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Monday, July 25, 2011

Give Google + Some Time

I was fortunate to be invited to Google+, the new social media dealy-bobber that everyone's talking about.  Why is everyone talking about it?  No idea.  I haven't seen one article that says why the big deal, besides that it's Google.  But it doesn't matter, I know the reason: everyone's wondering if it's going to be a Facebook killer.  

People are wondering if the Facebook king can be toppled.  Facebook permeates everyone's lives these days.  It's a genius app and it's making Markie Z a ton of money.  (Can you imagine what a kid with that much money now is going to be like in twenty years?)  Anyway, the big debate is if everyone's going to need to do a painful migration like they did from MySpace.  

It was important to me because I missed the Twitter boat.  Social media is important for an author because it's a great way to connect with fans, which I will eventually have (hopefully).  Personally, it looks just like a Facebook clone to me.  I don't see what's new and different about it, but even so, people are on it.  People are talking about it.  So that means I should get on.

But there are complaints.  Both Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman, two biggies in the literary world, made public declarations that they were on G+, checked it out, and signed off.  Their basic reasons were "friend bankruptcy", which means that thousands of people kept adding them as friends, which made it impossible for them to find people they actually knew and wanted to communicate with.  

Other reasons were that Google kept firing off notifications every ten seconds because of the frequent circle-adding.  And that Google kept suggesting people as friends that were completely unknown to the user (but doesn't Facebook do that too?)  Neil Gaiman said that people kept telling him he was "using it wrong", which was his tipping point.

First off, totally agree with everything they're saying, especially the "doing it wrong" comment.  I'm a software engineer, and I know that it's the user that should dictate how the application works, not the other way around.  To do otherwise is to force a square peg into a round hole.  

When you're UET (user experience testing), you need to watch what the user is trying to do, and see where he/she's screwing up or trying to do something he/she can't do.  If you can't find the close button, it's the app's fault for not putting it in an accessible place.  That's how Valve perfects its video games.  It's happened before.  EBay was originally going to be a personals site.  MySpace was supposed to be for musicians.  The sites saw how the user was using them and changed to adapt, and they became successful.  

Also, it's a pain in the ass to maintain social media.  Bad enough you've got to blog, make posts about yourself through Facebook, Twitter.  Upload photos, cross-link, and then read everyone else's posts to keep current.  But now there's this new one with a new UI and terms you've got to learn all over again.  WTF is a circle?  What is a spark?

But here's my comment.  Google + is still in its infancy.  It's field testing, what we call a "closed beta", invite only.  It's a new release, meaning they're still working out the kinks, and seeing how users use it.  I mean, the G+ went down for a day in its first month because its storage servers overloaded.  That's something they did not predict.  There's not even an API for 3rd party developers yet.  (That's what lets games like "Farmville" and "What cocktail are you?" exist.  Can't wait for that! </sarcasm>.)

So don't cancel your Google+ account just yet.  If it's not flipping your tea biscuit, just sign off, and wait for them to work out the kinks.  Don't just abandon it outright.  System updates take time.  They have a lot of user data to analyze, decisions to make, and software development is a process.  It can't be done in a day.  

It's like looking at a first draft of something and dismissing it.  Software development is a multi-person process.  Unlike movies and video games, computer programs continuously evolve.  Facebook didn't start off with all the features it has now.  And Google's full of smart people.  Hopefully, one of them will be able to form it into something we never expected.
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