Google+, minus growing pains

Google+ is still very, very, young. But the internet doesn’t wait. And when a new service is adopted and welcomed by journalists reporting on the very medium in which the service is launched. Well, you’re going to get very quick reporting.

Is Google+ losing a bit of its shine? Who cares! Too early to tell, and far to soon to judge! Any empirical change is surely but a generic side effect of rapid growth, aided in part by invite-only through the tech A listers, boosted by social media hype, and now decamped in temporary circles awaiting reciprocity.

It’s interesting to note that the A list users of Google+ are quite probably the least qualified users to be rendering judgment on Google+’s social usability. The adoption model used by Google made use of A listers — and consequently A listers are paid handsomely with followers, a status leaderboard of the top 100, and social media coverage by their first invitees to keep the engine running.

A listers on Google+ get the G++ experience. A kind of turbo-charged social feed experience that is a) often about them and their posts or b) those of their peers and social rivals (in a friendly way). For the A lister, G+ is incredibly familiar, and delivers up the attention.

And so of course, the tight conversation about G+ on G+ and reported on G+ in posts and out to the rest of the social mediaverse is going to notice slight changes in adoption. That’s because if but a few of the tiny lights at the back of the room head out into the corridors to seek out something more intimate and interesting, it’s those on stage who notice first.

Early adopters with followers and attention should be careful not to mistake a drop off in attention to them with a dropoff in the service’s engagement or interest. That would be simple error in POV. (It’s not about you!) Google+ isn’t here to become twitter.

That said, some drop off in adoption rates is expected. And this will be reflected in the +1s and follows inside Google+. Social sites that roll out with an invite only model, in bed with social media elites, trigger a form of social signaling among early adopters and invitees. New users want to (re)connect existing relationships and connections from other sites. And want to subscribe to those they follow already elsewhere.

So the social signaling is loud and bright at first, and this attracts signaling to where it is most effective — any kind of echo chamber, and any medium capable of mirroring social attention, will reflect and social signals. Where? Around the activity of the A listers, of course.

A listers thus  get added attention for having been first (power laws) — which is of course fed back into the system as an attention loop. And in responding to the attention loop with activity (A listers feed the feedback), create an unspooling feed of social real estate in which newcomers signal their arrival and solicit reciprocity. (This is a natural social cycle of early adoption and is nobody’s fault, if it seems a predictable and repetitive feature of social media launches.) A lister content and communication (comments) provide the best place to get noticed.

But woe to the A lister who believes that all that attention is for them alone. And that all that attention is about them, and their activity. Most certainly not! Social media are about me — and this goes for everyone. An A list comment trail on a hot potato post is a well lit place and gathers many eyeballs. A perfect crowd to hand out your card in.

Ironically, or paradoxically, some A listers already want filtering and noise reduction. And google+ can make some legitimate improvements with its handling of shared posts. But whether the service needs content filters and algorithms or not, I do want to point out that there’s a fine line between noise and action. Noise is necessary.

Long ago, William Whyte conducted studies of street traffic in New York and elsewhere. He noticed that, contrary to conventional wisdom, people insert themselves into traffic and are drawn to it — rather than to the empty and unpopulated. Corporate lobbies and parks had become desolate plots of refuse — where street corners were in the meantime bumping.

In any new social service, new users want to see where the action is. Well, if a site like Google+ launches through the industry leaderboard and by invite only, the action is around the leaders. This never sticks (if it does, the site is for and about tech only) and is only a launch strategy.

It’s hard to know how the +1, the circle, and post sharing will work with more normal levels of activity. Presently, +1 is as much a social signal (I’m here now, follow me back) as it is a content up vote or gesture of agreement. Following is high, of course, because connections must be made early on. And this is feeding egos and skewing activity on Google+ to talk about Google+ (including some competitiveness around whose advice and insights are smartest). Not a sustainable topic, nor of interest to most.

It’s always fascinating to watch the launch of any new social tool. The effects and phenomena of interest are never just features of the tool alone. They are always contextualized and socially embedded already. Always already a reflection of use by others, many of whom we know personally, and relate to socially. And each of us of course sees from his/her own point of view, and according to what s/he is given to notice and take interest in.

There really ought to be a pseudo-objective methodology for describing social tool adoption and its stages. A set of relevant and adjustable technical features; a cause and effect social math for scaling user populations; a sociology of social effects; a psychology of common ego and personality types; and some kind of agile script or playbook that articulates the options a tool’s designers and developers have at their disposal. Lest they be swayed by the clamor of A listers for the features that serve them best. In the meantime, we know the script — tweak and iterate! This will be interesting to watch.

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  • mleis

    Really spot on insights Adrian! You’re articulating a lot of what I’ve been feeling, trying to use the service. the only thing I’d add is the weird feeling of closeness with contextless strangers. So far my circles are largely full of people I already know from some other place, and a different messaging system we’re more used to. We’ll see how this unspools, as you say, but so far it feels like a plurk: a few major interesting features, but largely too divergent for massive scale.

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