Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google+ Really Has the Hang of the Follower Count Game

More than 10,000 people have added me to one of their Google+ “circles” in the past month. Just under 12,000 have followed me on Twitter in the past four years.

These numbers don’t define me, and I’m not writing this post to boost them. But I do think it’s worthwhile to try to understand why Google’s equivalent of the follower count is growing so quickly for some users (and it’s not just me).

Google+ doesn’t have the exact equivalent of a “follow,” but if you add someone to one of your circles, you’re saying you would like to tune in to what they post, which is almost the same thing as following them on Twitter.

At this point, I essentially use Google+ like I use Twitter; almost everything I post is public, and more often that not it relates to my stories about the social Web — which tend to be topical to the early Google+ discussion. (I use Facebook more for personal relationships, so I’m not including it in this comparison.)

As another apples-to-almost-apples benchmark, Twitter says officially that it has registered 200 million accounts over its entire history, while Google+ had 10 million as of July 15 (likely many more by now; it’s growing like crazy).

I’m sure there’s some inflation going on from me getting on Google+ the first day it was open to outsiders, and from the alignment in interests between me and other early Google+ users. Plus, Google+ is not yet cluttered up with business accounts, though many people are clamoring for them.

More than any other social network I’ve used, Google+ has the feeling of having been birthed fully formed, having learned from what came before it. And it’s not just Google that’s learned from experience: Tens of millions of people are already using Google+, and these users are quite familiar with how social networks work, and how they’re often more interesting when you are connected to more people.

My Google+ contact David Calderon put it like this:

“When I signed up for Twitter, I did not know what it was all about, and I only knew a handful of people there at first. When I signed up at FB, I was so lost and it took me awhile to learn my way around. Years later I sign up here on G+ much more well seasoned, in terms of social networking. I want to dive in, and I already have a much better working knowledge of what it’s all about. Consequently I am much more inclined to add people quickly.”

Google+ also has some very nice features around following batches of people by dragging them and dropping them into circles. (My contact Hassan Hassan called extended bouts of this a “Circlespree.”) The Google+ “find and invite” tab of circles contains people Google has determined you’ll be interested in circling, and those recommendations seem to be quite good.

Louis Gray suggested that Google+ users may be more liberal in adding people than on Twitter, because circles allow users to selectively tune in to posts rather than flowing everything together.

Versus Twitter, Google+ posts often seem like more of a conversation. Twitter posts are constrained to 140 characters, and responses to posts are basically one-to-one conversations that aren’t easily threaded. On Google+, comment threads can stretch into lengthy discussions.

“On G+ it seems like people are talking to you, on Twitter it feels more like they are talking at you,” commented Rory Swan.

Another factor suggested by Google+ contacts of mine, including Tim Carmody, Bill Cammack and Pete Meehan, is that Google+ users tend to have much fuller profiles than on Twitter, with links to their Web presences and work information.

Even though Google+ seems to be so effective at getting us to click to make connections between each other, that isn’t necessarily its goal. Google+ was obviously built to compete with the business and mindshare currently held by Facebook more than Twitter.

Already Google has said that more than two-thirds of Google+ activity so far is private, which would mean it exists out of the realm of follower counts. But all the while, Google seems to have figured out ways to fertilize a more public style of sharing, too.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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