Join Me on Google+

(Ed. Note: The original post by Mike Spinak can be found here )


Sea Nettle (Chrysoara Fuscescens), Moss landing, California © Mike Spinak

I’m going to get right to the point: I’d like you to sign up for Google Plus, and “circle me“, there, if you haven’t already.

Some of you might be thinking, “But I’ve already invested a lot of time and energy building up my accounts on Facebook and Twitter. I’m happy enough, there. All my friends and clients are there. I don’t want to have to go through all of that work, again.”

Let me explain to you why I like it there, and why I’d rather connect with you, there, than on other social media sites.

To begin with, as a photographer, I like that Google Plus shows pictures better than Facebook. The thumbnail sizes for photos are much larger. The full size pictures are also larger. The gallery view is better, too. And it shows them against a dark background. And I think G+ is not compressing the picture files as much as Facebook, because the pictures appear better quality. All in all, it’s a much better place to display pictures than Facebook, and perhaps better than Flickr, too. (It’s also free for unlimited photos uploads, unlike, Flickr’s $25 per year.)

I also get a much higher rate of engagement, when I post on Google Plus than when I post on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or anywhere else. For example, I posted this picture on Google Plus, a few hours ago (as of when I was writing this). So far, it’s received 42 “Plus Ones”, 11 comments, and 5 shares. When’s the last time a picture of yours has had that kind of response on Facebook? For me, the answer would be “never even once”. Also compare that to the the 6 “favorites” and 11 comments that the same picture has received on Flickr, since I posted it 45 months ago. Post a topic, and it’s the same thing: I get far more replies discussing the topic with me on Google Plus than on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

I also get more visitors clicking through to my website from Google Plus than I ever got through Facebook and Twitter. Much more. In fact, I started getting more traffic to my website from G+ than from Facebook and Twitter combined when I had only about one-tenth as many G+ contacts as Facebook and Twitter contacts.

That brings up another notable metric. As of today, I’ve been on Google Plus for about two months. Over that period of time, I’ve made more than twice as many contacts on Google Plus as I’ve made on Facebook over the last three years. You might think that this is because a lot of the community I’d built up on Facebook and Twitter then became contacts with me on Google Plus. Actually, the opposite is closer to the truth. Rather few came from Facebook and Twitter, however, my numbers of contacts on Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t be as high as they are, but for the fact that a lot of the contacts I first made through Google Plus later made contact with me on Facebook.

Also, take a look at this chart of how long it took Google Plus to reach 50 million users, compared to how long it took Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace. It took Google Plus less than three months, whereas it took Facebook over three and a half years. Also, look at this article, that Google Plus’s traffic grew by 1,269% in the past week.

It is also worth noting that participating on Google Plus appears to be one of the best things you can do for your website’s Google search ranking.

The quality of the content posted on Google Plus tends to be much higher, too. For example, looking at the very first post to come up in my stream, right now, on Google Plus: it’s a post discussing a science article about propulsion issues being a major hurdle which is likely to prevent interstellar travel for a long time. And looking up the very first post to come up in my stream right now, on Facebook: It’s a post about someone trying to gather the motivation to go on a bike ride. For whatever reason, the culture of what to discuss on Facebook tends to be more along the lines of what you are doing right now, while the culture of what to discuss on Google Plus tends to be more about ideas, projects – substantial content. These are just broad generalizations, but I think you’ll find Google Plus is a more conducive place for engaging in meaningful conversations. Of course, it’s still possible to have superficial interactions on Google Plus; notably, you now also have much greater likelihood of holding conversations with depth, if you want them.

On the subject of meaningful conversations, Google Plus has no character limits. I’ve seen a person post an entire novella he wrote. Lengthy, in-depth posts are more possible, and thus, more common, on Google Plus. Not only are you less constrained about the length of a post, the number of pictures in a post, and the number of links in a post, you also have richer formatting options, with stuff like strike-through text. Google Plus also allows you to edit posts and edit comments, which helps facilitate meaningful conversations.

Additionally, Google’s sophisticated search engine and features make it easy to find others who share your interests, while Google Plus’s way of organizing with circles makes it easy to organize by your interests, and select your news feed accordingly. You end up with a cornucopia of quality content and conversation, relevant to your interests, easily accessible.

Further, Google Plus allows “circling” someone, regardless whether they circle you back, and circling people makes it possible to comment on their posts. Since reciprocation is not mandated for interaction, Google Plus is a much easier place to meet new people than Facebook.

These various factors have lead Google Plus to be a more community-oriented place than Facebook or Twitter, with lots of people helping each other and doing a lot of things together. For example, I’ve been organizing a project for the photographer community to collectively make a photo book as a fundraiser for Doctors without Borders. I’ve also been using Google Hangouts (video conferencing with up to 10 people at a time) to run discussions on understanding visual art. Many others have been using Google Hangouts for helping each other, too, and for doing projects together (and for socializing, of course). And I’ll be joining many other Bay Area Google Plus users for a Photo Walk at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, tomorrow.

As is typical for Google, Google Plus has a comparatively clean, elegant design which is easy on the eyes. Meanwhile Facebook’s design is an eyesore, and seems to be degenerating toward this or this. Have you noticed Facebook’s new ticker? Ugh.

Beyond just the way it looks, Google Plus’s interface is much more straightforward and easy to figure out. If you’ve done much of trying to change settings in Facebook, you know that it can sometimes seem like navigating your way through a secret labyrinth to get important settings done. That’s why we so often see people posting instructions how to change their Facebook news feed to show all their friends’ posts, or to update important security settings, or to turn off features like the one that lets people order prints of the pictures you post.

Both Facebook’s design and interface are the result of endlessly kludging and endlessly festooning more features into a legacy system that was never meant for this scale and never meant to do these things. This is the same reason we have the confusing system with the new “subscriptions” added in the last week, in addition to the already existing “fanning” people’s business pages, which was kludged onto the system of “friending” people, which is now newly broken down into family, close friends, acquaintances, restricted, and so on. All this badly implemented kludging comes from the underlying issue that things were haphazardly designed to begin with, and continue to be badly designed anew with each update, due to poor planning. The managers and coders seem to me to have very little idea of what they’re doing, both conceptually and structurally, and seem to be flying by the seats of their pants. This differs from the quality of coding and planning that goes into Google’s creations.

Beyond this, the people in charge of Facebook routinely and purposely ignore and subvert the wishes of Facebook’s users. For example, they sent me this email, a week ago:

Hi Mike,

We’re trying out a new feature to reduce the amount of email you receive from Facebook. Starting today, we are turning off most individual email notifications and instead, we’ll send you a summary only if there are popular stories you may have missed.

You can turn individual emails back on and restore all of your original settings at any time.


The Facebook Team

One would think that something so obvious wouldn’t need to be said, but: When I previously went though Facebook’s email notification settings and set them the way I wanted them, I did that because that’s the way that I wanted them. Now they’re rudely presuming they know what I want better than I do, ignoring my settings choices, and wasting my time with this nonsense.

Facebook seems to come up with lots of disastrous (for me) ways to mess with things, out of touch with my needs and usage patterns. For example, when I went to Facebook a  few days ago, suddenly all of my “Top Stories” were from people I barely knew. As far as I can tell, the people who wrote Facebook’s questionable algorithm made it heavily weight the fact that these contacts were also photographers who live in Palo Alto – as though that’s what’s important to me. Meanwhile, Facebook’s new algorithms apparently are filtering the posts of all my contacts, not showing me every post (!) – and are using this quality of algorithms to choose which posts I see and which I don’t. Every time I go to Facebook, I feel like I’m getting in the car to start a grand adventure – and then, as I try to open the door to get in, the door falls off its hinges.

On the other hand, the people running Google Plus, and – in fact, the people running Google – are present and engaged on Google Plus. Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google, joined a friend of mine in a Google Hangout,  a few weeks ago. Pretty much all of the people at Google involved with the Google Plus project regularly post, and regularly interact with other posters. They’re meeting G+ users in person, too, such as joining on Photo Walks. They’re actually listening to feedback and implementing changes to bring people the features they want and ask for. As of today, they’ve been implementing about one big improvement per day, such as their addition of the ability to share circles, as of yesterday. And they’ve been far more innovative than Facebook, in my opinion.

On a deeper level than this, Facebook repeatedly earns my distrust in ways that Google doesn’t. For example: this week’s cookie scandal. In case you missed it, it was found that Facebook’s cookies keep track of everywhere you visit on the web, even after you log out of Facebook. This was followed byFacebook denying the allegations. Then, when they couldn’t get away with denying it, they admitted their cookies track your every move on the internet, but told Facebook users to trust them. When that position was no longer tenable, then Facebook fixed their cookies to no longer track people’s internet behavior after they sign out of Facebook. Meanwhile, this cookie scandal has lead people to test whether Google’s cookies similarly track and report your data, which resulted in the answer that Google is not doing this. This is just one in a long series of similarly concerning stories about Facebook that seem to come out every few weeks.

You might not trust Google, either. Heck, you might not trust any major corporations. That’s probably wise. Nonetheless, if I had to choose to trust my data with one or the other, it seems to me that Google deserves more trust than Facebook.

There are other things I could mention, such as the fact that Google Plus (so far) has no advertising; and that you are not constantly bombarded with requests to like people’s fan pages, or play Farmville, or Mafia Wars, or join people’s groups (or worse – people often add me to their Facebook groups without asking), etc.; and that spam from fake accounts is much, much rarer. Or the fact that the emphasis on real identities, and the exclusion of minors, have lead to people being much better behaved, and lead to trolls being comparatively rare. Or the fact that Google already owns and has so many of the pieces in place – G mail, YouTube, Picasa, Google Documents, etc. – and is in the process of effectively integrating them all into a very useful, powerful platform., in a way that no other company can compete with. Hopefully, by now, I’ve said enough to make my point.

I like the benefits that social media  allows, in terms of staying in touch with friends, family, customers and clients. I’m not so happy with Facebook as the intermediary. I’ve been putting up with Facebook because, as a small business owner, it’s been necessary. Now, I think something better has come along, and I’m in the process of transitioning  from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and so on, to Google Plus, as much as possible. The level of engagement is so much higher on G+, that putting equivalent energy into Facebook and Twitter seems uneconomical, by comparison.

Google Plus is by no means perfect – to some degree, it suffers from many of the same flaws that all social media outlets do. (I’ll discuss those in a future post.) But I do like it better than the alternatives.

Now , you may have read very different take on Google plus than mine, elsewhere – such as this article which describes Google Plus as “Worse than a Ghost Town”. In the article, Dan Reimold states, “…my circles are sparse. The stream of updates has basically run dry – reduced to one buddy who regularly writes”. Why the discrepency between my description of the most vibrant social media community on the web and some other articles describing the place as dead and deserted? Understanding the reason is key to your success on Google Plus.

If you want activity and interaction on Google Plus, you can’t just sit there and wait for it to come to you. At the time Dan Reimold complained about how dead Google plus is, he had circled just 28 people, and he had never once made a public post. (He still hasn’t.) Of course, you won’t get any interaction, if you’re not connected with anybody. Of course, nobody will take an interest in you if you never say anything to anyone. You have to take an active role. Search for topics that interest you, and circle people who are discussing those topics. Join in on conversations. Post things that grab other people’s interest, and will make them want to connect with you. Invite your friends over to Google Plus. Join hangouts to meet people – or even start hangouts, yourself. And so on.

In short: You get out of it what you put into it. So, make it happen.

If you do, you’ll find Google Plus the most rewarding social network currently around.

So, sign up, and connect with me, here.

Sea Nettle (Chrysoara Fuscescens), Moss landing, California
All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917. For workshops, please go to


One thought on “Join Me on Google+

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