The number of people following me (or following you) is actually irrelevant.
I've been watching the folks on the top 100 list. http://socialstatistics.com/
Most of these folks don't actually PARTICIPATE or put up good content. Heck, the number one guy hasn't even posted at all.
While it's great for my ego and brand to be on this list I really wish I had never seen these numbers. Why not? It puts in place a bad game.
See, anytime there's numbers there's a game that evolves.
Humans love numbers and they love games.
So, why is this a bad game?
1. You can't win the game. Why? The deck is stacked against you. More on that in a second.
2. Since this game is one of the only ones on Google+ to play, entire sites like http://socialstatistics.com/
have already sprung up to play.
3. It doesn't reinforce good behavior. Why isn't +Trey Ratcliff
#1 instead of Mark Zuckerberg? Trey actually puts freaking awesome content up nearly every day and PARTICIPATES here. While Trey is on the list, he deserves more followers than I do and certainly more than anyone else on the top 10. At least if Google were paying attention to the community that's building here.
What would have been better? How about some sort of participation score? Klout gets a lot closer to this than a follower number score. Why? Because Klout looks at how much resharing happens, how active you are, in addition to how many followers you have (and it even measures real followers vs. bots).
So, why is the deck stacked against you?
See, when the first people joined the system, it studied our following behavior. Truth is most heavy social networking users, like me, "collect" the biggest "personal brands." You know, folks like Leo Laporte, Zuckerberg, Brin, Pirillo, Kawasaki, etc.
These are NOT necessarily the best examples of users of a system and they get followed on each system (I am following them on every single social network out there that I can find them on).
The neat thing is with circles I can start putting them into their own circle, so they don't pollute my other circles. Look at +Leo Laporte
for instance. His main stuff he's been doing here lately is just location checkins. No value at all and just adds noise to the system (that's another problem Google needs to fix, why these things need to be in our feed just makes no sense to me). But I follow Leo because, well, he's Leo and I've been following him since 1995 when I helped him run his chat room when he was on KGO radio back then.
So, where am I going with this?
This "most followed" list is actually very corrosive to Google+'s reputation. Why? It's a list that many people will use to check in the health of the system.
If Leo Laporte and Sergey Brin don't use Google+, that must mean it's not being used very much at all, right? That's the way journalists will look at this.The deck is stacked against you.
Why do I say the deck is stacked against you? Because, even if you are brilliant and put the best content possible into the system (say that you're a better photographer than Trey Ratcliffe and participate here more) there's no way you'll get more followers. Why not? Because each new user that comes in here is given a bunch of people that Google+ suggests to follow. This suggestion list is algorithmic (which is an improvement over how Twitter did theirs) but because this list is based on the following behavior of those who came before you, there's no way new users will ever catch up. Heck, if +Ashton Kutcher
can't even get onto the top of the list you KNOW it's stacked against YOU.
So, how would I fix this if I were +Vic Gundotra
or +Bradley Horowitz
(the two guys who run Google+)?
I would buy Klout. Put a Klout score on everyone's profile.
Then I would split the suggested lists into topics. Sort of like Quora has different topics, and different recommended follows. Look at Quora, while it recommends me for Tech http://www.quora.com/Technology?q=Tech
it does NOT recommend me for being a wine expert http://www.quora.com/Wine?q=Wine
and the Wine experts are different than those it suggests for cars, etc.
Truth is Quora has its own Klout-style score that it's keeping for each user (it's mostly invisible, although if you're active on the system long enough you can figure out where you stand in each topic).
Anyway, this is all a way of saying, "hey Google, we need a new game here and we need it fast." Oh, and +Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
(the guy who keeps that top most followed list here) is there any way to come up with a better list that more accurately reflects who actually is putting good content here and getting engagement rather than who is just merely popular and a usual suspect?
For instance, http://www.recommendedusers.com/
has a better idea (although, because it's human done, this list is imperfect for other reasons) by putting up recommended followers that are more based on both topic, and on actual participation. Thanks +Alireza Yavari
for doing that list, although I should be on the journalist list (I do more tech journalism than most other people, for instance) which shows this list is incomplete because it relies on humans to add to the list.
What do you think? It'd be interesting to see what community managers think, too.