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Google Plus is not dead, but the honeymoon may be over.

In my post below I describe how G+ has become about as engaging as the town graveyard. It's worth reading. Promise.

Go on, read it. Especially you +Thomas Hawk, +Trey Ratcliff and +Elena Kalis.
Mark Armstrong's profile photoStephen Godfrey's profile photoNeesa Butterberry's profile photoIngo Meckmann's profile photo
interesting stats, but could this be that as more people are now posting good stuff to G+ the comments and +1's are being more widely distributed than they were in the early days?
I agree with +Rupert Wood that there has been a saturation of other photographers as well. I also notice minimal interaction from the photographers that you mentioned as well as some other rather elite photographers who choose who they reply to and who they do not reply to after posting a picture. I have commented, asked a question on some of these more "popular" photographers photos and you could hear crickets whereas someone else who was probably an "original member" comments "wow" and gets a "thanks" from the photography. It is quite frankly a turn-off at times and with so much talent out there and photographers that are much more gracious with their time and expertise, I sometimes move on.....
Interesting piece and you make some valid points. I find that I'm not as likely to make a comment on for example a post by Trey Ratcliff, but instead just leave a +1. The amount of great posts (not only photos) have increased many-fold, which makes it hard to acknowledge everything good.

One problem is, that it seems to becoming the norm to come as close to following 5000 people as possible. When following that many, it becomes difficult to keep up and I at least tend to use the +1 button a lot more, instead of taking the time to write a comment.

I also remember a while back, when some people complained about people leaving short comments like "cool", "awesome", "lol", and so on, instead of using the +1 button. They were afraid it would make the "good" comments get flooded and the max 500 comments limit would be reached to often. Well, in my case that has resulted in writing fewer comments, because I can't always come up with anything better to say to a great photo than "wow" and so I just +1 instead so I don't "offend".
+Shannon S. Myers has given a more detailed response expanding on my initial comment and highlighted some of the reasons people may have been 'turned-off' from responding or plussing the elite. Perhaps in the beginning some of us thought that it was worthwhile plussing and commenting on their posts, but after having had no direct response, a return visit from them, or indeed a + in return, never mind the expectation of possibly being circled back, it is kinda pointless to continue clicking and commenting when there are thousands of others out there more willing to engage and interact with those taking the time and effort to post comments and follow someones circle.
I think if you plot on the graph where circle sharing got big it will fall right about where the percentage of interaction dropped off too. It was (and still is) way to easy for people to circle a coupla hundred people that they didn't know they were interested in and now they don't have time to keep up with +ing and commenting.
wonder if you stats are being thrown off by the large number of people that have cold accounts? Does google know how many active users there are?
+sly vegas I am a stepmom, I DO work, I have a DSLR.... hmmmm...... where do I fit in? I have come late to the party as just recently discovered photography, not a professional but I am rather passionate about it. I follow you and others like you because you inspire me to keep learning, to try different things....
+sly vegas Many of those stay at home models with a DSLR post better and more interesting work than you so I wouldn't slam them. I think you illustrate the problem with G+ that +Rupert Wood was describing, though I don't know why you were ever considered an elite photographer.
You are right and wrong at the same time. The difference between then and now are the shared circles. The shared circles create a false impression of how many people are actually interested in your work. If someone adds a few shared circles and they are following 5k people they may be fully engaged, but would find it impossible to even notice your work. For those "type" of followers it has everything to do with the timing of your post. If they are physically sitting at their computer at that moment. The early days, we made more natural connections with people we had genuine interest in and there was no content overload. You were right to keep the people you have circled small. I have only added one of those large circles, and have found many great people that way, but am still working it down so that I am available to engage with the people I like. It seems that I am finally getting close to a reasonable balance again.
lol good point +BiIl Zinck are shared circles the primal stomping ground of misogynists or are the women just hiding from the creepy comment guys and potential stalkers?
I don't know about everyone else, but at least, if not better than 50% of all participation on my stream is from women.
Just post a flower shot or two. They will find you.
+Jason Reed careful.... why not just say a cat picture if you are going in that direction? I would bet that there are plenty of women photographers out there who love a strong architectural shot, minimalist/abstract as well :-)
+Shannon S. Myers - noted. It was supposed to be a joke, but I see your point. I will however, dedicate my next flower macro to you just to say sorry...:-).
Looks like +Damien Walker got a lot of love on this post. The difference between then and know appears to be that you have to post something interesting to get attention. Case closed.
I see +sly vegas deleted the comment he made earlier which seems to have caused a stir. For those of you who missed it, maybe next time. Me though, I still have email notifications turned on :-) You're a funny bastard, Sly.
Oh, please share. I did miss it.
Kim M
i missed sly's comment too but the conversation i did read is very interesting and important. i think jason hit it on the head when he said if you want "attention" you have to post something interesting...maybe even polarizing? well done damien!
Hi Damien,
This numbers are very superficial as I am not sure how many people who "listed" me have actually visited my page :) what about your graph? that's would be more accurate....
+Damien Walker you need to discount the suggested user list for starters. People add folks like me, Elena and Trey from the suggested user list, just because it's part of the sign up process without really any connection. These folks are far more likely to watch than engage. This is very different than an organic user who finds your work and has a high degree of interest in both photography and interacting or who may know you personally (such as a much higher percentage of our initial followers).

The very first people who followed us on G+ are our closest friends, the people that we interact with most heavily. These people most definitely will engage at a much higher percentage.

You shouldn't view engagement on a percentage of user basis. You should view engagement on an absoute basis. So the question is, are you, me, Trey, Elena, etc. getting more total +1s and comments on our photos or less than we were one month, two months, three months, four months, etc. ago.

The answer in my case (and I'm assuming in all of the cases above) would be more.

Of course engagement is just one reason why a photographer might want people seeing their work. Even the great masses that lurk and watch still are a potential audience. Thousands of people will go to a museum exhibit and just look. A much smaller number will actually show up for the artist's reception and seek to engage. As an artist if your goal in part is an audience for your work these views still matter.

Another factor of course is that how people engage with public figures is very different than how they engage with say their friends or people they know personally. I think in the case of every public figure across every platfrom (flickr, twitter, facebook, etc.) you will find that the case.

For example. President Obama's most recent post on Facebook has 5,273 likes out of 24,680,678 following his page which would be .002% engagement based on likes. Does that really tell us that engagement is bad for everyone on Facebook?

I think it's likely that for photographers who have joined G+ and (and this is very key) have participated in the community, that their engagement is actually up not down.
+Damien Walker I suspect that the trend you're seeing is not unique to the top users at all. Apparently new users to G+ are either less likely to engage, or they're showing up, trying G+, then going back where their friends are (wherever that may be).

Having the content of a few dozen Google-promoted users dominate the platform may accelerate that trend. What's the motivation for other content contributors to participate if their content won't get a reasonable chance at the time and eyeballs of other users? Not for the sake of numbers at all (as a cheap shot from one of the chosen ones goes), just to participate in the interaction, the activity on the site. Being deemed a second class citizen upon arrival, getting shoved to the back of the bus for no particular reason, has never gone over well in human communities.

Thomas was subjected to the Explore blacklist over on Flickr, so he knows how sucky a site gets when it's rigged against you. He's done a great job trying to lead the other top users into being more inclusive. It's great that he promotes others through photo shares, circle shares, his new show, etc., and the connections that creates across the community dwarf the ones he receives per month, but that process of broadening participation would work better if more people did it.

It would be interesting to graph people who did't rise due to being promoted by Google. Scoble, Jarvie, etc. I suspect we'd see a similar trend, although further back on the curve. What would be interesting to look at is if the effect is simply a predictable factor of gaining lots of new contacts, or whether there's really any difference in engagement between the two populations, Google-selected and promoted vs. community-selected.

By coincidence, last week I tested the "Google is so much greater in response than other networks" claims you refer to. They're probably partially accurate, at least from an instantaneous response standpoint, but while response on G+ is fast, interaction here has a very short half life, while people search for and find content on Flickr, etc. for weeks, months and years after an upload. It'll be interesting to compare longer term response to see which network actually delivers more bang for the time-invested buck. I've collected data from the first few hours from Google+, Facebook, Flickr, 500px and Panoramio, and I need to go back and re-measure how they're doing on the same image now, after a few days. Maybe I'll redo the test today as well to get a full Mon-Fri run.

It would also be useful to have a group of people perform similar tests, to minimize the quirks of one person's network participation from the test. For example, I have an ID on Twitter, but I never really saw the point of a text-based medium for visual artists (or for anyone for that matter). I didn't particularly find Facebook all that interesting either, although activity there seems to have come alive since the end of December or so. Maybe FB tweaked the operation of their data presentation algorithms? I'm still rooting for G+, but FB has huge potential to learn from Google's missteps.
+Damien Walker good post and check out all the interaction you've created...

You are using users that have close to a Million followers and given the 500 comment limitation, there is no mathematical way those guys can exceed the 0.05% mark. If we use +Thomas Hawk as an example, as per your graph, at the beginning he got from close to 1% of his followers comments on this posts. In today's numbers, this would mean 10,000 comments for each post in average. I'm pretty sure he is glad he doesn't get that amount. I think the 500 comment limit (not that I've ever reached that in one of my post) makes absolute sense - who would real all those comments for one post?

Your graph shows an obvious drop for all 3 users at the end of September. Remember that on September 20, Google announced the end of the beta program and opened Google+ for everybody? Given the limitation of users during the beta period, it's really obvious that those were the hard-core folks that used the system way more than the average person on the Internet.

Next Monday, +Barack Obama will answer questions from the public in a Google+ Hangout ( - we probably will see another flooding of new users after that event.

I think we're still at the reception and the honeymoon hasn't even started yet....

Just my 2 cents.
+Ingo Meckmann Look at Trey's last couple dozen posts... they get about 50-100 comments. The 500 limit doesn't seem to be a factor at all limiting responses to their posts, even with Trey's staff of 10 apparently leaving return comments for him to keep up the illusion of response. I received several comments in a row from his account a while back which I deleted, since they used such poor English grammar and punctuation that it seemed safe to assume that his account had been hacked.
+Jeffrey Sullivan True, but I think that's exactly the problem. When I see a post of someone that already has 100 comments on it, I will not add my own comment because I'm pretty sure nobody will read it anyway as there are already too many. In addition, I don't want to add my comment without reading the previous ones be it just to ensure I'm not writing something that has been written by a dozen others before and I don't have the time to read a hundred comments.

It's not the quantity that matters, it's the quality and if you take that very post as an example, you will notice that people care about such posts and they interact like you did. Had Damien written this in Facebook he probably would have gotten comments like: True, Agree, Very cool, Awesome, Wow.

Not sure about Trey's account but I haven't heard anything that it got hacked and I'm sure it would have been in the news
+Jeffrey Sullivan with regard to people finding content on flickr for weeks, months and years after an upload. Bear in mind that flickr has been around alot longer. I highly suspect that content on G+ will begin to see similar traffic from search over time. Especially given Google's push towards integrating social search into regular Google search results.

I think Google's interaction though is both faster and also of a higher quality than either Flickr or Facebook. Whole conversations happen here (like this one) that do not happen on other social networks to this degree. Sometimes something comes up where it's just a photo and it doesn't warrant much conversation. But I've seen so many huge long conversations here that sort of dwarf anything I've ever seen on facebook or flickr posts.
Oh, one other point, I think that interacting with someone in a hangout, with video and audio -- something that you can't really do on Flickr or Facebook, absolutely trumps other forms of interaction in terms of quality. I've gotten to know people so much better here than simply through photo/text only engagement on the other networks. That sort of high quality and quantity engagement isn't reflected in any of this analysis either.
+Thomas Hawk I'm right there with you on the positive points of G+. You've expressed exactly why I'm most active on G+, rooting for its success, why I've contributed over 2000 photos here so far, and why I want to participate in every way.

The promise of networked communities was described in a book way back in 1999... The Cluetrain Manifesto:
"A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies."

Over 90 million people on G+ do not have equal access to being presented in What's Hot, social search, and regular Google search, by virtue of not being granted 500,000-1,000,000 additional contacts by Google, to get ranked higher in those site features and external Google searches. Look at What's Hot... right now... it features Mike Elgan, Chris Pirillo, Felicia Day... that content is already presented to millions of users in their Recommended User list circle. Google social and regular search show no signs of being less biased. (Please get smarter about that, Google!)

Cluetrain also said "conversations subvert hierarchy" so I can only assume that the authors did not dream of a network like G+, with a hierarchy being imposed upon it every day, before a single conversation begins.
When I found G+, I jumped into it with both feet and never looked back. I invited contacts and customers here from other platforms. Then Google completely changed the dynamics of the environment. If Google is determined to continue to place most users' content at a disadvantage here, and in Internet searches in the future, how can anyone trust G+ as a sole or primary interaction platform, no matter how cool the features are? (You put 40 photos on Flickr yesterday, so those other sites aren't irrelevant by any stretch of the imagination yet, no matter how much we both like G+ features.)

Google can do so much better than hosting a system rigged by the site curators. Is making the rich richer consistent with Google's values? I'm very happy for Trey and his expanding staff, I really am. But my daughter and son would love to go to college. I owe them every ounce of effort I can bring to bear to convince Google to make member and content discovery processes truly open to all G+ community members.

My boundless enthusiasm for Google and G+ are exactly why I refuse to be deceitful to Google, and lie about how G+ is experienced by many users. I wouldn't do that to a good friend.
+Thomas Hawk I agree with much of what you're said here, but the point I'm most concerned about (for G+'s sake) is the vast majority of followers they've gifted you and others apparently have no actual relevance to you. My fear is Google's method for recommending people to follow is simplistic to the point of being counter-productive. Google are the masters of relevence but judging by the interest being shown by 90% of the people who have circled you, Trey and others Google have pulled the wrong lever. If they can't find better ways to suggest people to follow I'm afraid too many new users will find insufficient reason to stay and remain active.

I'd like to see Google better utilise our search history, our Gmail conversations, and whatever else it knows about us to link us up with people who have relevance based on who they are and who we are. One of the strengths of Facebook's model is the requirement to agree to a relationship in the friending process because this acts as a type of relevance filter that self-selects people with existing relationships. The friending process of FB has elements of commitment to one another that G+'s recommended users process does not.
+Ingo Meckmann Interesting perspective... sometimes it seems productive to arrive late in a discussion, when the points are clarified a bit, but some subtleties may not have surfaced yet. Also, rather than getting ignored due to having an early comment buried 100 deep and never seen or read by people who drop by later (who might not take the time to expand and read the prior ones), a later comment gets flagged to every prior participant.

Once I thought a bit more and realized that if Trey's account had been hacked, the hackers probably wouldn't have used that opportunity to interact for him, I realized that the comments from his account which appeared to come from a high school student were most likely from his staff, helping him keep his apparent G+ outbound interaction statistics up.
+Damien Walker excellent job on the post and stats, and interesting thread here too. I've found that the long-term engagement (Likes, Comments, Shares) average hovers around 0.1-0.2%, or 1-2 in 1000 followers on just about all social platforms. For a few people it seems to stay near the top of the range or even in very rare cases well above. The high engagement in the beginning was part anomaly, and part affected by this:

To me, Google is not aware of how the triumvirate of "Brandgate", "Nymwars", and more recently the "Suggest Users" at onboarding and beyond have already acted as community distortions (and they are all intertwined) they can never really undo again. And they are IMO directly related to the fading of the once sky-high engagement, by turning people off, if ever so subtly.

Part of this has also been Google's relative slowness in fixing some core issues/functionalities. Yes, they are shipping a lot of updates now, but it's been 6 months and many of them come about 3 months too late...

Great comment by +Jeffrey Sullivan re:Cluetrain asf. as well, I just curated that to my thread on the #nymwars update by Google yesterday. It's mirroring what I just wrote there about the still unresolved issue of commercial use of personal profiles and their currently entirely arbitrary distinction (in my view, they should have just let everyone fend for themselves instead of Brandgate and the - much too late to matter and restricted - G+ "Pages"). See here:
+Damien Walker ahhhh, ok, so you buried the lead. The point of the post wasn't really about engagement being down but about the recommended user list and that you feel that this will drive folks away because you feel that without this people will not get engagement (for G+'s sake). Got it.

Why not just use some examples then of engagement for people who are not on the list rather than people who are? I actually believe that engagement is up for users who participate but that using percentage as an engagement measurement is deeply flawed.

Here is the thing with the recommended user list -- and I soooooooooooooooo do NOT want to even touch this subject. I'll give my opinion on it and then probably not respond about it again because of two reasons. 1. I could be perceived as a stakeholder in the topic and as thus biased and 2. it's just an ugly rabbit hole that is not worth going down in my opinion. I'm not on G+ to get mired in controversial topics. I'm here to have fun and engage.

First off, Google absolutely should have some sort of a system that recommends content to new users. This is essential to the onboarding process. Before the suggested user list you had a huge problem for the vast majority of users. Unless they took the time to actually go out and search for people that they knew on the system, they had a blank experience of Google+. 99% of people were not able to find people that were relevant to them because 99% of their friends were not here yet. Of their friends that were here, they were not always active. Even today, it is not easy to find your friends. People are largely lazy, and so you absolutely cannot leave it up to them to manually find relevant people. They won't do it. It is, and should be, VERY important to Google that new users see interesting compelling content immediately. You have to keep them entertained a little bit, enough to hook them in so that they will make the effort to try and find their friends. Nothing will drive them away faster than a blank page.

At some point this will become less important. As social networks mature, as they get bigger, as they become more all encompassing, this becomes far less of an issue. Facebook and Twitter have hit the mainstream. So for them this is not as big of an issue. There is a huge chance that if I sign up for Facebook today that many of my friends will be there. So when I search for them they will come up and I will add them and I'll have a good experience. This is not the case for Google+ (yet). So Google+ has to provide people something better than a blank page.

Now, if we concede that it is a good thing for Google+ (and the community by the way because it's in the community's interest to have people have a positive onboarding experience that is more likely to keep them here) then it becomes a question of how best to show new users content. And this gets far more complicated.

From Google's perspective you probably want to show them content that does a few things. You want to show them content that shows that this is a vibrant alive social network. You want to show them content that is high quality. You want to show them content that highlights the various positive ways people can use the network.

Should you include celebrities? From Google's perspective probably yes. Because people will recognize them and this will validate your system. Oh Britney Spears uses this, she finds value in it. It's an endorsement of sorts. The problem with celebrities is that you cannot be sure that they will engage. But the positives are that they have big name/brand recognition. There's a reason that celebrities are paid to endorse brands instead of regular old people. But celebrities are busy people and less likely to engage perhaps and so you also need some people in there who are not celebrities but who you KNOW will engage. People who will post current fresh content so that new users see, oh, that photographer just posted a picture 10 minutes ago. This is an active hoping place.

So you need to have other folks in too.

Now there are different ways to pick these folks, but when it comes to these folks (if you are Google) what you want are people who will consistently provide high quality content to your network. You also want people who will not embarrass you. You want people who have broad mainstream appeal. There is big risk in who they select. They need to choose people who will do a decent job representing the social side of Google+ and produce high quality content that sends a positive message to new users.

This is important, the bigger you make this pool, the more likely you will end up with a wild card in there that risks offending your new users. From Google's perspective you have to be really careful here. You probably don't want someone who posts nudes, or who wants to post offending content, or who wants to argue, or troll, or whatever. I believe that consideration went into who was on this list and that Google felt they did an adequate job of projecting a certain image of what Google+ is. The more people you include in this process the bigger this risk becomes. When Flickr's explore first started out, Fubuki, a popular user, gamed the system to make a roll of toilet paper taken with a bad camera phone become the most popular photo of the day on flickr. It was embarrassing. And it highlights the danger of letting an algorithm have too much control over what your new users potentially can see.

But whomever you include, you cannot include everyone. You absolutely always will leave somebody out. And you risk this person becoming upset that they are not included. If instead of promoting 100 you promote 200. If instead of promoting 200 you promote 400. If instead of promoting 400 you promote 5,000. You will always be leaving the vast majority in your network out of promotion. So this problem is not really solved by simply becoming more inclusive.

I think by and large the people that Google chose (and they do add to this list as new people arrive, the list has in fact grown over time) are a pretty good representation to a new user of an active Google+. Celebrities give you brand endorsement, non-celebrity users give you active social content and engagement. So from their perspective it works. There will always be users who complain about it no matter what they do. If +Damien Walker and +Jeffrey Sullivan were on the list there would be somebody else who was not. And if +Damien Walker and +Jeffrey Sullivan were on the list they might have to worry about them writing negative articles about how engagement sucks at Google+ and using negative stereotypes about Google being a "graveyard" and then that wouldn't be the thing that Google would necessarily want promoted to new users either.

So there is little upside to Google for vetting a ton of new users for this list. No matter what there will be critics who are not on it. It takes time and energy to vette new users and the more you include, the more you risk getting wrong and having a PR situation. Would adding 500 users really change the onboarding experience all that much? Probably not. You might make 500 more people a little happier but really what photos they see (from Google's experience) is not as important as that they are high quality decent photos by people who socially engage.

Just about every major online system btw, promotes content. Facebook absolutely does this. Twitter does it. iTunes does it. Flickr does it. They may go about it in different ways, but they all do it. It's in their interest to do it.

So I wrote a book here about this topic and it's really something that I do not want to argue with people about. It feels pointless to me. I will say that I find it distasteful when people write about it under the guise of what is best for the community when it really feels like they are coming from a perspective of what is best for them personally. I think it's hard to say what is "best for community" when you feel like you have a personal promotional stake in something. It's also one of the reasons why I generally avoid this topic entirely.

As far as my personal belief for community, I deeply believe in what is best for community. In every community I've been in I believe in this concept. I've tried hard over the years to build community the right way from my own base -- shepherding groupds on flickr, sharing circles here on G+, hangouts, photowalks, real life meetups.

Personally I try my best to promote as many talented photographers as I can find time for. But I think G+'s onboarding process has very little to do with the community here. I think it's a red herring. Community is the rich interaction that takes place everywhere on G+. On threads like this, by tons of people, whether on suggested user lists or not. I believe that we can all contribute to the community here. +Ivan Makarov is not on the suggested user list but he contributes to community anyways. His book is a beautiful example of this. What an amazing thing. Is engagement up or down for Ivan since joining G+? I'd venture a guess to say it's up, wayyy up. That's the sort of thing I like to focus on.
+Thomas Hawk Thanks for the novel :-) Your points are good and I agree with much of what you've said. Reading between the lines I get the impression you think I'm pissed about not being on the suggested user list. If that is the case, nothing could be further from the truth. My interest is in the success of this amazing platform and I have no interest at all in furthering my own ends. I have even less interest in being on the suggested user list.

My fear is for those new users who fail to find engagement. I want them to be presented with content that is relevant to them so they will engage with it. I want them to be hooked up with people they know, if those people are here. I want them to have the same experience as I did when I joined.

Mostly, I want G+ to be a long-term raging success and to me it seems something is broken when hundreds of thousands of people are brought together (eg, you and those who have circled you) and vanishingly small amounts of interest or interaction follow. I look at it this way: G+ has recommended you, or Trey or whoever to possibly millions of people. Many hundreds of thousands have taken Google's recommendation and added you all to their circles but (according to my very simplistic analysis) Google has been wrong more than 90% of the time. I know Google can do better than that and I want them to, for their sake and for the sake of the millions of users pouring into the network.

I didn't intend to bury the lead, I think perhaps I'm guilty of not suggesting how it could be done better until the conversation matured to this point.
+Thomas Hawk Also, I just re-read your book and I see I missed your implication that I don't want a suggested user list. I do want it, I just wish it was smarter.
But I guess my point is that your data is not an indication that anything is broken at all. Low engagement levels based on a few popular (and especially) promoted users is the norm not an aberration to Google. I think to try and use your statistics to make a more broad general statement about engagement on G+ and especially using somewhat inflammatory words like graveyard misses the mark. Cherry picking a few popular users who are obviously going to have results skewed is hardly representative of G+.

The White House is now on Google+. As of right now they have 21,726 followers already. Their most recent post has 136 +1s. So if you use that as a measuring point that's 0.6% engagement. Now the exact same photo that is posted to Google+ is also posted to facebook right now. On Facebook it has 1,583 likes. Except that on Facebook the White House has 1,239,225 followers. So that's 0.1% engagement. So should we use these statistics to say that G+ is 6x more engaging than Facebook? Or should we extrapolate this data to say that facebook is a graveyard or ghost town?

I suspect in time that G+ and Facebook's engagement level for this account will get closer and closer together. I also suspect that most high profile celebrity accounts will generally have less than 1% engagement no matter what the case based on a percentage of followers. In part this is because people follow these accounts to watch more than to engage someone famous.

The other thing that you have to consider is that engagement will almost always go down as a percentage of users because not all users stay active. This is true on any social network. If I look at my images on flickr today (for example) as a percentage engagement is down. This has been true on flickr from day one because people sign up, add me, and then stop using their account. Are there any tangible example of any social networks where engagement % has gone up in fact? Google is not unique in this way.
+Thomas Hawk Ok, this is starting to feel like an argument now and that's the last thing I want so I'm bailing out :-)
+Damien Walker The need for a suggested user list wasn't directed at you. It was more establishing that as a baseline assumption. :)
+Damien Walker Stir and walk away...? I think it sounds like friendly banter. If your point had not been made with a bit of flame, the interest would have waned immediately. I get what you are saying, the few people I have talked into leaving FB have come here only to ask me, "I don't get it, what's the point?" then they go back to FB. I quit thinking this would be anything like FB a long time ago. I have watched at least one new person arrive here, (I assume found me through TH, but then could have been Lotus, thank you BTW!), get so inspired by the photos, that she bought her first DSLR and has become very active. She is so active here, that she has easily surpassed me in followers (I am pretty low, but still...) and her posts generate two to three times anything I have ever received. It may not work every time, but it does require the user to not sit there and wait for it just to happen. They have to want to be here.
+Jeffrey Sullivan re:" a later comment gets flagged to every prior participant." Not if most of those people have already muted the post due to high throughput, they're not...
+Jason Reed I have to say, Thomas' arguments sound very convenient/self-serving to me. No one is disinterested here, not him, not Damien, not you or I. Simple as that. It's easy to say "oh never mind my nearly 1 Million followers, the majority of whom were gifted to me, that's just the way of the world...nothing to see here, it had to happen...".

The PR issue especially is a crock IMO, there are plenty of examples of lowish quality or potentially PR sensitive content from people on the current Lists. Google could have done the right thing (and more intelligent thing, since we already knew all of the distorting/corrosive effects of an SUL done wrong from Twitter), and done a truly Interest Graph-based, round-robing system with many more useful suggestions (rough sketch of how I envision this to work: ).

What these simplistic SULs lead to is a more top-down-control Old Media situation than the equal access that New, Social Media were (still are?) supposed to bring. The distortion has one end result: People will tend to go elsewhere when there is new opportunity.

BTW, Thomas sounded a lot less bourgois about things when he was ranting on Google Buzz about how flickr had mistreated him there...
Man - had to read through all these long messages just to see why I got dragged into this conversation..

I once mentioned the same thing about interation down and had one of the longest conversations ever. Go figure.

Interaction on photos is down, yes. I think most people follow too many people and pictures get buried too fast in the streams. I now pay very close attention to my circles because otherwise it gets too buried. But that's the nature of google plus and it wasn't built just for photographers. It's not competing with Flickr - but with FB and Twitter.

Other than that - interaction here is like nowhere else. I ask a computer question, I get a stream of responses. Complain about NFL? Still many replies. Let's put a book together? Here Ivan are our pictures, say 400 people. 
+Alex Schleber yes, attack, attack, attack. what a bourgeois asshole that Thomas Hawk is. How dare he offer an opinion competing with how hurt and brutalized I've been by the overlords at Google+ that are slowly but surely ruining my entire life but worse pushing our beloved community off a cliff and into the abyss. How will we ever recover?
and btw singling out a single user or a handful of users by flickr and choosing to punish them -- not just blacklisting their content, but banning them from the main public forum and in fact hiding all of their content from public search (as happened to my account on flickr) is very different than not being selected for promotion.
+Thomas Hawk 1) I actually liked your rants against flickr, just couldn't help but notice the difference in tone. 2) Don't put additional words in my mouth. 3) Stop trying to push the SUL situation into some sort of over-the-top scenario instead of the very rational analysis of the distortionary effects.

The thing is, we'll never know now how this community would have proceeded without the distortions of a static, king-maker (actually Seth Godin's term for this sort of thing, not mine) SUL, will we? And no, I don't regard Google as overlords, but I don't kowtow to Google either. I speak my mind. Simple.
+Thomas Hawk Positioning anyone who discusses the community dynamics which result from the suggested user list as simply wanting to be on that list is the mother of all red herrings in this discussion.

The list itself isn't the issue, although just social networking 101 does say that it will cause problems in the community...
_...research by Cecilia Ridgeway [6] indicates... Social software that allows communities to recognize their top contributors may actually provide more leeway for abnormal behavior,

Shame on any community members who notice? Really?
The real issue is content discovery, especially Internet search. Let's drop the colorful cover stories about a poorly conceived and implemented list, and tell me how Google's going to fix search, other than "fix" it from the standpoint of promoting a few of their friends, such as gifting 38 photographers up to 25X the reach of their peers (and growing).

Google has a problem. Anyone claiming that this issue, or the resulting controversy, are created or promoted by anyone other than Google itself is promoting sheer fantasy, a complete avoidance of placing responsibility where it lies. This tendency to "shoot the messenger" when the topic comes up is simply blame-avoidance:

"When done with constructive intent, criticism can be helpful. Blame has a legitimate corrective function for those who significantly err. However, as practically everyone knows, blame is rarely a purely objective process. It's often a defense of denial against failed responsibilities and a way of causing harm."
Google can tackle the topic of manipulating G+ (and thereby Internet search) at any time it chooses.

You know that I have years (at least six, and over 10 million photo views) of experience interacting around photography. Lately Google did create this situation, refused to engage in discussions on it, the attacks by suggested user list members started, and spread over the course of months. That's going to create some issues, Google is too close to them to look at the situation objectively, and yes, they need to hear a spectrum of feedback in order to make optimal decisions about how to address them.

In those nearly 5 months since the list emerged, Google has avoided facing the topic, and I've avoided gracing with a response most of the ad hominem attacks from suggested users.

Let's look at the past week alone: I didn't take the bait on one such post last week promoted to 500,000 G+ community members. I didn't publicize +Robert Scoble caving in and accepting membership on the list (in a public statement stating very clearly that he felt that he had no choice from a business perspective... that monopoly power also being at the core of this issue). I didn't share this post by +Damien Walker (which exposes the farce of interactivity / engagement as being an alleged factor in list selection). For the most part, discussions about the workings of the site are boring to me; I'm here for photography. I did try to explain to Google how their removal of the Incoming stream reduced content discovery option, responding to Google asking for input on that. I even defended your unusually prominent role in the community (which results from being on the list):

Apparently I'm not going out of my way to knock G+, to start or engage in any arguments, or make any sort of trouble for Google at all. Far from it. My actual behavior is closer to the opposite of your negative portrayal.

At no point have I contacted anyone at Google requesting to be on the list. With the lack of that behavior, you might consider the distinct possibility that despite all of that energetic negative positioning by list members, many community members really are simply providing genuine feedback intended to greatly improve G+.

I spent 5 years driving over 200,000 miles and generating 7 million image views through Google's Panoramio site because I have a deep passion for photography. I've also spent an absurd amount of time contributing thousands of photos to G+ and interacting around those and others' work because I'm one if the biggest fans of the operation and potential of G+ (since well before any Google list, and before any word of possible integration into search came out).

Yes, Google's recent choices are very puzzling to me, but not without good reason, and I'm not alone. Only Google has the power to clear up the similar puzzlement across the G+ community. Enough avoidance already.

Say what you want about the facts of the situation, we can agree to disagree on elements of it, but I would appreciate it if you'd have the courtesy not to participate in spreading inaccurate stories about my G+ participation, or to speculate on my motives.
+Jeffrey Sullivan BTW, I am happy for Thomas Hawk, as I am happy for Robert Scoble or anyone else for that matter, even those people who's content I don't agree with quality-wise. I really am. But the distortion effects need to be debated.

If I built my own social platform, and I was not a participant and had no stake in amassing a following or not, I wouldn't want to introduce these distortions out of principle, and because I firmly believe that they eventually kill communities. Look at what happened to Digg. It got hi-jacked by run-away Power Law Effects as well...

Twitter killed the community that was very real in 2007-mid 2009 with its actions ( #newRT was part of it), and then became more of a broadcasting channel.
+Alex Schleber Absolutely! Just 3 weeks ago I drove 500 miles on New Years Day to try to connect with Hawk, Scoble, Ratcliff, etc. in Yosemite. My kids were eager to show their kids some of the cool things they like in the Valley. We couldn't park within 1/2 mile, couldn't reach them by phone or texting, and didn't know where they'd go shoot next, so we had to go do our own thing for sunset, but I'm here to connect with photographers, and I'll bend over backwards to make it happen, just like I've been doing through other sites for 6+ years.

I've led two G+ photowalks already, and participated in Hawk's in Death Valley. It's great to make new friends and to have more people to shoot with in the field. I've shot with several G+ community members already this year, even without any defined events. As my book research draws to a close, I've identified 30 compelling shooting opportunities so far for my 2012 calendar, and I hope to meet with and shoot with as many people as possible... G+ community members, Google employees, everyone. I have no qualms with staying in the field nearly 100% of the time. I love it; that's what I do. It's going to be an amazing year.

This crazy Google business of manufacturing divides in Internet search is an unnecessary and unfortunate development which maybe deserves a tiny bit of explanation? It certainly doesn't need to create divides in the community... many of the list members have expressed a complete willingness to share the limelight in a much more open process.

How about this: have circles feed the list, start with Hawk's, deal with any individual issues as they come up (delete a person if necessary), rotate to another community-defined circle. Anyone can nominate one. While recommended for a few days, everyone competes to out-engage the others and stay on the rotation for an extra week, and new users on-boarding get smothered with those users' best content, best behavior, and love is showered on those new users' contributions as well. There, problem solved in 20 seconds, using existing site features, just allow a circle to drop into the list rotation. Maybe someone at Google drops in a new circle every few days, or just point up front to a list of circle shares (there's a list of 900 circles circulating in a Google Docs spreadsheet) and let the site tick down that. That wasn't so hard.
Ok, I'm completely done discussing the topic of the suggested users list forever. I do not know how I even got sucked into this conversation other than I feel like when things are directed at me I have some sort of obligation to try and respond so I don't seem rude.

I will not talk about it again. I'm not here for acrimony, I'm here for fun and photography. I won't talk about it any more here and I won't get sucked into any more discussions about it in the future. If people try to get something out of me about it I'm just going to disregard it.

We all contribute to the photography community on G+ in our own way. Nobody is suggesting anything different here. We should all keep making the beautiful images of our world around us and sharing those with our friends and other photographers on the site.
+Thomas Hawk I'm sure I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you're a class act. I'll shoot with you any time, and hopefully many times.

I'm working out some dates and logistics, and I'll contact you with more details as some of the concepts get closer to launch in case you want to participate.
I never make those lists. :-)
As if on cue, Scoble picked up on the SUL theme in a longish post from Davos: The corruption of Robert Scoble -

"...So why have I been corrupted? I used to be a much better user advocate than I have been lately. I used to be much more concerned about lockin, fairness, and all that. Lately I've become much more cynical.

I had hoped that social media would lead to a meritocracy, where the best ideas would float to the top like the ice cubes in my drinks last night were. But instead we've ended up in a world of suggested user lists and Klout and, at DLD, while Jack Dorsey, who runs Square and product at Twitter, was on stage, +David Kirkpatrick asked who had the most followers in the audience. Once again reminding us that this world has been corrupted (the number one person in the room was on the suggested user list over there, and was gifted hundreds of thousands of users).

So, I find myself cynical now. Corrupted, even, as I see tens of thousands of new followers here on Google+ because I've been added to this list again.

What does that cynicism and corruption lead to? I find myself far less sympathetic to Twitter than I would be otherwise. They messed up this world which could have been so great. Last night as I walked to dinner +Loic Le Meur and I noted that Twitter's engagement and following counts have slowed way down when compared to Facebook and Google+. If Twitter had built a meritocracy I would have been much more angry about what +Vic Gundotra is doing by putting Google+ results into Google's search engine.

+Dave Winer explains that this feature creep is creeping him out: I might have joined him if I wasn't corrupted. ..."

So maybe +Damien Walker, +Jeffrey Sullivan, and I aren't completely off base after all worrying about the corrosive effects on the community here and elsewhere.

If you want to see what the Power-Law-Effect-induced race to the Lowest-Common-Denominator (LCD) bottom looks like, just go study the Twitter Trending Topics on most days. Or this:

(click on Google Translate in Chrome... - Japanese "Pop Supergroup" - gets their 500 comments filled up just about every time...
hyped by Bradley Horowitz here: )

I'm sorry, I thought we already had a mass/LCD venue for each the Social Graph (Facebook) and the Interest Graph (Twitter). Why did G+ have to go there too? I had always hoped it would be the Thinking (wo)man's Social Network for the 20-40% of FB/Twitter users fed up with the drivel.

Imagine what could happen with just Twitter Trends if they broke up the Power Law Effect by round-robing between trends 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, asf. There is real value in detecting naturally occurring trends minus Power Law Effects - if a trend is full blown, it's pretty useless. Finding things in the early stage is where value lives.
Addendum to my comment above: "I am happy for Thomas Hawk, as I am happy for Robert Scoble or anyone else for that matter, even those people who's content I don't agree with quality-wise. I really am. But the distortion effects need to be debated."

The difference here is this: If someone you know or know of wins the lottery, you're happy for them, the winner/s get/s that particular jackpot distributed to them and they live happily ever after (or slowly devolve back to bankruptcy as the case may be). Hopefully you get to party with them a bit. The end.

With these SULs on the other hand, the distorting effect on the community and further flow of information persists for a long time (maybe for all time as far the particular service is concerned). By bundling attention to certain sources disproportionately, the other sources get drowned out more so than would have otherwise been the case. And the Power Law Effect more or less guarantees that there is no escape. Which is why Twitter will probably never recover from the Bieber-ization, etc.

In that way, due to the relatively finite/stable amount of Attention in the system, the SUL strangely enough is closer to a Zero Sum Game than the lottery, where the prize reconstitutes with every new jackpot round. There are no rounds when it comes to the SUL. (Unless the services were to use a round-robin or other variable system.)

/cc +Alexander Becker thought you'd enjoy (or might add to) the Game Theoretical aspects of this.
I think the above discussion somewhat belies the "graveyard" description.

For me, my stream is more dynamic all the time. As I add interesting people, the quality of the content improves. And this is key for me. I am not here for discussion or interaction, per se, but for input. It is a news, information and entertainment source. The social aspects and discussion which may (or may not) come with it are simply an added bonus.
+Thomas Hawk your original post is spot on. We are here on G+ for interesting fun and engagement. We start with suggested users like you that will give that factor. You show us how to do it and give us confidence to interact with you, as I am doing now. Once we are comfortable we adjust our circles and widen our interests. Seems good to me! Personal thanks to you, +Robert Scoble, +Mike Elgan and many others.
Maybe we have to start defining a concept for "share of engagement" as we are talking about "market share", because there is a limit to what we, as content creators, listeners, curators and commentators are able to digest. Still, as I see it, the engagement here at Google+ is rising - even around the celebrity accounts. I just used Allmyplus to see how people are engaged by the account of +Thomas Hawk. Result: 30 reshares per post, 58 comments per post and 192 +'s per post! The most commented post: 391 comments (November), which also had the most reshares (317). The most plussed post: 888, from January. Hardly a lack of engagement I would say.:)
+Morten Myrstad if you take that average, it's still ~ 280 engagement items on ~ 1M followers. That's 0.00028 = 0.03% engagement. Not one tenth of 1% (1 in 1000), but 3/100th of 1% or 3 in 10,000.

With my little non-SUL account, I am seeing an average of probably 1/1000 followers, or 3 engagement actions per post going to 3,000 organic followers. Maybe it's a touch higher.

So you have to look at relative rates, not absolute numbers.
I think this is about the longest post I have ever read on G+. G+ will continue to survive and thrive as long as people are willing to contribute in a meaningful manner. Discussions such as this make that point.

Interesting that I ended up here because I was reading about Loic Le Muer closing his posts to comments from everyone not in his extended circles. This seems sideways related as it has to do with interaction here

Damien, back to your original point regarding the fall-off of interaction. In July when I joined G+, the community was much smaller, and I followed a smaller group, so it was easier to keep up with everyone, see everyone's posts. Now, I'm trying my best to refine the list of people I follow, because it's impossible to see everything from so many people. I've added a couple of circles suggested by people I follow, worked my way through them looking for interesting people, and removed the circle to pare it back down. I hope that the small group I do follow will have the quality of sharing and shared interests that will keep the engagement going here.

Though my own level of interaction has stayed the same or perhaps even increased since July, it's spread over a wider group of people, so I don't get to everyone as often as I would like. I'm sure, as has been pointed out already here, that this would indeed account for a falloff on your chart as regards to individuals. But, I guess at this point, I'm only repeating what has already been said here.
+Damien Walker Nice analysis. Mirrors my subjective experience closely. Kudos. By the way: I know what is going on. It is the circle sharing. 1/5000th of a mindshare is not very much, even if you are +Trey Ratcliff.
How late but I'm back for my second honeymoon. Perhaps :D
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