Where Google+ fails: My shrinking geek circle

By | June 28, 2012
Where did all the real geeks go?

This is my second circle share, and (like the first one) a very small circle. It is also one with many lesser-known faces. These are people who are not necessarily hackers, but they all have one thing in common, something that annoys everyone who doesn't understand geek culture, and that turns other geeks on – they will ruthlessly and methodolically take apart the semantics of anything you say, and go to utmost lengths to defend their reasoning. They will keep you sharp.

I'm also sharing this circle as a call for help. This circle is the one circle that I curate that has shrunk considerably in the past few months. I figure it is high time to share it before it reduces itself to zero. Some of its ex-members are now homelessly wandering without a new platform to gather on. But where have the rest of this geek exodus gone off to?

And, oh yes, the question which we all suspect an unspoken answer to but don't want to acknowledge it: why is Google so seemingly desperate to drive the geeks out?

21 thoughts on “Where Google+ fails: My shrinking geek circle

  1. Gaythia Weis

    I agree with +Sophie Wrobel curation is vitally important, not only to create circles with some indication that those within can be considered generally reliable sources, but also to collect significant posts to re-share later.  IMHO the "stream" structure even when structured by circle management.   Most posts have a "life" of no more than a few minutes.  New arrivals, unless they catch on and start commenting on the posts of others, probably do feel as if they are broadcasting into an abyss.
    As someone interested in science education, I find it dismaying that false rumors can spread quickly and corrections are difficult.

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  2. Sophie Wrobel

    +Christine Paluch There is a difference between curated circle sharing and massive circle spam: curated circles tell you what to expect when you add the circle.

    To illustrate the difference, an example of circle spam: 'This circle is about high quality people! To get in this circle, please reshare it.'

    … and an example of circle curation: 'This circle is a collection of small business and entrepreneurial-minded folk.'

    I've noticed an increase in circle spam in comparison to the early days, and while I do agree than a move to the mainstream is inevitable, I find it a pity that noise filters haven't been keeping pace with the move to mainstream. That is, I suspect, one of the biggest pain points separating the 'technocrats' from feeling at home in the mainstream-branded Google+.

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  3. barqzr davi

    never taken one and never shared one +Christine Paluch i  will make 1:1 recommendations and glean from comments but i don't need wholesale imports that i then have to weed out
    if it works for you . . great!

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  4. Christine Paluch

    +barqzr davi as an early invitee, I see your point. In some ways it made me realize the potential benefits of a technocracy. 

    Though as somebody who participates in curated circle sharing, I see its benefits.   

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  5. barqzr davi

    the fingerprints of the original google employees/contractors who sent out the first round of invites (one must remember the invite only phase) established the demographic here and that was perpetuated by the incestuous nature of a relatively closed society ,,, i really do believe that one must consider that seedstock and the closed community this was for the first few months , right from the beginning i saw this as analogous to Asimov Foundation series
    the demographic +Sophie Wrobel refers to were quite likely  aghast at the hordes of common folk that blithely ran about plussing , sharing and adding indiscriminately :p
    add to that the bane of interactive community, "circle sharing" (unless done as Sophie has, in very small populations) and with great discretion.

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  6. André Fachat

    +Christine Paluch  yes, "moving on to other things" is a good point. Just some anecdotal evidence. I do have a number of focal points, only some of them involve G+, and interests shift from one to another over time (and back again). For some activities I started to tweet, but as it didn't create enough signal to get over the noise, I moved on to G+ – but in the end the topics I originally wanted to share I moved back to specific forums again (outside G+) – where the S/N ratio is much better. I think +robi b  has it right saying it takes effort to stick and get into that consistent interaction.

    At least for me – and I think geeks in general – look for less chit-chat and more real "bang for the buck" in terms of content for the time you invest into a communication / collaboration platform.

    As long as it takes more time you have (who has enough time anyway?) to really make something stick, you leave and look elsewhere.

    So why is it so difficult nowadays? I can only speculate. I found that with the commercial push the chit chat increases, which takes more time and effort to filter out the noise. Something that happens less on a specialized forum for example. I only occasionally look around to get new contacts in G+ for that reason, and just lurk around to see what my current contacts do, and occasionally post something. I confess I am even guilty of increasing the chit chat sometimes by posting, well chit chat – just to post something sometimes.

    For me it's also important to keep some privacy. I am in the services business – everything I say could probably be turned against me. So I am "censoring" myself here anyway. Maybe others don't want to push out their opinion just as much as maybe +Sophie Wrobel for example  🙂

    I also do not often have the time to write such things like this at almost 2am…. So forgive me if I'm rambling…

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  7. robi b

    I've noticed attrition as well.  I can see that some of it is just a natural exodus over time.  People may try, but it really takes effort to make it stick and sometimes it's really hard to get into that consistent interaction that will make this platform, one that has no convenient desktop tools, easy to monitor.

    Same could be said about my activity on twitter, as that one place I've reduced activity on.  I'm not too sure about the feature set being a bother as they've improved in parts, made other parts a bit weird, but nothing a little getting used to wont fix.  But I guess that takes some willingness and commitment.

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  8. Christine Paluch

    +Betsy McCall You beat me to it, using anecdotal evidence to notice a change in behavior is by in large problematic.  We are limited by those that we know, follow, and come in contact with rather than verifiable data.  This is especially the case in social behavior, it is one of the things behavioral and social scientists should check at the door, and by in large is what makes the social sciences harder to deal with, the human factor can be difficult to get over. Cognitive bias is that powerful when judging beyond ourselves, but even judging yourself.  Just because you are seeing it happening within your circumstance, does not mean it is indicative of the overall picture.  +Sai who you have listed can probably tell you as such.  

    I have to agree though that though in the original format was more conducive to long form content creation and interaction.  This is a user experience issue, but one in which there lies with its own wrinkles of complexity. Google does have to balance between its established user base, and a format that allows for growth.  Between the white space and the grey text for comments, it has made it more difficult for those who interact verbally. At the same time this change may have happened because they thought it was more conductive to growth.   I think this is coming from a move towards visual design, as supposed to a detailed engagement use case.   It is hard to tell the nature of how the UX changed how people posted without Data from Google themselves to analyze social behavioral patterns such as words per post.  Even then you have to consider constructing an appropriate sample to gauge the changes.  Largely because there is a web vs. mobile element, and most of the growth in plus is coming from mobile users who tend to write less.  This is probably contributing to more of the quick shares and visual posts, rather than long form posts.

    Taking however this is a very small subgroup I think you are talking about, that you know how to identify, I understand where you may be coming from.  It is by in large contextual based on specific interactions within this group.  I have to say I have the similar subgroup here in DC of analysts who are by in large not on plus or contributing content. They never really posted on plus, which is kind of a shame.  

    The one thing you are right about is the intellectual level of Google+ overall has changed, but this was bound to happen eventually with growth.  I agree this has made finding the right people more of a challenge, but also the increased the level or irrelevant comments at times.

    Though I am in the same boat as Betsy, for my own posts I have cut down the content creation because I just do not have the time I once did to do so.  I don't have the time to write my own analytical posts with what is happening in my life.  

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  9. Sophie Wrobel

    +Gaythia Weis you've put so many references all at once, I'll need to check up on them later before a half-decent reply. 🙂

    Just to clarify: My experience is not that G+ is shrinking. My experience is that one particular subgroup and in particular, the one that +barqzr davi picked up on, is shrinking. The crowd that isn't quite as ruthless ( +Yonatan Zunger being a prime example of  that, others whose opinions I highly respect out here, including +Christine Paluch  and +Michael-Forest M. ) seems to have a lot more success in staying afloat in the shifting G+ landscape – in fact, I would say this group is growing rather than shrinking, as I discover more such folk regularly, and that's what keeps me here.

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  10. Betsy McCall

    Thanks for the mention, +Christine Paluch!  My experience with G+ has been a little bit of both the major concerns mentioned.  Some of the changes that have been made have been bothersome.  (Some of those are best ignored as much as possible.)  However, posting links on Twitter isn't really the best platform for the snarky comments I am wont to make (not enough info; snark needs context), on Live Journal I am talking to myself, and I loathe Facebook beyond words, so this is really just my best fit so far, so I stay.  But my activity level here has changed.  I still post articles I read that look interesting, but I haven't had as much time for interacting and reading other people's posts.  And depending on the way one uses G+, these changes may contribute to the appearance that some people are leaving.  Anecdotes about what people you know are doing are fraught with problems.  People who are happy may just not be telling you, for instance, and memory can be terribly selective.  It'd be interesting to see some real numbers, especially if the data can be broken down by activity level over time.

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  11. Gaythia Weis

    Thanks for the mention, +Christine Paluch .  But I don't have a big ego, so part of the analysis here should be why do I come to mind?  Where are the more prominent scientists or those with science policy and education and outreach interests?  I'd have to agree with +Sophie Wrobel's thought that Google + is shrinking.  I"d agree with Christine that a very large part of this is time.  I work intermittently, intense bursts and then not so much.  Google + offers the right level of engagement for me, and I"m online already.  I can pick it up on a slow day, dip in now and then, or  drop it for a few weeks.  Those with other sorts of time sinks may or may not carve out time to engage here. The may have other platforms.  And getting connected here does take time.
    Google + is a very interesting way to interact with people I never would have met otherwise. And I can tell, with many I "know" online, that there are people for whom this venue offers connections with people with similar interests in ways that simply would not be possible in their daily lives and in their actual locations.

    But there are limitations to the platform. 
    1. Google + is very visual, a catchy photo seems important.  But such photos are frequently shared without authorship or explanation.  So, while there are still large numbers of photographers sharing here, I think that the number of already established professionals may have dropped off (but that is not an area I'm expert in).
    2. Google + is sort of "democratic" in that anyone can make a post.  But as Google + grows, I think it is harder to connect with others that have similar interests.  It is also hard to use it intermittently and keep connections.  It is harder to sort out the quality from the noise.  This strikes me as a fundamental limitation as Google expands.  I like an eclectic mix of people but obviously also am limited to what, maybe a little over 100 that I could really feel I "know"?  How could such a subset be organized?  I think that the circles concept is an interesting start, but still, one that will need ongoing work to keep viable.
    3. Many posts do not seem to be read in great depth.  I've had people who hit "share" right at the instant that I've posted something.  Too soon to read it, and certainly too soon to follow the link.   If you are familiar with Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" or +Dan Kahan 's work on cultural cognition, people have areas where thinks resonate with things they think they already know, so these are re-enforcing.  Some of my recent posts are regarding what really was a rumor.  It was interesting to see how it spread here like wildfire.  Sort of a yes, THAT! response and nothing more.  Partly this is an issue of time.  Sometimes it seems concerning in that the platform may be fueling this shallow thought process and behavior.
    3. There are, as +Sophie Wrobel notes, complaints that Google + is expanding in ways that make the written word more difficult.  The "whitespace" controversy about the page layout for example.  Or the difficulty in linking threads.  At any rate, it needs work, if in fact that sort of exchange is something Google wants to support.
    5.  Many of the active Science bloggers and journalists depend on driving  "hits" to their own websites.  To the extent that people participate with them here, and not there, it cannibalizes their advertising revenue.  Many journalists also seem to have sampled Google + and now avoid it.  Perhaps for similar reasons.  Their livelihood depends on being able to sell their journalistic skills, Google + is more about how anyone can do that.
    Read Jaron Lanier: http://edge.org/conversation/the-local-global-flip
    What if information is free and only the ability to organize and distribute it is valuable and lucrative?  So that gets at the issue that +barqzr davi is raising above.  To a large extent, marketing is about understanding the human quick grab response.  Facebook "likes" and Google "pluses" matter for that, the personal information on a profile page also helps define a potential customer, a lengthy discussion or debate not so much.
    So that gets into really the potential for figuring out what kind of future we have, and at the heart of creating an online culture that works to further human potentials.  And to what extent ought we think, or rely on, the idea that a corporation is interested in contributing positively to that sort of future, or sustaining that sort of stance over time?

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  12. barqzr davi

    "they will ruthlessly and methodolically take apart the semantics of anything you say, and go to utmost lengths to defend their reasoning" …….not really the kinda people who would approve of the blindered focus on selling and control that goo goo has as core corp. philosophy.

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  13. Sophie Wrobel

    +Christine Paluch No, I've asked some as to why they've left, and where they've gone. At least, those who I know from before G+, at least – those who I've met here seem to have vanished. It isn't about picking up new projects. It's a certain disdain for the 'features' the G+ team has introduced into G+, making it much less usable with each iteration, to the point where G+ no longer is a platform for efficient exchanges.

    As to your suggestions – thanks for calling them out! Meeting 2nd degree folk is always nice! +Gaythia Weis should definitely be in that circle. I can't tell about +Betsy McCall at first profile glance, but she's a definite great addition for my science circle. 🙂

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  14. Christine Paluch

    I am not sure there really is an effort to drive them out.  I think there may be a move away by some people, but that is a natural effect of social communication.  People move on to other things.  I imagine in the next few months I will be posting less myself because I will be actively involved in other things.  There is a certian degree of social fluidity near the top of the intelligence scale as well, it is not uncommon to become hyper focused on a specific project or set of tasks, and become disengaged in previous activities. There is also the difficulties in focusing  in on one specific group of people or set of topics.  Sometimes it may seem there is a narrowing of a specific set of people, but the reality is there may be more of that set, but there has yet to be an interconnection with the previous set.  So as people drop out from the previous set, it may seem like a shrinkage.  

    Also no +Betsy McCall or +Gaythia Weis?

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