The pleasures of Google+

By Carl Zimmer | July 17, 2011 11:16 am

Over the past week or so, I’ve been playing around with Google+, Google’s answer to Facebook and Twitter. You can see my posts here.

Whenever a new social media system rolls out, I give it a test-drive. Sometimes I end up in a ditch. Here is my MySpace page, last updated three years ago and now lingering on like a time capsule.

Here is my abandoned Quora page.  I asked one question: why does Chewbacca used a crossbow instead of–you know–a laser or something more effective?After I got some answers, I lost all interest.

For the most part, though, I try to make social media part of my life. My rational explanation for this is that, as a writer, I ought to head for the virtual spaces where people congregate and look for things to read. Of course, I’m also lured by the addictive procrastination. It sometimes feels like channel-surfing on a social cable television. Whatever the true cause, I’ve ended up with an author web site (old school!), this blog, a Facebook profile, a Facebook author page, a Twitter account, a Tumblr thing-a-ma-bob, a LinkedIn account…and other things I’m sure I’m forgetting.

When Google+  rolled out, I had a bad feeling. Google Buzz was a total disaster–there was no point to it, it was confusing to use, and it pushed its way into your privacy in mysterious ways. So I didn’t think Google understood social networks.

So far, I have to say, Google+ has avoided most of the mistakes of Google Buzz, and it’s borrowed (or improved on) many of the nicest things in Twitter, Facebook, and even blogs. For example, one of my favorite things about this blog is getting comments from readers. The drawback is that there are several steps to entering, reading, and responding to those comments. Getting back to commenters ends up on my to-do list. Trust me, you don’t want to be on my to-do list. It’s a graveyard.

On Google+, commenting is astonishingly frictionless. It feels much more like having a conversation. Here’s one example: having read an interesting article in Wired on feedback loops, I riffed on it, discussing feedback loops among genes and proteins. Immediately, it sparked a fascinating discussion about the history of cybernetics and much more. Twitter has some of that spontaneity, but its 140-character limit can feel like a straightjacket.

I wonder if Google has some soul-killing plans for Google+ once they open it up to all comers. (You still need an invitation, but these aren’t hard to come by. Ask me.) For now, I’m just enjoying the experiment.


Comments (57)

  1. I hate to say it, but here’s one thing I worry about: That the good smart conversational quality of G+ might fade as more people use it. Right now many of these conversations feel like smart conversations in comfortable rooms: rooms with doors open so people can wander in and out, but rooms nonetheless. Blog comments, meanwhile, feel too anonymous, brining much idiocy. And conversations on Twitter are v difficult to carry out in a way that feels like a semi-closed environment: you’re either broadcasting, having a convo w 2-4 people w the feeling you’re on stage, or relating 1:1 via DMs. This feels different. I hope that continues.

  2. Christoffer

    Guess I’ll bother you for an invite then, see what’s it all about. :)

  3. David, there’s always that fear with new social networks but I strongly feel that with Google+ there’s great potential to escape the “dumbing down” of conversation because of the Circles feature. The ability to selectively choose who you share things with could be a real game changer here.

    I think that’s the biggest piece of the puzzle that Google is getting right; they’re recognizing that people don’t necessarily want to be social with EVERYONE all the time, and they’re making it easy to achieve that.

  4. Aaron

    In that case, I too would appreciate an invitation, if you are so willing to offer one!

    Update: Excellent, sir, thank you!

  5. I’ve already lost my way with G+. I’m not clear on why I’m drowning there, since I haven’t spent as much time as I obviously need in order to use it well — but the reality is, I don’t *have* that time right now (which means, maybe not ever).

    I think the problem is that G+ has more push than Twitter does. On Twitter, people follow me, but their consumption of my comments is 1-way; aside from the initial follow notice, there’s no built-in exchange of attention. On G+ that’s baked in, via the Incoming of those who have Circled me without my reciprocating. And even though there’s a log-scale difference (4500 followers on Twitter, 450 unCircled on G+), the conversation on G+ is so much richer and lengthier that I just can’t get in front of the curve.

    Which may mean I have to give up on either G+ or my guilt.

  6. Vanessa

    I would love an invite please!

  7. Jordan

    If you’re willing, I was also really appreciate an invite to G+

  8. Carl…. Just got your book Soul Made Flesh …. looking forward.
    I also would like to give Google+ a go ….. am frustrated by the twitter on Twitter, the superficial about-me-ness of Facebook and the like.
    I would hope to find a few folks ready to give it a go with what I call Reflective Memoiring: doing a thoughtful job of playing with the interior/reflective aspects of their life experiences. I’m in the middle of it at “”, and would like some company.
    (and…. it leads me to what I call Depth Cosmology: not just “what’s going on inside me” but also “what am I part of … on the really large scale?”)

  9. If it’s not too much asking I would also appreciate an invite for G+

  10. Google+ has been revved up as the new … well, almost anything! Better than twitter, better than facebook, better than tumblr and blogging. I’ll believe it when I see it (invite anyone?). The only one I’m really buying into is “better than facebook” as it seems to be dealing with the privacy issues better. I try to avoid using facebook too much because everything I say goes to everyone… that can get very annoying!

  11. Drscottadams

    Yes please! I would love an invitation. Thanks.

  12. Gaythia

    I’m experimenting with your Goggle + experience from the other side. Will being the 730th or so person to add you to my circle be a meaningful experience?

    Methinks I’ll probably still plan to access your thoughts via this blog.

  13. Gaythia

    And books of course! I didn’t mean to fail to mention your excellent books! An approach to knowledge gathering that is not yet hopelessly old fashioned.

  14. Eladio Ramos

    Please, send me an invitation to Google+

  15. coleman

    Yes sir I would love an invitation also. Thanks.

  16. JT

    Carl, I would be happy to receive an invite, been wanting to try Google+.

  17. Stevie

    Thoughtful piece – you didn’t mention GoogleWave… did you have any experience with it. It was confusing and cumbersome also, but a long way from being ready to roll by the time it was ditched.

    I’ve yet to try Google+ (hint, hint 😉 ) but I’m hoping some of the nifty aspects of Wave might see a new lease of life in this or subsequent iterations.

  18. Natasha

    I will take an invite if you still have them available. Thanks.

  19. Johan Fruh

    Seeing all these positive stories about G+ has me really interested.
    I’ve always been baffled by how badly facebook is designed, it’s anti-intuitiveness drove me away. I’m hoping G+ is more efficient in that regard. (or maybe I’m just too old to understand these new technologies :) )

    I would also appreciate an invitation to Google +, if it’s still possible.

  20. Gary Allan

    I too would like an invite, if you are still so inclined. Thanks in advance.

  21. devlyn

    Send me an invite?

  22. DSArrowsmith

    Thanks, I’ll take an invite. I’d like to experiment.

  23. albert valino

    I’d love to get an invite, please would someone invite

    Thanks in advance!

  24. jf

    Interesting insights on G+.

    I’d like to try it. Can you please send me an invite, too?

    TIA, Jörg

  25. Timoyhy

    If you’re still willing, I would love an invite! Thanks!

  26. If it isn’t too much trouble, I’d like an invite to G+ too. Thanks!

  27. KVal

    Please consider me for an invite…haven’t had the success with other social networking sites…thanks much

  28. Tom

    Carl, great article, you wouldn’t mind passing the invite? Thanks a mill in advance.

  29. Loyal

    I would love an invite to g+ it sounds much better than fb

  30. Dan

    I too would love an invite, if ok, 😀
    I think though its the users that will shape the way the whole experience will feel. I myself just get pointless updates from friends I dont know and rarely engage in anything worth talking about because no one on my list is bothered.

  31. walter shores

    I would love an invite as well if you get the chance.

  32. Cmdr. Awesome

    I, too, would enjoy attempting to use this new-fangled “gee plus” contraption of which so much kerfuffle has been raised over. Many most excellent thank yous for your consideration!

  33. IW

    It makes no sense to say that “one of my favorite things” is comments and then go on to reveal that you practically ignore them because dealing with them is on your never done “to-do list”!

    People forget that the Internet is a dynamic entity. What was popular yesterday seems antiquated and quaint today (antiquainted?!). The same will be said tomorrow of today’s latest and greatest. It has to be this way, and we fail to recognize this at our peril (of we ourselves becoming antiquated).

    [CZ: You seem to have overlooked that I was referring to the *technical* hassles of responding to comments in blog software systems.]

  34. Stevie Taylor

    Thank you kindly Carl!

  35. MT-LA

    I finally broke down and signed onto FB a couple of weeks ago. Already causing headaches related to friends that are a bit over eager to share every thought that goes through their head. Would love to join in the Google+ experiment…got any invites left for me? If not, no hard feelings.

  36. switch

    Would love an invite.

  37. Well, I follow you and RT on Twitter, am an expert on germ evolution, and want to try Google plus! :-))

  38. Thorn

    I could use an invite. Thanks!

  39. Hernán

    Hi Carl, I’ll really appreciate you an invitation to G+, I’m a biologist and a follower of your blogs. Thanks

  40. Jason

    I’d also like an invite if possible.

  41. monad

    Not to be annoying, but I’d appreciate an invite too, if you’re still giving them out. Thanks!

  42. MT-LA

    Thank you so much Carl!

  43. Mike Burke

    I could use an invite also. Thanks in advance….I hope !!

  44. pxd11

    would love to try Google +, thanks

  45. mb48

    Are you tired of giving out Google + invites yet ? Just one more…..pleassssse!!

  46. CJ

    I would also appreciate an invite. In return i’ll buy your new book. Hell, i’ll probably buy it regardless.

  47. Lauri Törmä

    I’d also like an invite if possible.

  48. Jason

    I would like an invite, if you or anyone else has one available.

  49. HS

    If this hasn’t gotten too annoying for you yet, I would like an invite.

  50. An invite would be nice, see what it’s all about..

  51. I was quite surprised to read that I was a flickr ‘power user’ in a book on social media (defined as someone who logs onto the site every day, joins and participates in groups and gets and receives comments on my photos) a few years ago (I no longer am, for a variety of reasons including a new camera I have yet to master although it’s not quite in your MySpace league – I still visit the site from time to time).

    I don’t plan to invest a lot of content-sharing time in Google+ till September although I’ve joined – what’s fascinating to me is seeing precisely who the early adopters are, since this is much more transparent due to the invites to join circles and connect than it was on Twitter. And, of course, this reflects my overall approach to social media – listening is the first step. Like David Dobbs’ as always thoughtful and smart comment.

  52. I think with the birth of Google+, Facebook will need to work fast in giving more love so people don’t jump ship. People are always falling in love with something new. So only time will tell. Great to have competition though, no room, nor time for complacency.

  53. jcm

    Beyond the pleasure other facts must be considered about Google.

    Refusing pseudos and anonymity, if G+ becomes a major social network in the world, even monopolistic (it’s a target), it will be a danger for freedom, a killer against social and political contest in any case when there will be a danger to contest.

    Because any other social network will have desapeared or will be so confidential that the possibility to widely spread ideas without running big personnal risq won’t exist.

    In french, sorry :

    “Présent sur Gogol plus ? Complice des dictatures présentes et à venir ! ”

    “Google contrevient-il à la Déclaration Universelle ?”

  54. RK

    If I am not bothering you much, please forward an invite. Thanks in advance.

  55. Nicholas

    I figure it’s worth giving a try. Any chance of getting an invite still?


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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