For the past several months I’ve been using Google+ almost daily. I decided that since Google is so insistent on forcing everybody who uses any of their products to use Google+, it’s better to go along with the direction instead of avoiding it. Chances are, you use a Google product too. Blogger, Gmail, YouTube… all of them have Google+ now integrated, and it’s pretty much a give in that you have a profile. So why aren’t you using it?
I’ll tell you something. I’ve actually grown to like the G+ site for specific reasons that I will talk about below, but I think they did a really bad job of promoting it as a cool place to hang out instead of just a mandatory signup. The user experience wasn’t totally familiar to lots of people, which raised a lot of questions about how to do certain things. Google didn’t really give much of a usage lesson or provide helpful, easy to understand guides to their users to save them the hassle of having to search online for answers. Navigating around the site doesn’t make a lot of sense to some that have become more familiar with other social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. There is a Google+ help group, but it would be nice to have one central hub with everything categorized properly with actual answers, instead of having to weed through topics unrelated to your issue. Why didn’t Google do this? And why have other independent websites been forced to provide their own user guides and Google+ help instead?
As I said, I’ve been using it daily for several months now and there are still things that confuse me about the site. For example, what is the difference between “follows” and “+1s” on your profile page? Follows = people who have added you to “Circles” if that isn’t already confusing enough. On my Wonder Forest profile, on the date of this post it shows that I have “1.22k followers” on the overview page, yet on my profile’s Posts page it shows I have just under 3k +1’s. What is the difference? Why this isn’t outlined somewhere is something I cannot comprehend, and having asked this very question in the Google+ help forum, I still haven’t received an answer. That’s not even the full extent of the +1 confusion though. If you look at my +1 count here it differs from my +1 count on the very same page using my short url here. The count on that page is about 700 “plus ones” lower, and this is also the number that appears on my Google+ widget I have placed in my blog’s sidebar. If you’re confused yet, welcome to Google+!
My final annoyance is in the form of what seems to be a bug, but hasn’t received any attention from Google at all. If you have the “Auto Enhance Photos” option checked in your Google+ settings, any JPG images you upload on partnered sites, like Blogger or YouTube, appear darker than the original image. White backgrounds turn grey and Blogger headers no longer blend in with your blog theme. Unchecking this box fixes the issue on all sites, but yet again it’s just another head scratcher and I cannot understand why it hasn’t been fixed.
All of that bad stuff aside though, I still have to give Google+ points for being a good social network. Once you get the hang of things, it’s less confusing to manage and there is a lot you can do with it. Photos seem to be something that they have really put a lot of focus on, which I think is great as it adds a huge visual element that separates it from Twitter. They are shared at a generous size and you can even edit them with their tools. Your posts also aren’t filtered (yet) like they are on Facebook, so you can be pretty sure that all of your followers will see your posts in their Home screens. With that in mind, creating posts with a link to one of your recent articles can draw a ton of attention if you swap the automated link box out with a nice photo instead.
Hashtags on Google+ are also something you should become familiar with. Not only will your posts be auto-hashtagged if they contain popular keywords, but you can also add your own and clicking on a hashtag will display all of the recent posts about that particular topic. This is a great way to find people and brands with interests similar to yours.
Finally, I couldn’t end this post without talking about Communities. Communities are groups that you can join to connect with like-minded individuals. Doing a search in the top bar of G+ will bring up groups associated with your search. Joining communities can be an awesome way to interact with others and build your own fan base.
If you’re not on Google+ yet (actively), I do recommend you start familiarizing yourself with the site because it can be a really great way to increase your presence online. Despite what they’ve done wrong, there is still a chance they can make it right and develop easy to understand guides so that users don’t feel so lost.
What’s your take? Do you use Google+? Why/why not?