Oh, Bradley. Why Google+ is elitist.

Google+ sure seems like they are elitist lately with the real names policy and now the suggested user list.

And they are.

Here's why being elitist will pay off big time for Google and why it doesn't matter anyway (and what I hear Google is doing to help "the regular users" anyway):

1. Brands don't care about the masses all that much. They care about the elitists. I used to work at a big brand, Microsoft, and saw this from the inside at a big company. Also I was hanging out with MC Hammer last night and he told me he's considering a big deal with a big brand. MC Hammer gets offered that kind of stuff when I don't and the masses here certainly won't. Why? Because the top users are the aspirational ones that companies want to associate with. +Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce) takes advantage of that better than anyone. He made sure to say hi to the CTOs of Coke and rockstar Neil Young. Association with big brands helps your own brand.

2. Most content on social networks is developed by only 5% and most of the audience listens to the top 5% of that. So, all Google+ needs is a few people to move over to really cause huge shifts in the ecosystem.

3. Most people can only follow 250 people. In fact, the average user follows far less than that. I already have 1,800 active users that I'm following and 5,000 full accounts here. I can't add more. So, top users, like me, will just increase our quality if more high quality people come here (enforcing even more elitism) and average users will only follow top users anyway. Following more is too much work.

4. Google is all about search engine and advertising. Does Google want 600,000 people posting about mountain bikes? No way, they only care that the top 250 mountain bike experts in the world are posting their stuff on Google+. That will give them more than enough fresh content to post into a search about Mountain Biking: http://www.google.com/search?aq=f&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=Mountain+Biking Already I am following about 400 active tech journalists. Already I'm seeing the exact same news here that Twitter has, only the news here has photos, videos, and better conversations around it.

4b. Mountain biking advertisers only really care that they hit most of the audience that cares about Mountain Biking. They want to be next to content that's really great and that's done by some of the top mountain biking content producers. I've been studying the long tail of content development for a long time and unfortunately the quality drops off very quickly after you get past the top 5%.

5. Advertisers want to put their content next to people who are real (i.e. folks that they can have on stage at conferences with the same name they use online and in other places) and that are recognized experts. That's why Klout is already being watched by nearly every major brand's social media team pretty closely (you might hate that, but it's true, when I visit big companies and their social media teams they watch Klout and other scores very closely.)

6. Google mostly cares about retention. (So does Twitter and Facebook, all of these companies talk about this with me when I've turned off my camera). Think about being a user who knows nothing about social networks, or what they are for. Imagine being told on TV, say, the Super Bowl, "join Google+ and follow the action." Well, what action do you follow? You have no idea who anyone is, or how it works here. If Google didn't have a list of great people to follow this would seem empty and unused. Now you can just "add all" and have some people to follow. Whether or not they are "the best people possible" doesn't matter to either this new user or Google. That will come later as they figure out who else can be followed here.

So, add all this up, and you can see why Google+ is getting more and more elitist.

What's the problem with all this?

1. Users who aren't on the list hate it. I know, I wasn't on Twitter's list and I still hold that against the company. But, it was worse there. I was Twitter's #1 to #3 user for the first two years. I had more followers than either Pete Cashmore or Mike Arrington, then Twitter did the suggested user list and left me off of it. That meant they ended up with millions of users and I ended up with 200,000. Of course, these "followers" weren't really engaged. How do I know that? Because these folks haven't been able to move their "followers" over here, while I have been able to do that with mine.

2. It isn't fair. Why am I on the list? Why aren't you.

3. It isn't transparent. Why am I on the list? Because I do good content or because +Vic Gundotra used to be my boss?

4. It doesn't always reward the right things. What should Google be rewarding? Great content and the people who produce that. But, I've found that lots of people get on these lists because, well, they have a friend in the company. On Instagram's list, for instance, are investors. Why are they recommended? The photos they produce suck. It's a back scratch.

5. It is a stick to use for PR reasons. Being on these lists DOES matter to a great number of people. People who decide paychecks, decide who gets on stage at conferences, people who decide who gets on mainstream media, etc. I've seen it over and over again. So, if you want to stay on these lists you gotta be careful not to piss off those who decide on such lists. In other words, there is pressure on me and other people on the lists to say nice things about +Bradley Horowitz and +Vic Gundotra and team. I've noticed that the press folks who are on Twitter's list generally don't say anything too nasty about Twitter and when Techcrunch posted some documents stolen from Twitter they were removed from the list for a while which let Mashable get more followers than they had.

6. It causes problems with relationships. I find that both being on the outside of such lists, as well as inside this one, cause relationship problems. I remember one couple I liked. The girl got on Twitter's list (she had fewer followers than the guy). The guy didn't. I pointed that out and now I'm neither of their friends. Already I'm finding I'm having to deal with questions in email about how I got on this list.

So, why doesn't it matter?

If you have great content you will get found by one of the folks on this list. I'm especially looking for great content, especially from technologists and geeks. I will share that content with my followers, so eventually if you produce great content you'll pass right by me.

I've seen that happen before too. Remember, I was the first one to link to Techcrunch.

So, in the end, content is king and that's all that really matters. Do you have great content? Let me know. If it really is great I got +Vic Gundotra on speed dial. :-)

UPDATE: I'm hearing from inside the team that they are working on a way for good content to get "bubbled up." Even from two or three levels away from you. So, let's say I'm following you. You click + 1 on a post. If other people join in with you I see that post. I reshare it, now three levels of people get to see that post. That will make the content you write, photograph, video, etc be more important than how many followers you have.
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