10 things I hate about Google+
- — 02 August, 2011 01:20
I have a love-hate relationship with Google+. Because I love it and use it so much, I really hate its current limitations.
As I've mentioned in this space before, I'm on what I call the "Google+ Diet." I've stopped posting to my personal blog, I've withdrawn from Facebook and Twitter, and I've even tried to use Google+ instead of e-mail. I'm all Plus, all the time.
Despite having well over 20 million users, Google+ is theoretically still a "closed" invitation-only beta service. That means Google is still fixing many of its flaws and limitations.
Until Google works out the kinks in its new social networking service, there are tricks and workarounds for most of the problems you might encounter in Google+.
Here are the top 10 things I hate about Google+, and what I do about them.
1. The 're-animated squid' problem
Google+ supports animated GIFs and nice, big pictures. As a result, a sizable minority of posts have them. You see a funny picture in your stream, chuckle and move on. Then you see the same picture again, and shrug. Then you see it again. And again, as more and more people discover it and reshare it. It becomes annoying.
The worst of these is an animated GIF showing a Japanese squid dish. Apparently, when you put soy sauce on a dead squid, it appears to come alive like some kind of zombie seafood platter from hell. The GIF demonstrates the phenomenon hideously. I've seen it appear in my stream at least a hundred times.
Eventually, I believe Google will add search filters in Google+ like the ones in Gmail. But for now, the best solution is to limit the number of people you circle (follow).
There's so much great content on Google+ that users are tempted to circle everyone they can until reaching the limit of 5,000 people. But if you circle too many people, you're going to get a lot of dead squids.
Of course, you can also just follow narrower circles (such as only "Friends" or "Family" or "People Who Don't Post Squid GIF"). But when you do that, you miss out on direct posts (items directed only to you), some Hangout (group video chat) invitations and posts from other interesting circles. It's great to be able to monitor your whole stream (made up of all circles).
The sweet spot for the number of people to circle right now is between 100 and 1,000. By uncircling the serial image posters, and seeking out users with more original content, you can constantly improve the quality of your stream.
2. The 'everybody's still on Facebook' problem
Everybody's on Facebook because everybody's on Facebook. When you move to Google+, you immediately realize two things. First, Google+ is far better than Facebook. Second, your friends and family aren't on Google+ yet.
Google+ will be way better when everyone you know is fully participating in it. But how do you persuade people to leave the Facebook cave and enter the sunshine of Google+?
It's not easy, but it can be done.
First, auto-post everything on Facebook that you post on Google+, with a link back to the Google+ post (there are many ways to do this; just ask your Google+ circle buddies).
Second, refuse to use Facebook for commenting and interacting -- make 'em come to Google+ for the conversations.
Third, convince people on Facebook to try Hangouts either by showing it to them on your laptop, or by describing it to them. Google's Hangouts group video chat feature is so compelling that nobody can resist it.
If all else fails, play hardball: Post things your family and friends really want to see, and don't make them public. They'll have to sign up for Google+ to see them (make sure you invite everybody). It sounds coercive, but you're doing them a favor.
3. The 'I spent four years building up Twitter followers' problem
You might want to abandon Twitter, but not your Twitter friends.
The good news is that you can build followers more easily on Google+ (while the number of people you can circle is capped at 5,000, the number of people who can circle you is unlimited). Sometime today or tomorrow, the number of people following me on Google+ (after four weeks) will exceed the number of people following me on Twitter (after four years).
More good news: Google+ actually improves your engagement with Twitter followers. In other words, Google+ is a better way to use Twitter. Just use a service called ManageFlitter. It posts your Google+ posts on Twitter with a link back to the original Google+ posts. That means you can have your cake and eat it too. You don't have to use Twitter, and you don't have to abandon your Twitter friends.
4. The 'mobile apps for Google+ suck' problem
The mobile apps for Google+ are almost unusable.
Right now, you can download apps for the iPhone and for Android phones, but not for the iPad or any other smartphone. The Android app is a little better, with fancy features like auto-uploading for pictures. And both let you "check in," post pictures from the phone and see the Google+ posts of people who are physically near you -- it's great for events.
In general, however, the mobile apps frustrate. You can't reshare. You can't do Hangouts. And you can't easily address individuals, only circles.
If you try to use Google+ on a mobile device without an app, you're given a mobile version of the website, which has comparable limitations.
There is no elegant solution. But if you want to reshare a post from a phone, you can scroll to the bottom of the mobile site in your phone's browser and choose the desktop version of the site, then click "share" on the post you want to share, address it to the circles of your choice, then click the Share button. But note that this method is very slow.
There's no way I know of to do Hangouts on a mobile device or address a single person. Sorry.
5. The 'moving comment box' problem
When you comment on a Google+ post, the comment box sits at the bottom of other people's comments, which show up in real time. If you're drafting a comment on a popular post, the comment box you're using jumps down as you're typing, which is very annoying.
The quick-and-dirty workaround is to draft your comment in Notepad or some other text editor and then paste it in.
6. The 'no way to hide people' problem
Facebook lets you "Hide" people from your News Feed. You're still friends. But you're spared from both the drivel they post and the awkwardness of unfriending.
Google+ doesn't have this. The only ways to muzzle people are to uncircle or block them. You can "mute" individual posts, but not all future posts by a specific person. The solution is to uncircle. They won't know about it unless they go out of their way to check. And if they've got you circled, they'll get your posts.
7. The #nohashtags problem
Twitter has hashtags, which means you can add a keyword to the post that enables people to search for the topic later. For example, if you post something about ugly dogs, you can add the hashtag #uglydogs, giving other ugly dog fans a keyword to search to see all the ugly dog posts.
Google+ has nothing like this. Because the hashtag system needs the buy-in of everybody, there's really no easy workaround for this. However, it's almost certain that Google+ search will get real search RSN (that's "real soon now"). And when that happens, hashtags are inevitable. So if you're into hashtags, go ahead and add them at the bottom of your posts. When search kicks in later, your posts will already have hashtags.
8. The 'how could Google launch a social network without search?' problem
Surprisingly, Google+ has lousy search. Sure, you can search for users, but you can't search content.
The workaround is regular Google Search. By using the "site:" search operator, you can limit regular Google Search queries to items posted on the Google+ service. So if you wanted to search for, say, posts about ugly dogs on Google+, you would type the following in the Google Search box:
"ugly dogs" site:plus.google.com
This is a sloppy workaround because it will also search old Google Buzz posts. It's also hard to discern posts in the search results. But until Google adds real search to Google+, this is an option.
9. The 'inflexible circles' problem
Circles let you create categories of people you follow, and post to, or read the posts of, people in those categories. Or you can choose to read the feed of all circles.
What you cannot do is, say, monitor the posts of just three of your circles. You can't have overlapping circles, or circles within circles. You can't "merge" circles.
The workaround is to create more circles! For example, if you'd like to address your "Family" and "Friends" circles at once, or monitor both of those circles at once, then create a third circle called "Family and Friends" and add everyone from those other circles into it.
10. The 'Google+ can't do X' problem
There are many things other services can do that Google+ can't do. I asked my Google+ friends "What's the one thing you like least about Google+?" And I got at least 100 different problems that people would like to see solved.
For many of these, the solution is a browser plug-in. The upside is that there's probably a plug-in that addresses any given problem. The downside is that they're browser-specific.
The solution to random Google+ problems is to ask your Google+ followers if they know of a plug-in that solves it -- and specify your browser.
None of these "solutions" is really a solution to the 10 things I hate about Google+. They're kludgy, stopgap workarounds that will have to suffice until Google fixes what's broken.
Despite the 10 things I hate, I can think of a hundred things I love about Google+. I still think it's the best social service ever created, and I recommend that everybody jump in.
And if you do get on Google+, don't forget to circle me!
Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at Elgan.com.