Elgan: What I lost on the Google+ Diet

After using only Google's new social network for a week -- forsaking all others -- here's what I learned

On July 8, I went on the Google+ Diet, using Google's new social network for all my online communication. As part of the diet, I stopped using Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and several other services. I even stopped using e-mail.

As I explained in my column last week, the purpose of the experiment was to see if consolidating and streamlining all social activity into Google+ was possible and, if so, desirable. (You can follow my experiment here, even if you're not a Google+ member.)

I was able to answer my two questions on day one of my Google+ Diet. Yes, it's possible, and yes, it's desirable.

More interestingly, however, I found out all kinds of surprising things about Google+ and about using Google+ as the one-and-only medium for online communication. Here's what I learned:

A lot of people want to get on the Google+ Diet

I've been surprised by the number of people who want to get on the Google+ Diet. Social networking fatigue is an epidemic, and people are feeling overwhelmed by all the social networks and social media out there. Dozens of people have told me they're going all-out on the Google+ Diet, and hundreds or thousands have apparently jumped into some version of it.

The most common approach: People are quitting Facebook and Twitter, and replacing them with Google+.

Google+ is the most 'social' social network

The social activity level on Google+ is off the charts. If you have 1,000 followers each on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and ask a question, you will probably get 10 times the feedback on Google+.

It's the feedback that's motivating A-list bloggers like Digg founder Kevin Rose to shut down their blogs and redirect traffic to their Google+ profiles. I have found the same to be true.

To me, this is what social networking is all about. You share something, then people interact with you about that, giving you additional information, correcting your errors, expressing their opinions and sharing their own related stories. Google+ is by far the most social of all the social networks.

Google+ is highly addictive

I did not expect Google+ to be psychologically addictive. But I have felt the pull myself, and others have, too. It's the only thing I've found online that draws you in like console video gaming.

I say this not to praise Google, but to predict that Google+ addiction may actually become a real problem in the future for some people.

There are two things about Google+ that cause this addiction. The first is the Stream, which is simply a running feed containing the posts of all the people you're following on Google+. While Facebook's News Feed is also a running stream of posts, it's a censored stream. Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm is blocking the majority of posts from your friends from reaching your feed.

But the most addictive component of Google+ is something called Notifications. By clicking on the glaring red box that tells how many notifications you have waiting, you can see at a glance who Circled, or followed, you, who commented, +1'd (or "liked") your posts or comments, and who reshared one of your posts.

Dangerously, Google+ becomes more addictive the more you use it. Simply understanding how Circles and following works enables you to constantly tweak and optimize what you see and who you interact with.

Gmail is an inseparable part of Google+

For my Google+ Diet, I've redirected all my e-mail communication through Google+. When I send e-mail, I simply post on Google+, and "address" the post to someone's Google+ presence or to their e-mail address. One advantage of this is that the subsequent back-and-forth takes place on Google+'s wonderful commenting system.

When I receive e-mail I want to reply to, I paste it into Google+ and reply from there.

I also use e-mail still for non-communication purposes, such as reading my Google Alerts and Calendar notifications, and for submitting columns.

As you may have now suspected, avoiding e-mail is somewhat idiotic, for two reasons. First, the copying and pasting of incoming e-mail into Google+ isn't easier than simply replying. And secondly, Gmail is, in fact, part of Google+. Gmail serves as its messaging system.

For most people wanting to try the Google+ Diet, my advice is to go ahead and use Gmail with it.

Google+ replaces Twitter easier than it replaces Facebook

The transition from Twitter to Google+ is way easier than from Facebook to Google+. The reason is that Google+ does almost everything Twitter does, but better. On Facebook, however the biggest "feature" is the user base. So if you're having daily conversations with your old college buddies or high school BFFs, those just stop when you move to Google+. For now, at least.

While Google+ represents a minor potential -- and eventual -- challenge to Facebook's long-term dominance, it represents an existential threat to Twitter. As I said in my column last week, Twitter is obsolete. It's great at delivering a quick comment or link, but if you want to chat about it, Twitter is lousy.

Google+ can replace blogging

Big-name bloggers have already shut down their blogs and replaced them with their public posts on their Google+ profiles. Here's mine. As you can see, it's a blog!

Better still, it works like the best blogging platform, Tumblr. It's easy for other users to re-blog or "share" your posts on their own "blog." Commenting is great.

The only downsides are that you can't customize it with a "theme" or custom design, and you can't use advertising. But it's only a matter of time before these features come to Google+, I would imagine.

From a Google+ Diet perspective, the advantage of replacing your blog with a Google+ profile is that blogging happens in the same space as everything else you do. Personally, I love not having a gazillion windows and tabs going with all my social activity. I just say what I want to say, then choose who I want to say it to.

Most people have no interest in leaving Facebook

My Circles that are full of editorial colleagues and brilliant strangers are frenetic hives of activity. But in my "Family" and "Friends" Circles there is nothing but the sound of crickets.

I've tried to convince the people I care most about on Facebook to come sign up for Google+, but most have no interest. I believe they'll warm to it over time, but for now, it's clear that most Facebook fans are firmly embedded in that social network.

You can post on Twitter and Facebook and send e-mail all from Google+

Replacing other communications media with Google+ doesn't mean they disappear elsewhere. There are multiple ways (browser plug-ins, RSS schemes and others) to have your Google+ posts appear or be linked to automatically on those other services. New apps and services are coming out every day that make this easy to do.

Google+ ends social networking fatigue, but can induce Google+ fatigue

Google makes it super easy to follow people, comment and interact on Google+. It also lacks Twitter- and Facebook-like limits on post size. As a result, it's easy to over-commit, and end up with a fire hose of information that leaves you exhausted.

The cure for Google+ fatigue is to constantly un-Circle the least interesting people, or the people who are using up too much time with stuff you don't like. It doesn't happen by itself, unlike on Facebook where EdgeRank limits your incoming feed without any action on the part of the user.

Google+'s system for friending and following is harder to understand, but better in practice

Twitter and Facebook are easy to understand when it comes to friending and following. On Twitter, you see the posts of the people you follow. Period. On Facebook, you see the posts of the people you have friended (it takes two), minus the posts blocked by EdgeRank.

But Google+ is both more complex and better. On Google+, you "follow" people by putting them into Circles -- say, one for "Friends," another for "Family" and another for "Co-workers." When you click on a "Stream" icon, you see the posts of all your Circles. Or you can choose the posts only of any one Circle.

There's an "Incoming" option, for viewing the posts of people you have not put into any Circles, but who have Circled you.

It's a more complex, but friction-free, way to follow.

Google+ is still a work in progress

There's no search yet. Apple (as of late Friday) hasn't approved the iOS app. Google hasn't released an API for third-party companies to build on. Some of the best features of Google+ are still in the future.

There are random glitches and minor problems that crop up here and there. Google keeps making changes.

If you don't want to use a beta service, you may want to wait on Google+. On the other hand, it's already more stable than Twitter.

Google+ is a platform for third-party innovation

Google+ is like Twitter in that other companies will be able to build tools and interfaces that enable you to customize your experience. Dozens of browser plug-ins have already emerged for this purpose. Within a year or two, there will probably be hundreds or thousands of these.

People go on diets to lose something. What have I lost on the Google+ Diet? For one thing, I've missed out on a lot of friend and family chatter on Facebook. I've probably also missed out on some content on Twitter, which still has far more users and far more going on in general because it's been around longer.

However, I've also lost the anxiety caused by having my social life spread out on so many social services. I've missed out on a lot of pointless e-mail and spam.

More important, I've gained a much better way to interact online, and gained a lot of new friends.

The Google+ Diet isn't for everybody. But I recommend that everybody at least try to consolidate disparate social media into as few as possible. And I can tell you, Google+ should be one of the few social sites you use -- if not the only one.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free e-mail newsletter, Mike's List.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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