Brevity matters

Clock from Candie_N at Flickr:[EDIT: I should probably consider this Part 2 in my Brevity series!]

I really have tried to like Google+.  And there are things about it that work well – adding people to Circles and having these groups in separate streams is excellent.  However, I suspect the vast majority of users will simply have a work stream and a friends/family stream and maybe a celebrity or sources stream and that’s about it.  I can also see a value for the Hangout function in business contexts, but I seriously doubt that people want video meetups for groups of friends they see everyday or fairly regularly, so I think the nomenclature is actually a disincentive to use the function.   And even disconnected families are unlikely to adopt Google+ just for video conferencing.  (And I use video Skype calls to my family at least weekly so I really know what I’m talking about here.)

But other than the interface for adding people to circles and the video conferencing module, I’m really not enjoying Google+ at all.  Ironically for a company based on a search engine, the search facility is one of the worst I’ve ever experienced, the subject tracking facility ‘Sparks’ is dreadful, the notification system is appalling, and the fact that you have to be in G+ to actually post anything is irritatingly stupid.  I’m gobsmacked that app developers have so far only focused on accessing content, and posting to twitter and facebook  from within G+ rather than working out how to post to G+ using existing messaging clients (such as Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Hootsuite, etc), and I’m dismayed that pro-G+ advocates just don’t seem to see the limitations of the interaction design, with content streams ordered by most recent comments, rather than chronologically.

But most of all, the thing that has been made most clear by Google+ is the need for messaging and news systems to be brief.  G+ enables long form posts with long comments.  Sure, this means you can explore an issue in more detail, but because most posts are long, the amount of scrolling you have to do to access new information sources is just unusable.  The great thing about twitter has always been that you can skim a huge amount of content very quickly, particularly in applications such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and Seesmic.  Then you can hone in on people or content that catches your eye and explore further through links and comments as appropriate.  G+ really only allows about 30 posts in your stream and you have to scroll a long, long way before you get to see any more.

And it all comes down to brevity of posts.  Interestingly, this brevity is actually available in Facebook even though FB allows longer posts than on twitter.  There is a cap on the number of characters you can use in FB posts, as a means of ensuring that your streams are not too clogged up, and that you are actually generating an update, not a blog post.  But brevity is essential for the effective operation of a news stream.  Long form posts, lumped in with short form content is actually a poor user experience.  And long form comments are awkward to follow and respond to effectively, using G+’s unthreaded comment facility.  Lack of brevity in both posts and comments actually reduces usability and increases likelihood of time wastage in the platform.  Instead of being a news and information filter, Google+ has been optimised as a time sink.

Perhaps Google sees G+ is being something of a blogging platform.  If they do, it’s incredibly poorly designed.  RSS feed readers are still the easiest way to index and access blog posts and to research and respond to ideas.  The news stream format is just utterly inappropriate for long form content and it doesn’t index well for search – making the search facility even less usable (if that’s even possible).

I suspect that Google+ (like Wave and Buzz) has suffered from a classic problem – trying to be too many things to too many people.  And they’re not alone.  All the recent additions to Facebook functionality could actually weaken, rather than strengthen their position in the marketplace.  But I am certain that brevity of information posting and browsing is essential to the appeal of social networking applications.  And on that issue alone, I’m afraid to say G+ fails, and fails profoundly.

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