July 14, 2014

Hey Google! Here’s why Google+ is still a ghost town

ghost-town
The Cerro Gordo ghost town (CC BY photo by Cynthinee on Flickr)

It’s time for Mountain View to listen up & get over their control freakery

This is the first of a three-part series on Google Plus. Also see:
Why Google Plus is more like a forum than a social network
Why Google Plus is the antisocial network

Target audience: Marketing professionals, SEO specialists, PR pros, brand managers, businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, educators, Web publishers, journalists.

Chris AbrahamIhave been covering Google Plus since its inception three years ago. In that time, I have been a fan, a proponent, a critic, a skeptic, and conspiracy theorist.

If you don’t want to read a long article then here’s the short version of my analysis of Google’s latest in a series of failed social networking services: Google is trying to building a city in the middle of nowhere, where nobody cares to live, and doesn’t much care why almost nobody actually wants to live there.

It feels to me like a very rich, very opinionated Google has decided what the right way to do social media is and they’re going to implement this utopian vision whether or not anyone else is interested in joining — or attending — their Church of Plus.

Google+ exists as a bait-and-switch honey pot

contributerToBefore I go into G+ as a social network or social media platform, let me remind you that not even Google calls G+ a social network, it calls it a “social layer” and an “authorship tool.” Google isn’t trying to draw us out of our shells, it’s trying to identify us. The only reason why Google+ exists is as a bait-and-switch trap — a honey pot — to draw the makers of online content into the clear in order to associate them with their web content and then put a Real Name with a face as a Turing Test of sorts, as a way to separate the men from the bots.

Up until Google search started cleaning up Search Dodge of all of the spam, the shysters, the fraudster, the Black Hats, all you needed were mad linking and backlinking skills. It wasn’t hard to dupe Google into putting you or you clients onto the first page of Google if you had enough money, resources, time, and a flexible enough morality. This isn’t about a social network in the same way that research on mice isn’t about the mazes.

gProfilesThe mazes serve a purpose in the research of rodents, but the purpose transcends the maze; the purpose of G+ has nothing to do with creating a lovely virtual commons where cool post-Twitter and post-Facebook techies and hipsters can hang out, it’s a mad olly olly oxen free. It’s all about flushing the grouse, getting all of the anonymous content creators to reveal themselves, to come in from the cold, to associate a real name and identity with videos on YouTube, articles in the Blogosphere, columns in online publications, etc.

In the past, it wasn’t hard to just create a Gmail, Yahoo, Me, Hotmail account and sign up for YouTube, retaining certain level of anonymity. Same thing with Blogger and blogs, social networks, Tumblr, and just about everywhere else online, including the Googlesphere.

Now, as Google closes in on all of us, this will probably be really good for those of us who are makers, creators, original artists, original writers. As Google is able to tell who we are, where we write, Google will better understand where ground zero is and which copies of all of our work, our words, our images, and our art are copies, replicants, replicas, echoes used possibly without prior approval and exclusively for bandit content remarketing as a way of ginning and gaming SEO.

Is G+ Google’s Ellis Island?

connectMy great grandparents all came through Ellis Island from Ireland and Austria-Hungary as immigrants. Folks who were coming in on steamers were checked for their identity, their names, their health and wellness, before being allowed into the US.

Is Google+ actually a place that has been trying to take the virtual tired, poor, and huddled masses, wretched refuse, the homeless, tempest-tossed, and sort them out to see which are the earnest writers, makers, producers, content-creators, tweeters, bloggers, journalists, authorities, academics, students, experts, curious, influential, and which are the Asian link farms, the copy-and-paster, the plagiarist, the conman, the SEO grey hat and black hat?

Is this a way to try to offer some forgiveness to those newbies and fools who don’t actually know they’re doing dastardly things? Who don’t understand things like on-site duplicate content or how best to optimize for title, description, or copy? To see whether people in this immigrant line are sweating, are ornery, look shifty, or have a history of doing really dodgy thing. And this explains why there’s no advertising on Google+: this isn’t a place where consumers want to hang out. Google+ is a place for the makers and creators to come, where they can feel safe, where they can brag and promote and post and see everything rendered beautifully.

Google+ is a staging area where all the poets, writers, advertisers, marketers, copywriters, screenwriters, playwrights, webwrights, publicists, designers, artists, critics, authors, columnists, bloggers, coders, painters, photographers, and architects get to spend their time while Google gets to know you while they’re sorting out which ones of us will bubble to the top of Google and which ones will be removed completely from Google’s index full stop.

Google+’s influence on search is always changing

b2cGoogleNews chrisAbrahamHuffingtonResults chrisResultsUp until recently, giving up all your information to Google on your Google+ about page would pretty much guarantee Google would associate my pretty face with any content that came up on Google Search that was mine. It’s connected to Google Authorship. However, according to Search Engine Land, we now have this: Google Drops Profile Photos, Google+ Circle Count From Authorship In Search Results.

So, while I will still be associated with search results whenever they’re my work, my face will no longer draw your eye. That said, it hasn’t rolled out everywhere because, as you can see, my mug still comes up when you search for my articles on when I show up on Google News through Business 2 Community, for example.

google-authorship-without-image google-news-authorshipBut Search Engine Land is probably right. The reason is probably because the illustration probably takes the eye too powerfully away from paid contextual advertising, which is antithetical to Google’s desire to make lots and lots of money from Google Adwords and Adsense ads. Even Google understands not to bite the hand that feeds them. Advertising dollars underwrite everything else, including self-driving cars.

The Church of Google+

requiredGooglePlusAnd you know how religion has figured out coercion and compliance through sin and redemption? Well, Google+ has that, too. If you want to end up reliably in the top spots on organic search, you’ll need to do anything and everything that Google tells you to do with regards to Google+ (like Christianity, if you want to know the Father, you need to go through the Son). For example, in order to be saved, you’ll need to do more than simply pay a monthly stipend to Google Apps for Business and possess a Gmail account.

CreateNewChannel2With both, you’ll have YouTube and Google+ built in; however, possession is not enough. In order for salvation, you’ll need to pay more than lip service. While you’ll be able to watch videos on YouTube without buying into the Google+ — or any Google properties — if you want to like or comment, you’ll need to build out your personal Google+ profile page. If you want to produce video content on YouTube, you’ll be required to create and build out a Google+ brand or business page for your YouTube Channel.

Sort of like, if you tell a prospective employee or vendor that you’d be happy to hire or do business with them if they’ll marry your unmarriageable son or daughter. I mean, it might be worth it if your entire business depends on it (which is the case when it comes to some companies who make their entire living based on whether they’re at the top of Google organic searches or if you’re suffering an online reputation crisis and getting to the top of Google search literally pushed negative or untrue content down).

addNewChannel createAccountcreateChannelThat said, 99.999% of the 540 million members of Google don’t own online — or any — business they need to promote, don’t have an online reputation worth noting — or don’t notice or care much about that sort of thing, or have any intention of creating content for YouTube, commenting on YouTube, or even tracking calendars, writing documents, storing files, sharing images, or anything else outside of email. In this case, Gmail.

The only reason why Facebook is so popular is because everyone you have ever known is there, especially your kids, friends, classmates, and relatives.

So, it’s not because of Facebook Business Pages or because their favorite brands or celebrities are there — that’s where Twitter shines — but because that’s where the baby pictures are. Hell, Pinterest and Tumblr do a much better job than Google+ when it comes to this, and that’s not even their core competencies.

The denizens of Google+

sign10I am an experiment of one but I have very little engagement at all. It might just be me but I spend a lot of time on G+ — probably a lot more than you, but not as much time as Google+ monotheists (I am decidedly a social media polytheist).

Three years ago, I had a lot of engagement on Plus; however, of the 5k+ people I have in my circles, I almost never get a +1 or a comment or anything — even when I am dropping bombs, being bombastic, or baiting on guns, gun control, the Second Amendment. While I may well have been frozen out of the cool kids clique on Google+, I don’t think so as I feel like my friends are singling olly olly oxenfree as well, in an attempt to see if they’re posting into the void.

Swerd1Case in point, my friend Jonathan Swerdloff (www.google.com/+JonathanSwerdloff). He’s been online since the ’90s. He’s popular to the point of probably being a cult leader. While he only has 351 followers on G+ (I have 5,721), it’s not like he just arrived onto Google+. Even he is gently tapping on the mike, asking a genial “olly olly oxen free,” wondering where everyone else is. He likes G+ and considers it a superior product.

He’s said things like, “Hello world.

“Again. I have approximately 10 friends, give or take, using Google+ that I can see. That’s just … so weird to me. I think it’s a structurally better system than Facebook. Oddly, several of my smartest friends (and I’m not just saying that to flatter you) are on here and don’t seem to be on Facebook. There have to be pitfalls of this place but I haven’t seen them. Except the identity issues, which are big, but Facebook has them as well.”

swerd2The reason why he said “again” is because he had come around before, quietly asking where everyone was, why he felt so alone on Google+ when it seemed to be such a better product. He said, “Google Plus remains an odd social network but I have to admit – I still like it better than Facebook. I’m not saying that just because I’m here, mind you – I like the hangouts, the interface, the lack of advertising (for now), and my biggest disappointment is that there aren’t more people using it.” Don’t worry, buddy, I feel the same way, too.

Google+ clone wars

gClonesUnlike Facebook and LinkedIn, which allow one profile to support many email identities and even social network log-ins, Google+ is a little like season two of “Orphan Black”: orphan clones are everywhere on G+ if you don’t watch your steps. And it can really become an issue. So, here’s my mess: my Gmail account, [email protected], represents my official Verified G+ account, google.com/+ChrisAbraham; however, I also belong to at least three other Google accounts, my company’s Google account, Gerris Corp, The Social Media Monthly Google account and my Unison Google accounts.

They all have potential Google+ profiles associated with each of them. There’s no way, currently, to hook all of my Business Apps personal profiles to my G+ HQ — so, unless I am constantly vigilant, I have all of these clones running around, clones that not only look like me but sort of are me, but not really. They’re not impersonators, they’re authentic clones. But I neither want nor need them.

gAccountsAnd, to be honest, Google, this is a rookie mistake, especially considering what a terror the managers of G+ were back three years ago when they were summarily shutting down accounts that were doubles or organizations. Nobody else does anything this stupid, Google+ gang. No, not even LinkedIn or Twitter. Any doubles or triples that happen on other social networks are done completely intentionally — what happens in the G+ Clone Wars is just appalling logic, workflow, usability, and logistics.

Sharing to Google Plus sucks

shareInstagramI can’t share my Instagram photos to Google+. I can share them to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, and Foursquare, but not Twitter. The same thing goes for every one of the mobile apps I use every day to document my life. If I want to include my friends on G+, I’ll need to go out of my way to switch apps to G+ and then write a completely separate post, which I never do. And nobody ever does.

At the end of the day, I might post a synopsis of the day, rolling all the day’s photos into one album, gallery, or post, and that’s only because I have my G+ app set up to auto-backup all the photos from my Google Android Nexus 5 and Apple iPhone 5 to Google, which is build in on both apps. But even then, not every time and always in time delay, hours and hours after I had the experience. As an afterthought.

When I talk to Google folks or Google+ fanboys, they always say that that’s to avoid spam. Well, who spams with Instagram? Who spams from mobile phones? And, if it’s to defeat spam, it’s kind of control-freaky: do it my way, by using the G+ plus app each time, or don’t do it at all. I won’t do it at all. Plus, even if I did use the G+ app to do my photo blogging, there’s no way for me to concurrently cross post from G+ to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Flickr either. It seems like Google is saying, my way or the highway. Well, Google, see ya!

The folks at Google must really be a bunch of control freaks. Google hates off-label use of its software. Google hates it when we play with the box and not the toy we were given. They not only melt down about it but have bonafide temper tantrums. It hasn’t always been this way. Google used to generously offer all of its services as APIs, it used to follow open standards. and it used to be a leader in share and share alike. No more. Google’s been hurt before. Innovation is disruption and disruption opens the door for abuse.

Plus, there’s some hypocrisy there: you can spam to Google+ all you want if you’re a client of professional content marketing tools like Buffer, GaggleAMP, and HootSuite. If the only reason why Google+ doesn’t allow me to cross-post to Plus is to decrease clutter and increase engagement, you would think that Google would only enable cross posting from mobile devices and not from professional marketing platforms. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

What I think it that Google is heavy handing the adoption of the G+ mobile app and web app as “homeroom” for social media and multimedia sharing — and it’s just not working at all. Not at all.

PS: Dear Google: the serious denizens of the Internet and the early adopters tend to be pretty Libertarian and don’t respond well to heavy-handedness or hegemonic coercion.

Google+ for Google juice

The only people who care about links, keywords, backlinks, page rank, relevence, or Google juice are marketers and people who have things to promote. Most people have nothing to do with entrepreneurship, startups, small business, affiliate marketing, brand promotion, selling, sales, or online reputation. Most folks have jobs or are in school. Most people are employees and not employers.

The juiciest of content is not the content shared by people with an external or commercial agenda, it’s between people who love with each other or are passionately in love with some third thing, such as a hobby, parenting, a club, school, profession, life experience, etc. There are a number of types of communities including community of action, community of circumstance, community of inquiry, community of interest, community of place, community of position, community of practice, and community of purpose; however, there’s no such thing as a community of shameless self promotion. There can be advertising, promotion, sponsorship, underwriting, and marketing, but only on top of a vigorous, deep, persistent and durable community.

Real communities realize that in order for the bills to be paid and to remain a viable community, one needs to pay dues, run bake sales and hold raffles. Clubs never form because they get to pay dues, sell ads, run bake sales or hold raffles. I fear that maybe Google+ does things backwards: it made G+ too compelling to the sort of people who only talk and never listen, only take and never give. There might very well be some very special, intense, and smart little eddies of engaging and engaged communities.

I know my favorite podcast, No Agenda, has a number of self-organizing Google+ communities that are thriving around the production of the No Agenda show, but that’s pretty much because Adam Curry hates Facebook and John C. Dvorak quit Facebook — Google+ is the only place they’re willing to be, so their producers and listeners have followed them. Other than that, many of the communities seem to have a lot of people as members, around 24k each, but I really have never been recommended them, invited to join any of them, so who are these people? I really don’t know. Maybe I have been excommunicated or exiled from the cool kids on G+.

In conclusion

tapa2I won’t even go into Google Authorship or the Penguin and Panda algorithm changes that favor real people, authentic online engagement, and viral content that demands real human interaction and legitimate movement over social networks and through social media — that’s all inside baseball. And that’s the thing, Google+ is too inside baseball, it’s too AV club and not enough prom committee. It’s way more USENET and not enough AOL.

It’s more Dungeons and Dragons than going on dates and it suffers from a staunch desire not to open up its doors for fear of ruining it. Ruining it? Oh Google, how can you brag 540 million active G+ members and not want any of them to use it for fear of ruining it. You’re a member of a club that has such a small member ship that it very well might be elite and exclusive — but it’s not because Google+ is just the open admissions school that nobody actually wants to go to.

tapatalkGood luck, Google Plus, on your 3rd anniversary this month. I really like you. For now, only because of your potential and because I am always trying to impress your dad, Google. And for now, I will pour a lot of time and energy into your social networking service (and yes, really just to impress your dad, Google Search, and yes, I will also recommend you to all my clients, and for the same reason).

What I would really like is to love to spend time on Google+. To leave Facebook behind and make G+ my No. 1 social media wife.

Right now, it’s dead last, even behind the Adventure Riders, Motobrick, and BMW MOA forums. And even behind Pinterest, a social sharing platform that I don’t understand or get but need to check religiously because my awesome girlfriend sends me pins that really make me happy, so I spend more time on Pinterest than even you, Google+. You may well be a beauty but the fact that we don’t like you is not because we’re haters or because we’re just jealous, it’s because you’re dull, uninteresting, and all you talk about is work.

Let me know what your experience is with Google+, YouTube, or any of the corporate or local pages. How are you experiencing Google, circa 2014?Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

  • Ercadm

    This is a seriously in depth analysis! I would love to know how long this one story took to publish? Well done Chris!

  • Bosborn

    Thanks so much for publishing this. I inadvertently deleted my G+page trying to purge my clones recently and then wondered why I was rebuilding my profile in a ghost town.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mediababe Jacqueline Kothbauer

    Thanks for a great piece, Chris :-)

  • http://www.socialmedia.biz/ JD Lasica

    If you’re building a platform (or “social layer”) that’s about being anti-spam instead of being about people, of course you’re going to come up short, even if your name is Google. Good analysis, Chris!

  • LaffinAtcha

    another ghost town post… /smdh little late on the ghost town bandwagon bro.

  • J.P. Harvey

    You know …I normally don’t go for this kind of thing. But I just want you to know that your problem with Google Plus seems to be that you want it to work like every other social media outlet. You seem to want the same features and functions that everyone else is using. You want your Instagram to be integrated with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Your Mom’s Email, and to generate massive SEO points.

    But that’s the rub, Google Plus is social on a different level. Your analogy of a city is right, but instead of being an abandoned one like you’re suggesting, it’s actually a bustling “hidden” city. Hidden only by your own limitations of engagement.

    The Internet is and always has been a sub-culture. Only in the last decade has “being a star on the Internet” had any relevance to the masses. The true nature of the Internet is hidden in IRC forums and “AOL Chat Rooms” and now, in places like Google Plus. Places where people can go and engage on their own terms for their own reasons.

    The only issue with that is Google Plus is *not* a platform for SEO obsessed, click-bait website traffic generators.

    It’s the kind of place where someone who isn’t the “He’s been online since the 90’s” (seriously, who hasn’t) can be themselves and post content they want to post and develop HUGE followings. But that brings it back to your problem.

    The true beauty of Google Plus is the engagement and quality of that engagement.

    You are *not* your follower count.
    You are *not* your SEO rankings.
    You are *not* your traffic count.

    Google Plus’ hidden beauty is allowing people to be more than an SEO Engineer, or Entrepreneur, or Social Media Guru.

    The only people crying “GhostVille” are people who don’t understand how it works. They know how everyone else is doing it, but they don’t understand this “different’ thing.

    On a side note, you’re no doubt gonna generate traffic once Google Plus begins trolling this story in the typical “GHOSTTOWN DEFENDERS UNITE” .

    I’m sorry you can’t see the tons and tons of ghosts here who make Google Plus fun, entertaining, exciting, engaging, and all around (and most importantly) enjoyable.

    Good Luck :) enjoy your traffic spike, I hope it gets you TONS of SEO Points on your SEO scoreboard.

  • Kathy

    This was such a great Google+ analysis that I pinned it to my Social Media board on Pinterest, which I use about 1000x more than Google+.