m sure they don’t match everyone’s ideas, but unless people advance ideas on what’s wrong and what needs fixing, you, Google, are going to do what you think best in a vacuum. At least I’m not hearing about you reaching out to people like myself, so it appears to be a vacuum to me.
 

Action Plan

1. You need a user group that’s a real cross-section of your users. Ensure both women and men get to participate. Include power users (bloggers, musicians, artists, tech columnists, authors, etc.), but also regular users. Include people from different regions. Include people using different tools out of your offerings. 

2. give us a meaningful roadmap or vision for GPlus. What are you going to do to make this the best place for people to interact on the web?

3. Put in some “simple” fixes to small, but aggravating problems.

3.1 When a post is reshared and gets plusses, why not have the plusses also automatically added to the original post?

3.2 let people have better view to what happens with their posts. Who is interacting on it (limited number when you click on activity today)? If something takes off, who was the key user in that chain of events?  

3.3 if you won’t give us the tools to understand what is going on then open up the API to CircleCount, Node3x and others. Let them develop add-ons to make our experience better. Open it ALL up to them. 

3.4 Give me a way to check my circles. Who is still active? Who abandoned in 2013? Let me clean out my circles without a tedious search one by one. Sure, I would like people to come back, but if they’ve been gone a year or more, I’d like to see it and make space for people, who will interact with me.

3.5 Take hashtags out of the main post. Put them in another section, i.e. a post has a text section, it has an optional “labels” or “hashtag” section, it has a link/photo/video sharing option.

3.6 Curate “What’s Hot” better. Even better than that, get people on GPlus, who actually find good quality postings and put them in a recommended/curated listing. If you’re doing that today, it isn’t living up to my expectations.

3.7 Why don’t you want to be the place for people to come to discuss topics? Why shouldn’t GPlus, built by some of the brightest people of our era, running on and within one of the most capable global companies, be a place that attracts avante garde and intellectual interaction? You ought to want to make this the place to be on the internet. I’m not asking you to be a Facebook killer. Don’t be Facebook, Pinterest, MySpace or the Matrix. Bring bright minds together. Make it easy and rewarding to mix and mingle. You can dominate this space in a way no one else does.

3.8 If you can’t figure out how to make 3.7 happen then find your top contributors of original content (music, art, photos, blogs, regular posts) and make them an offer as a highlighted contributor. At least figure out something to make it rewarding for them instead of leaving them to be worn down by the parade of spammers and trolls. Make sure there is support for them to handle the engagement volume. Some of you remember Dede King? Someone like Dede would be great. Sure she polarized, but we need spice not oatmeal. 

3.9 The “Discover” feature is lame. Those aren’t people interacting with us. Maybe some are news sources, but I don’t need GPlus for that. Famous people, who don’t interact and don’t do their own comments are boring to me. The only one I’ve run across, who was good at that was Jerry Ryan. Fix it. Rotate people in. Use your own statistics to show people, who really interact and let the cream rise to the top. Use your curators to find quality content, not just names. 


4. Dr. Zaius, get your stinking algorithms off me 

Google, you mean well, but these algorithm changes are killing interactions. We users do notice when engagement drops off. It’s not a ghost town, but sometimes things drop off suddenly for a week or two, usually around new feature introductions. If it were just me then I would look for a reason in my posts or the quality of my work. I’ve had enough people tell me they notice something too, that I don’t think it’s me. It’s you Google. You surprise us and you’re not transparent.
What I think is wrong: you’re doing Big Data and assume like likes like. I’m sure there’s statistics for it. I’m sure it’s more comfortable that way, but some of the more interesting people aren’t like me. I also have Circle Management. I know who I want to see out of the people I already know. Why do you keep changing relevance algorithms and pulling us apart? I feel like the bread pudding in the expanding universe analogy where galaxies are raisins and growing further apart. 

I want control over what I see in my existing circles without your algorithms deciding to give me less of Jane Doe and more of John Smith. I also want to be able to discover people from something like the old “incoming stream”. Right now my main way to discover new people is from interaction with new people, who plus/comment on my posts or a GPlus friend’s posts. I grow slowly, organically and have richer interactions, but I don’t know what I’m missing out there. How can I get new stuff in my stream and avoid a “filter bubble” and slow, but sure stagnation? 


Wrapping Up

Google, I care about GPlus. You’ve let me meet wonderful people from all over the world, who I never would have met any other way. I’ve learned from others and I’ve grown in unexpected ways. It has been a great ride. I think you have more to offer, but I also think you’re complacent, distant from your users and lacking clearly communicated direction. You may have it all internally. I know you have extremely sharp, driven people and wouldn’t rule out anything you want to accomplish. You need to remember users though. GPlus may be a great layer on top of other services, but make it something people also continue enjoying to connect with other people. 

Thank you for the good years! I hope you have more to come, but don’t take it for granted. Others may do it better if you won’t put users back in the center. No one stays on top forever. As users we have to adapt to change. As a provider you need to change and adapt to opportunities and threats too. If you make this a place people love (net promoter scores anyone?) GPlus will master all the changes. 

We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly, and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship, for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him. (Montaigne)

Thanks for listening. I came as a friend. 


Resources / Additional Reading

General GPlus Info
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google%2B

Users / Communities / Engagement / Ghost Town
https://www.stonetemple.com/real-numbers-for-the-activity-on-google-plus/ 
https://plus.google.com/u/0/104092656004159577193/posts/9261uXiuoeM 
http://marketingland.com/google-plus-small-still-not-dead-yet-125083 
http://www.simonowens.net/google-plus-is-not-a-ghost-town-the-massive-engagement-within-its-communities-platform 
http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/why-google-is-dying-and-nearly-dead/617715
http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/study-suggests-far-fewer-active-google-plus-users-than-google-claims/

Collections
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/google-plus-adds-collections-to-keep-things-tidy-move-towards-being-like-pinterest-10226039.html 

Is Google the Matrix?
https://plus.google.com/+MikeElgan/posts/DmCGAG1uveN 
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/blog/2013/jun/04/google-plus-the-matrix 

Search Engine Crawling
http://searchengineland.com/tested-googlebot-crawls-javascript-heres-learned-220157 

Filter Bubble
https://medium.com/backchannel/facebook-published-a-big-new-study-on-the-filter-bubble-here-s-what-it-says-ef31a292da95
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/05/06/science.aab1422.full?sid=887c35db-9eea-4707-a6fb-23a23210f1b3 
http://www.fastcompany.com/3046111/fast-feed/why-scientists-are-upset-over-the-facebook-filter-bubble-study 
http://digiday.com/platforms/wtf-filter-bubble-combat/

Tim Berners-Lee on an Open Web 
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/long-live-the-web/ 

One iteration of the raisin bread analogy (I believe I first heard it from Carl Sagan, but couldn’t find it)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/8807068/Universe-like-raisin-bread-says-Nobel-prize-winner.html 
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thanks for the reshare, +Ryan Schultz . I hope this will be a better place for all of us. 
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Blurred Stud, 2012
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He might be part Bigfoot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMm1YTd8lHM
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Your love gives me such a thrill
But your love won't pay my bills
I want MONEY!
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I tried it out, did a really good job on 2 out of 3 images I submitted.
 
Wolfram has created a website that will identify any image you throw at it

The new image project joins Google's Goggles and Amazon's Firefly as rapid identification tools, though is notably designed without the intent to try and sell you anything with what it finds. It also comes just a little while after Flickr's new Magic View, as well as Microsoft's research site that determines people's genders and age based on photos. Unlike Microsoft though, Wolfram says it keeps a thumbnail version of the photo after you've uploaded it (so it can be shared with other people), and that it's collecting the images to keep on training its system, so be mindful of what you send in.
One of the most amazing things you can do with Wolfram Alpha is ask it what planes are overhead. If you're on your phone, it will pull your location, then cross reference that with a database of...
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Vegan/Vegetarian. Excellent breakfasts, get there early (8 is not too early). Great people watching, a real neighbourhood establishment.
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