Google+ because I hate being put in a box

No one talks in my Facebook groups. People talk too much on my Twitter feed. These are my two biggest problems on social networks at the moment. I'm pretty sure this only impacts me though. I have been playing around with Google plus for a few days now and interestingly I think it could solve both problems. I also have some suggestions that would improve the service for me at least.

Too little engagement

As you can see my Facebook groups are pretty bare.

I have created and got added into the following groups:
  • Geek channel - new technology, gadgets and other geek stuff.
  • Current and ex gamers - computer games
  • Sporadic photographers
  • UK friends - close friends I see regularly in real life
  • PwC Melbourne alumni - work colleagues and friends from my first job

There is very little engagement in these groups. The largest contributor by far is me. There is very little discussion. I posted this question on Quora and the answer came back that this clearly only impacted me. 

The main reasons for this are:
  • Got no friends - I have a low number of friends, just over a 100. These are all people I have met in real life.  I have my privacy settings set to pretty much share anything only with my friends. This is how Facebook grew up. It is in Facebook's genes. Long before groups existed you only shared content that you wanted your "friends" to see and they saw everything you shared. I am not a particularly private person but I cringe now at adding anyone that does not fit this profile. 
  • Got no groupies - This means I have a low number of people in each group. I'm scared of adding random people that may fit well into the groups because it means I need to friend them first and I have no idea what I have shared over the years with just "my friends".
  • Low online engagement - I got told in the geek tech group there is low engagement because they read the same types of things e..g Techcrunch, Hacker news etc they do not feel the need to share nor discuss items in the Facebook group. However offline I know this to be false. I have discussions around things I have read with these people who had no idea what it was and seemed genuinely interested in having a dialog about it. This suggests at least in part it could be the tools and process.

Too much engagement

I must really annoy anyone that follows me on Twitter. My profile reads: 
, sporadic blogger, risk, , mobile. gadgets, new technology, startups, stock and currency trading, football , photography
These are most of the things I am interested in and talk about. Just for good measure if I will also throw in the random thought or something inspirational or just interesting.

Anyone who has well organized Twitter lists and put me in a specific list must be driven mad. E.g. I do tend to talk about information security a lot so the following lists I am added to make sense:

So when I post some random thoughts about new technology, like going on about #googleplus recently it must drive people mad. Or more likely they would not even see it. If you are like Jason who follows over 73,000 people his twitter stream looks something like that this second:

And then 2 seconds later (yes he had followed 3 more people in that short time):

Similar to the way Facebook has organically evolved, people just accept that they will miss tweets. They will dip into their feed every now and occasionally get some value. Things like mysixthsense addon have tried to solve this, but it does not work on mobile. The noise to signal ratio gets so bad that I actually feel bad having a conversation with people or especially participating in a hashtag e.g. #bbcsml when the program is on TV or #bsideslondon when I am at that conference. I am effectively spamming my followers with content that do not want to read and outside of the box they put me in when they followed me.

How Google plus solves these

Google plus has been designed from the ground up to solve these problems. If it is used as designed. I appreciate that is a big caviet, however being baked in there is a far greater chance of success as people who start using Google plus will start to use the product correctly. As we know well in security, it is ridiculously more effective to bake something in rather than bolting it on later.

The way it solves these problems is primarily via Circles. When someone follows me they add me to a circle. Now this is the key part. Even though circles are asymmetric following like Twitter, for the whole model to work well I need to also follow them and add them to a Circle. They will then see what I share publicly as well as what I share to that Circle. 

An example of this would be:
  1. John sees someone link to one of my posts about information security. He is wowed by its sheer brilliance and decides to follow me to receive further words of wisdom
  2. He adds me to his Circle called infosec
  3. He can currently see everything I post publicly
  4. However I get a notification that John has decided to follow me
  5. I check his profile and see that he interested Information Security
  6. I add him to my Circle called infosec
  7. Now he sees anything I share as public as well as anything I share that is information security related
John sees what he followed me for. He does not see any other random crap I share e.g. with my Photography circle or conversations I have about currency trading. This will hopefully also mean that I don't hate de-friend people (or people hate de-friend me which is more likely) for sharing baby photos or clogging up my stream with check-in's, Farmville and other BS posts.

Some have said that Circles should have imported your Gmail contacts groups (for those who have set those up). I started organizing my Circles in the same way but now I think this is the wrong idea. You need to organize your Circles around how you want to receive and publish content. This means primarily around interests rather than location,  common contacts etc.

The comments feature means that he can comment directly on anything I say about infosec with other interested people without clogging up his or their streams. The notifications on any Google property alerts him and keeps him engaged once he has commented. If John is really interested in Currency trading also because he is also not one dimensional I can add him to that Circle also. He will hopefully return the favour and limit his conversation on Currency trading to his Trading Circle.

Suggested improvements

  • Suggested circles when following - Google shines in big data analysis. To go back to the above example, they should analyse John's profile, past posts, likes (+1), searches, emails, check-ins, purchases (Google checkout) etc, analyse my circle and suggest to me what Circle I should add John to. Each option analysed can be an Opt-in for privacy
  • Suggested circles when sharing - when I post something including text, images, links etc it should suggest which Circle maybe interested in this information and also suggest Circles I should not post it in. This could be a similar feature to the Gmail lab that currently suggests users in emails you have missed. It should provide me analytics on things like the level of engagement, click through's etc to also help me tune my Circles and what I share to them
  • Circle tree - circles should have a hierarchy. As a geek I like the idea of normalization of my circles. So my Gaming friends are also my Fiends. Currently if I get a new gaming friend I have to add him to two circles. This could be made easier if the Gaming Circle could just part of my Friends circle. The user interface is also really well designed and could accommodate this easily. However I'm not sure if this would be more confusing to non technical people, thus the current slightly more in-efficient way maybe better (or it could be an option to enable).
  • Circles in all sharing contexts - the choice of circle to share to should extremely simple on the native mobile applications. This is where an increasing amount of content sharing, generation and discussion will occur and this design needs to be baked in there (not share to public as default and only simple option). I also read a lot of content offline and use the Tweetymail feature to share it with both Twitter and Facebook groups. Google plus needs to provide an email address to do this (should be simple as Blogger does this currently). Also the email needs to have tags to specify the Circle e.g. [Trading] or #trading. Adding features such as buffering (e.g. and scheduling of G+ posts would also be welcomed.
  • Mitigate accidental sharing - Currently I use Facebook for close friends, Linked-in for work colleagues and ex work colleagues and Twitter for anyone. Google plus has the potential to allow you to combine these into one social network. However one of the big risks of combining groups in an application like G+ rather than keeping separate networks is there is a greater chance of sharing the wrong thing with the wrong crowd. This means Wiener type moments and DM's sent as public could be a lot more common (the media rejoices).  Google should detect when you maybe making a mistake e.g. sharing a picture with a Circle or people you have not shared it with before, sharing a photo publicly when you usually only share links publicly. It can then prompt you to make sure, add an undo option like the Gmail labs for 30 seconds, solve a simple maths problem to reduce drunken and fat finger sharing.
I can understand why these were not added as they could be seen as a privacy breech and after the Buzz disaster Google wants to avoid them like the plague. Also potentially not part of the minimum viable product. It would be great however if they were added in as an Opt-in.

Summary (TLDR):
  • People do not engage enough on Facebook groups because that is not how Facebook is used
  • People ignore Tweets because there is no way to specify a list when tweeting and no way to isolate conversations except via messages with bi-directional follow
  • Google solves both of these if used correctly by Circles, which allow you to group incoming and outgoing content to suit the audience. The comments feature is fast and encourages localized discussions
  • Suggested improvements are for Google to use its awesome analytical capability to suggest Circles when both adding people (and on changing tastes over time) and on sharing. These should be an Opt-in feature to minimize privacy impact. The Circle architecture needs to be preserved in mobile and offline sharing.

Related posts:

Connect on Google Plus:

If you are interested in any of the following contact me on  and I will add you to the right circle. If you add me, please send me a message saying what Circle you have added me to (i.e. what content you will be sharing with me) and what you are interested in (or fill your profile in well in English :)

I tend to share and want to discuss information from my sources on Twitter (may change to Google plus over time), Hacker news, Techmeme, security.stackexchange, Techcrunch my Reader list, and of course what I'm thinking and writing about currently:
  • Information security - specifically security architecture, threat modeling, application security, risk management, security metrics, NFC and mobile security, payment systems and privacy
  • New technology and cool gadgets
  • Startups - I attend monthly meetups for Silicon Round-about London and Hackernews
  • Stock and currency trading - my watchlist on stocktwits
  • Football - English premier league
  • Formula 1
  • Photography - my stuff on Flikr (moving to Google plus most likely in future) and Instagram
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Photocredit: Flikr recubejim

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