My Personal Social Media Habits

The evolution of my social media life 2002-present

Today I have spent the large part of the day going back through my LiveJournal history to pull out articles with the potential to edit them all into a book of essays.  But as I was going back through time I started to notice how adding new social media systems completely transformed my online habits.

In 2002 I joined LiveJournal as a means of keeping in touch with friends.  I did some casual blogging and wrote a few articles here and there, but for the most part it was filled with ridiculous bullshit, memes, and off the cuff comments about pretty much everything.  In the peak of my LiveJournaling I might have hit something like 6-8 posts per day.  Most of them short, and ephemeral.  I think my favorite series was “chair dance of the day” where I would post the song that was rocking my socks off in my cubicle while I droned on in the daily grind as a government documents cataloger.

In March of 2008 I joined Facebook.  My LiveJournal stats started plummeting.  But that was because all of the daily minutiae and casual conversations with friends migrated over there.  From 2008-2012 my posts on LiveJournal not only got less frequent, but they became substantially longer in each instance.  I basically began writing lengthier, more thoughtful work on LJ once I removed the more frequent friendly conversations.

There was an experimental phase that I went through in 2008/2009 when I was crossposting twitter feeds into LiveJournal.  Going back through my archive today I can’t imagine why I would have done that.  It’s like spamming someone with a block of text messages.  I imagine that I quit doing that because I felt the same way when I looked at it then.  It doesn’t fit right.

I remember once lamenting how little I used my LJ to my Facebook friends.  But the fact of the matter is that I was totally using LJ.  Just using it better.

Last February I made the move of separating out the content about library science and technology into a specific blog for itself.  The primary reason for this was so that I could get better tracking and stats on my posts and given that a major number of library people were using WordPress it totally made sense to do that.

When Google+ opened up I jumped right onto that as well.  But again, I’ve discovered that the content that I post there is sometimes wildly different than the content that I post on Facebook or Twitter.  There I tend to look at more professional folks and some cool content curators.  But for the most part the things that I’m sharing are more directly focused on my public career.

I think this is something that most social media users are not necessarily looking at comprehensively, but more subconsciously.  Different social media systems encourage different kinds of content sharing, and as such the readership of each of your social media groups is also going to vary wildly.  I have more crossover in terms of Twitter followers and Google+ users, than I do with the crossover between Facebook and LiveJournal.

For me separating out this content has been a really great step.  It allows me to share the right stuff with the right people, and to actually remain connected to everyone that I care about personally and professionally.  But until today it hadn’t really sunk in how different my presence is online in each of these different services, and especially how my use has changed over the last 10 years.

How I Use Social Media

I, like many many other people, am plugged into a ripe half-dozen social media sites.  Each of them has different functionality that makes it vary just ever so slightly from its cousins, and as a matter of course I have evolved in using them.  So here is a cluster of the sites that I use on a regular basis and the way in which I use it.

Facebook

I have the most connections on Facebook. But I made a conscious choice early on to only accept Facebook friends who I either a) actually knew in person and felt comfortable with or b) had clear intentions that I would be meeting them at some time in the future and trusted them.  These restrictions have meant that I have massaged my Facebook profile to be just crazy enough to still fit in with my crazy friends, but polished enough that my co-workers on Facebook would not be inadvertently treated to things that they ought not to see.  I feel comfortable sharing photos that I’ve taken, links to things that I’m reading online and silly status updates.  I occasionally get a little political, and sometimes share some spiritual stuff there.

Twitter

Twitter was a service that I had practically abandoned until I got the iPad.  Flipboard has TOTALLY changed that.  Flipboard converts all those tweets into a collection of valuable articles that I’m actually engaged in reading.  So, I resubscribed a bunch of friends and co-workers that I had ditched before, and started jumping on feeds for news sites and celebrities that I respect.  Now, via Flipboard, I am reading and retweeting articles that I would never have seen before.  So I am basically using it as a link sharer.  Zite is anther iPad app that makes Retweeting easy and I am using it all the time.  You’ll see me tweeting in bursts over the course of a couple of hours at a time.  It’s cause I’m reading probably a hundred articles from the iPad and I’m on a brain jag.

Google+

The experience on Google+ has been much more professionally oriented for me.  I’ve added about 200 people to my “Librarians” circle and I’ve got a growing collection of people that I follow across a bunch of different tech and geek sites.  It’s a place where I have been able to discuss issues around library science, philosophy, technology and get actual feedback from people who have proven to be incredibly reputable and active. I find myself really trusting the people I’m working with on Google+ to give me answers to questions that are thoughtful and maybe even provide links or citations.  It’s very cerebral interaction.  No offense to my Facebook people, but my friends are not always my colleagues.  That’s okay too.  They don’t have to be.

LiveJournal

Again, LiveJournal is a service that I kind of abandoned for a while, and then when I took my trip to Asia I just dove right back in like nothing ever happened.  But I discovered that my writing style had dramatically changed.  I had gotten into more thoughtful blogging, with links and citations as well as images.  Perhaps it’s just that I had been writing for like a month solid, but maybe it’s a product of the fact that I had been involved in blogging since 2002 and I had just matured as a person and a writer over that time.  But LJ was always a personal space, and it still is.  It’s a place for public confession and public soapboxing.  I have no compulsion about making bold statements over on my LJ about politics, sexuality, religion, the occult, and whatever else happens to strike my fancy.  It’s been less frequent since my Asian extravaganza.  But I’ve been shifting gears of late.  So, LJ hasn’t been on the forefront of my thoughts.

WordPress

This blog was established with clearly defined outlines.  It is a place for me to write about professionally related topics of interest like books, technology, libraries, conferences, and other things that I feel will be of general use to folks in the information professions.  I may occasionally diverge, but not too far from that plan.  I’m also pretty glued to my stats page and looking at what it is that people are actually interested in reading about.  Sadly, my book reviews aren’t as gripping as talking about how much I hate memes and parsing out the intricacies of terms of service agreements.  We’ll see if those trends hold, but I’m thinking that the shine will wear off of Google+ enough to thrust me into discussing other things.

Yahoo Groups

I’ve pretty much given up on Yahoo Groups, and many listserves as well.  In fact, I’m not even logging into my Yahoo email for much of anything any more either.  I’m debating just killing it.  My gmail is much cleaner and doesn’t get the hundreds of messages a day that I get there.  But email groups just don’t mean anything to me any more.  It’s like getting a daily newsletter.  Things function better in Facebook where you can get your updates as a quiet little number hanging out there.  And if the group gets crazy you can just drop them with the push of a button.  No maze of links to go through.

Klout

I don’t really use Klout for any kind of public thing, like I do with everything else.  But I do find it fascinating in a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator kind of way.  It’s kind of fun to watch the little score jump around like the Dow Jones telling me how popular I am online and who I’m “influencing.”  I’m no internet celebrity, nor do I fancy that I will ever be such a person.  This won’t be from lack of putting myself out there.  But I’m content just being me, online.  Though vanity will always drag me back to look at that Klout score.

Alternion

A friend recently remarked to me that I was too scattered online, and that he wanted one place to stay caught up with all the myriad things that I do.  A kind of “Meta-Eric” if you will.  After being totally flattered, that someone would actually try to hunt down all of the disparate pieces of me online I wondered if it would be possible to actually see all of those bits in one place.  Enter Alternion.  This is a beta level social media dashboard client, with API access to over 220 different social media applications.  You just start going through their MASSIVE list of sites to which you post your random crap and you can begin to synchronize your life into one handy place.  They’re currently just test-driving the service, and it’s a little buggy. But the developers are really great and they love getting feedback on how to improve things.  It doesn’t do everything, because not everyone is interested in opening up their API yet (I’m looking at you Google+!).  But it does do a tremendous amount of things that is pretty damn impressive.  I’ve added the tab to my standard FireFox windows.  I’m actually kind of rooting for this service.  I’m hoping to see my friends updates rolling by like a stock ticker all day.

Just a couple of quick observations.

Apps have changed the relevance of some services over others, as evidenced by my upsurge in Twitter usage via Flipboard and Zite.  These apps make the social media service more relevant, not less.  I hope that in time these apps become web based and accessible to anyone, and not just iPad users.  I mean, the iPad is great for some things, but it’s a pain in the ass in many other ways.

Aggregation sites like Alternion are going to need to become more common.  This patchwork landscape we’ve built up is bizarre and leads to a lot of identity fragmentation.  I know that for some people that’s necessary, and I admit that it’s been useful for me to parse out my life in this way.  However, I feel even stronger that I’ll want something for a unified access feed that I can link to something like my about.me landing page.  I think that’s going to be extremely important in the future when we’re marketing ourselves for jobs.

Open v. Closed Systems

So, Paul Tassi took several hundred people’s criticisms of his article to heart and decided to play in the Google+ waters a little harder than before to see what all the fuss is about, and ultimately found that it’s not as dead as it seemed to him originally.  The difference is not just the number of people you have in your circles, but rather why you have them in your circles.

At this stage of the game, G+ is really still a fairly elitist system, with the invitations still playing a factor in the sign up process.  Once the system is open to everyone and their mother, the user experience will definitely change.  So, you can’t really use it like Facebook yet.  All of your friends and family aren’t on there, so you won’t be seeing their posts of their babies and the updates about the night at the club.  There just aren’t enough users to get there.  But it will change over time.  Right now however, the millions of people who are using it are using it to connect fairly professionally.  Programmers, librarians, authors, publishers, home-schoolers; these are the people that I’m seeing. Not my aunts and uncles.

I mentioned in a previous post that Facebook, with its mutual handshake, is a venue where I’m more selective about who I add.  Many of the people whose blogs I read or whose Twitter I follow are not the people I have friended on Facebook.  It feels oddly more intimate in that I feel I should actually have met you at least once before I add you, or that I have the potential to meet you personally to want to add you there.  On Google+ I do not have that same compulsion.  The field is wide open and I’m following people on G+ that I would never have friended on Facebook.  In fact, the vast majority of people that I’m reading on G+ are people I have never met, and may never meet.  And I’m totally okay with that.

That’s really the difference in these two systems.  Facebook is a closed system.  The mutual authentication means that you both recognize each other.  People are more likely to only friend those people who they know, and only retain those that they like.  I can’t tell you the number of family members I have dropped from Facebook because I couldn’t stand to see another anti-abortion video, or another flag waving, jingoistic, save the troops meme.  Eventually the content that your Facebook friends share will become a kind of echo chamber, with things floating between the same people.  I know that I have occasionally seen the same lefty liberal article piled up with five different friends names and comments under it.

Google+ on the other hand is a much more open system.  You’re not focused on your “in real life” friends, but rather adding people who you’d like to follow, people of similar interests, or professional contacts within your field.  And the things that come across your stream are much more diverse as a result of that.  I haven’t bothered to even look in the “sparks” section, because I never need to.  There’s so much interesting stuff just feeding directly into my stream that I don’t need to go hunting for new content.

Here’s an app analogy: Facebook is to Google+ as Flipboard is to Zite.  These are iPad apps that are content aggregation systems.  Flipboard allows you to select web feeds that you know and love and creates a little web magazine out of them.  It kind of looks like Time magazine.  Zite on the other hand allows you to select subject matter that you like, and finds the content across a whole host of different blogs and websites, and then delivers them in a magazine format not unlike the New Yorker.  Now, Flipboard I love because it is one stop shopping for all my favorite sites, and it looks absolutely gorgeous.  But Zite is far more interesting because I’ll discover things there I never would have found if I were looking in the same old familiar places.

I think that Facebook and Google+ will not really be battling it out in terms of content, because they offer completely different experiences.  The question that it boils down to is do you listen to your friends, or do you listen to respected strangers.  I think there’s room for both.

User Error

Paul Tassi wrote a Eulogy for Google+ in Forbes.  He goes to great lengths to talk about the tumbleweed blowing through his G+ page.  But let me point out two pieces of information here:

How many friends does he have on Facebook?

One simple click takes me back to Facebook, and my wall is flooded with updates and pictures from 400+ friends.

How many friends does he have on Google+?

As active as I am in social media and the latest and greatest internet trends, I have 26 people who have added me into circles, only 8 of them being people I wanted to add back, as for all Plus’s claims of privacy and intimacy, I don’t know most of the others.

400+ vs. 8.  Is it any wonder that he feels it’s useless?  You get out of it what you put into it.  If you’re only going to bother adding 8 people, you’re not going to see much.  If, on the other hand, you added 400+ people, many of whom you don’t actually know, so that you’re not listening to an echo chamber of your friends, then maybe you might actually discover that the value of the service.  I would also point out that he states that he only added people who added him first.  That is just user apathy.

It’s poor journalism to call the death knell of something you haven’t even bothered to use properly.

Granular Sharing

I swear that one day I will stop talking about Google+.

One of the things that struck me the other day as I was writing the post about LiveJournal was the realization that LJ had recognized early on in the social media scene that people want choices when they’re sharing certain information.  LiveJournal developed communities of people around a certain interest, and those entries could be public or private depending on the community.  Many of the snark communities are private until you become a member, and all the entries on it are blocked until you are approved by a moderator.  Within your personal journals you are able to make any entry totally public, available to your friends, available to a customized group of friends, or even available to no one but yourself.

To my knowledge there is no other blogging software that exists that has this level of customizable sharing.  And actually, to my knowledge there is no other social media platform until Google+ came along that allowed that kind of granular level of sharing.

Now, some people have asked me if I’ve made use of the customizable sharing of Google+.  The answer is not really very much, because I live a fairly public life.  That said, I like having the option of keeping things a little closer to home than not.  There are plenty of things that I would prefer to keep private, and yet feel comfortable talking about those things with a select group of friends.  This could be health issues, religious question, questions that I feel are only appropriate if asked of people within my field of work just to name a few.

There are some people in my life with whom I would divulge anything.  My mother for instance.  I cannot keep a secret from her, nor would I ever want to.  Also I have a select group of friends with whom I feel comfortable confiding things that I don’t want to announce to the world.

When I was more active on LiveJournal I made very heavy use of this.  One of the common things that I would keep private were conversations about my job. There come times in every job that try your soul, and when I was in that dark place about 6 years ago I needed to share those troubles with people I trusted.  To do that I went to my LiveJournal community and confided in a select group of trusted friends.  The resulting conversations led me to try to start my own business, to see if I could make a go of it on my own.  Ultimately the home business did not pan out (hello tanking economy!), but the support that I got from my friends at LiveJournal was all the incentive I needed to get encouragement in my troubled time.

Its moments like this that are why we need to have granular sharing that is functional and intuitive in social media. Even if it is only an option.

While these functions sort of exist in Facebook, they are really pushing you to share absolutely everything with everyone.  As part of my control freaky nature I have often disabled people from tagging me in pictures and I don’t allow anyone to write on my wall.  My one exception is to turn on wall writing for my birthday, only because everyone and their mother will write happy birthday on your wall.  It’s kind of cool, but I don’t want my wall turning into what happened on MySpace where people post ridiculous glittering unicorn .gifs and sexy shirtless dudes.  That’s just not something I really want to see on my Facebook Page, because I feel it’s supposed to represent who I am. Also, because things that get posted to your wall get reshared across all your friends, and I have coworkers on there, I try and control my message on Facebook.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever realizes that they’re saying what they do in a public forum.  I mean, it’s incredible how much people will share without a thought in the world as to who may read it.

I’m even more controlling when it comes to blogs.  I chose WordPress for this content because a lot of other library bloggers are on here, and that creates a great ping-back community when we cross link to each other.  Plus the dashboard is pretty awesome.  But the downside is that everything is public.  There are no secrets here, nor is there any way to make something secret here.  This is the place to publish, and by publish they really mean it.  They want your stuff to go out to the entire world, and make it available via whatever means necessary. Blogger and TypePad are the same in that respect, once it’s live, it’s live for the world to see.  No secrets.  For professional writing this makes sense.

But LiveJournal, at least as it’s been used in America, has always been a place for the personal.  It’s been where people go to bear their soul, and do silly quizzes at each other.  I also feel like it’s grown up a lot since I began using it.  Maybe it’s just me, and the way I use LiveJournal who has grown up.  To me it actually has the feel of a journal, the kind that one would keep as a paper diary, only in an electronic format.  The privacy settings allow it to retain that feeling, by being able to limit a post to only yourself, or to a limited group.  You’re not announcing something to the world as a whole, but rather to a small group of known friends.

Someone asked me if I was going to migrate my content off of LJ to protect it in case the company crashes.  I think that any content migration would have to be something that would respect the variant levels of privacy that I set in there.  So, no, there is no real way to maintain the integrity of the LJ blog in a content migration. There’s no way I would be able to recreate the individual user access that I have in there among the friends that used that service, and still do today.

The reality of all of this is that the people I have in each of my social networks are totally different.  There are some people who are on all of them with me, and some who are only on one or another.  There are some people I am more comfortable sharing with on LJ, some on Facebook, Some on Google+ and some here on WordPress.  Each venue has its own unique vibe, and the content that I post in each of those places varies, and that depends upon who’s in there.  So here’s a snapshot of who’s in where.

  • WordPress: Totally Public - WordPress is my professional voice.  It’s my soapbox for library and tech things.  I tend to write here about three times a week.
  • LiveJournal: Semi-Public - LiveJournal is my personal voice.  It’s where I share the more intimate details of my life, to varying degrees of openness.  I also have a second LJ for some occasional creative writing projects.  Writing comes in fits and starts on both accounts, sometimes I’m on a tear and go every day, and sometimes it’s nothing for a month.  Depends on my mood really.
  • Facebook: Friends and Colleagues - Facebook is kind of a free for all.  Its made up of people that I personally know, or plan to meet someday.  It’s kind of a blend of personal and professional.  I post some of the pictures from the crazy street performances I do with the faeries and talk about some professional and political things as well.  None of it, however, is anything that I would be embarrassed to show my mother.  Facebook is an every day affair.
  • Google+: Random Happy Mutants - Google+ is kind of a sandbox.  I have a lot of strangers in there, but all of them fit into neat little compartments of librarians, authors, comic book people, bears and Pagans.  If someone by chance adds me who I have no idea who they are I will look at who they are and who we share in common and put them in the appropriate group.  For those who don’t fit I put them in “the whole wide world” unless they are posting things I really can’t look at while I’m at work, like hot shirtless dudes.  I check G+ multiple times a day.
  • Twitter: Colleagues Only – Twitter I am on, but hardly use for anything.  I follow very few people, and all I post are relays from the WordPress.  Mostly because library people Twitter, and I push stuff out for them.  I never look at twitter any more.

So that’s where I’m at with social media.  It does consume an inordinate amount of time, but its time that I appreciate.  I feel like I’m truly connecting with people, that I’m learning things, and that I’m sharing things that are meaningful, fun, and occasionally funny.  I like having the option to share privately, and occasionally I do.  It’s not always, but sometimes it’s important to have that around.

Information Gathering

This is my new information gathering m.o.

  • Wake up in the morning and grab my cellphone.
  • Click the Google Plus button and scroll through what’s in there.
  • Start opening links from friend’s posts into the browser tabs, and floating back to G+.
  • Go to Facebook, and do the same thing.
  • Once I’ve gone through all the posts on Facebook, I click to browser and read the articles.
  • Occasionally reshare, like or +1 the article in its home site.
  • Shower (phone playing music from my files)
  • Down to the laptop at the kitchen table, eat breakfast and read any articles I missed from the phone.
  • THEN I check the following sites: BoingBoing, The Atlantic, io9, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, NY Times.
  • Share articles from respective sites to my FB and G+ feeds.

This kind of information behavior is becoming the new norm, and that’s what social networking sites are banking on.  I’m absolutely certain that Google, the most predominant search engine out there, is upgrading their algorithms to incorporate things like the resharing of articles and +1, to boost the signal on content that is becoming socially relevant to people.  That’s more than likely how Sparks is supposed to work, but who looks at Sparks anyway?  With all of the awesome things coming through your stream, there’s no need to go out looking for more.

Sharing information between friends has always part of the experience of gathering information.  Social networks and availability of online content have expanded that tremendously, but each does it differently due to their policies on how you can add people.  Facebook requires you to mutually accept a friend request. This is a barrier designed to focus on the relationship between the people involved.  You are acknowledging that you and this other person are friends, and that acknowledgment allows you to see their content.  Google+ on the other hand has the option to follow people, and not have them follow you back, thus allowing you to see content from people you wouldn’t normally have acknowledged as a friend, and thus extending your relationships beyond personal acquaintance.

Part of the reason I go to Google+ first now is because a) I have a vast majority of people who are not necessarily close to me (increasing the complexity of what I’m reading) and b) there is a greater space to contextualize the information being received.  So not only am I seeing a wide array of content that I would not be exposed to via my Facebook friends, but I’m also getting a clearer picture of why they’re sharing that content with me and what they believe it means.  Twitter has never really felt relevant to me, because I get far too little information from the people posting to encourage me to want to click a shortened URL.  They can’t explain why they’re providing the link, or what their pros and cons are with a piece.  Facebook at least allows you a little breathing room when sharing a link.  But even there you have a limited character space.  Google+ affords you the opportunity to practically write a thesis in rebuttal or praise of an article.  People who read your post can truly get to the heart of why you’re sharing this content with them. Add to that the fact that resharing a post from the original author incorporates not only his/her massive context, but also allows the resharer to post his/her response to the article.  That gives you two extended opinions from two different people as well as the original link to the article online, which vastly increases the trust one has with the content that they’re reading.

Google+ only has about 30,000 people on the network, as opposed to Facebook which has half a billion.  And yet blog sites are reporting that G+ is driving a tremendous amount of traffic to their pages, I know that I’ve seen this and loads of other bloggers have to.  It’s because it’s built on the very real culture of discussing literature and sharing it with your friends.  And when your definition of friend is ever-widening, you see content going viral more often.

Then again, maybe G+ users are just extremely avid readers, like these folks…

Who Are You, and Why Are You Oversharing?

Warning: This is about Google+, so if you’re not on it, it’s probably going to be a little confused.  Hell, I’m confused.

I’ve been on Google+ for a couple weeks now and the thing that continues to perplex me is the Incoming stream.  From what I can gather, the only content that goes in there are posts that are a) from people who have added you to their circles, but who you have not circled back and b) people who have chosen to share a post to their Extended Circles which pushes content to their friends’ friends.

Point “A” I can understand, even if it is a bit like spamming people.  I mean, why would you add someone you don’t know and intentionally push content to them?  It’s kind of vain, and could lead to crazy amounts of abuse.  But at least its in a separate stream, and you can block the major offenders and report them as spammers.  So, not so bad really.

But what I don’t understand is Point “B.”  You may know me, but you don’t know my friends, nor do you know how I may have chosen to divide my circles up.  Sure, a few of my friends may be interested in your random content.  But who do you think you are?  Is your post so important that you’re trying to push it to people who might be interested just on the hopes to get more friends?  Do you think you’re not famous enough?  Are you desperately searching for more readers, but too lazy to go making actual connections with people that you resort to sending messages to FOAFs?

Extended Circles is an option that should be used judiciously, as should all of them, but this especially.  If something is generally acceptable to be made a public post, then do so, and all your circles will see it.  If you only want your circles to see it, then only select which circle should see it. If, however, you’re interested in sharing something that you seriously believe is important enough to randomly notify people you don’t know please think about limiting it to a specific circle and only to their extensions.

Let me give a couple appropriate examples of use for extended circles.

Professional Dragnet

Say you have a circle full of people in your industry.  These are a combination of people you know and people you’re following. Say you want to find people who are interested in presenting at a conference. You could broadcast to that specific industry focused circle, and their extended circles, and boom, more of the right people know about your conference.

The Hottest Party Ever

You know a lot of local folks into a particular hobby.  I’ll leave the hobby to your imagination.  You want to have a kickass party around that hobby, but you want to cast a wider net.  So you invite your hobby friends, and their extended circles.  This sends the information about the event to their FOAFs and you wind up getting a great turnout for your party.

Now in each of these cases you’re capitalizing on your own ability to sort out the folks in your circles, and you’re also banking that your friends have other friends in the same field.  Generally that’s not such a bad bet, but you’ll still wind up pushing content to those unsuspecting folks like me, who are like “WTF is this post about, who sent this to me, and why me?”  Some may pick it up and run with it, and others may just tune you out.

The other thing you would have to consider is signal spreading.  You may want to announce, out of courtesy and your best interest as well, that this post is going out to extended circles and that it’s okay to share with other people’s circles and extended circles within a particular sphere of use.  In the case of your awesome party, you may wind up with way more than you bargained for, especially if you want to keep it a little contained.

So please, be kind, don’t overshare unless you’ve got a damn good reason.

Google+ is a Viral Content Engine

It hit me like a freight train yesterday.  I started this blog about library science and technology trends all of three weeks ago.  I was so giddy that I was getting like 10-20 hits a day on such totally wonky subject matter.  And then Google+ came along. 

Yesterday, this blog got nearly 500 hits, and spiked so dramatically that I almost lost my mind from the endorphin rush.  The reason why is easy to see if you look at the stats.

Google+ provided 243 referrals to this site, and Facebook only 30, Twitter only 13.  You can also see that the topic of the highest trending articles were about the Google Terms of Service Agreement posts that I have been hammering into the ground.  That’s an incredibly dorky topic, but it was so important to the people using the service that they kept pushing it out to more and more friends.  It’s orders of magnitude different.

And I’m not the only one this has been happening to, and it’s not just articles about Google+.  I added a list of comic book artists and children’s book illustrators who say that their sites are seeing the same incredible spikes in traffic as well.  It’s happening to all of us, all at once.

This is clearly how the service was meant to work.  Google is a company built on connecting people to content.  Until now it has been a fairly anonymous process using algorithms and science to deliver you web content. But Google+ is about bringing the people into the content, because people’s social connections are far more valuable than algorithms.  Curiosity and a culture of sharing information is what we’re creating together here. 

But look at Facebook.  Facebook has link sharing as well. So does Twitter, and there is nowhere near the same kind of traffic.  Why does Google+ work so much better?  Several factors really. 

Size and Imagery

Google knows that people like to read comfortably and so they have given us a great big window and a good sized font to read.  They have also included fairly large photo spaces as well.  This makes reading this links more attractive in general.

Openness

Google+ is more open than Facebook.  Facebook requires a mutual handshake between people getting involved in the service, and so it is more insular and more selective.  Much like Twitter, Google+ allows anyone to follow you and you can set the permissions on your material to be as locked down as you wish.  This increases readership tremendously and doesn’t limit you to only 140 characters. 

Encourages Resharing

Facebook allows you to reshare a post, but it strips it of any contextual meaning from the original author.  Google+ on the other hand retains that original context and allows the referrer to add anything else on top of it.  This recontextualizes the post for everyone else down the line for each subsequent sharer.  These personalized referrals increase the likelihood that people will follow a link.  Also, because circles are more open, there is more likelihood that your content will keep going.

So, for those of you treating Google+ like Facebook, DON’T!  You can do so much more with it you have no idea.  Don’t be afraid to begin following people, even famous people, or just people you admire within a field.  It will totally open up your world, and introduce your world to so many more people.  It will spread your original content far and wide, and if you hit the right note it will flow out into a flood like you have never seen before. 

Enjoy!

More on G+ Circles

One of the interesting things that I discovered on Google+ this week is that you can add yourself to a circle. Why would you do that? What I did was create a circle called “Myself” which only had me in it. Whenever I push something to “Myself” alone it acts as a kind of note pad. And I can click back to see what what I wrote to “Myself” as a task list or idea board.

Perhaps the biggest downside to Circles is that once you put someone in them you can’t suppress their content from the main “stream” which includes everyone. This isn’t such a big deal when all of your G+ buddies are posting only safe for work content. But say you want to add your friend who is an erotic novelist, or that guy who does the awesome stuff from Dr. Sketchy’s, or your special friend who does burlesque. It goes right into the main stream, even if the content is far from mainstream. G+ needs to absolutely allow the user to customize which circles go into the main stream and which don’t. Easy way would be to suppress the content from one circle from the main stream. Call that your NSFW circle and just put all your special friends in there. BUT, this doesn’t happen yet, and it should. To make the main stream default to everyone makes it just like Facebook, the big house party that’s full of weird and embarrassing things you wouldn’t want your mother, or your boss, to know about.

Circles vs. Groups

I can’t locate the comment or where it was made, but someone said that they can get the same functionality out of Google+ Circles that they get out of Facebook groups. This is not true in several ways.

Circles categories are uniquely user driven and the name or function of that circle is hidden to those who are in it. Facebook Groups on the other hand have a clearly defined openly visible membership, and anyone can be added to a group by someone else without their permission. FB Groups are meant to be publicly known so you can find them, like meetup groups. G+ Circles are meant to be privately known so they are useful ways to manage the content you selectively push to people, like email distribution lists.

Going back to permissions, one of the downsides of FB Groups is that you can be added without your permission to a group that someone else selects for you. This can be awkward if you get added to a group with which you don’t want to be affiliated. The downside to G+ Circles is that there are no public circles for you to join of your own volition. The conversation is about you pushing content to a group of people you know, versus getting content from a group of people with whom you have weak or temporary ties.