Google+ solves Google’s big problems, at least in theory. It delivers a social network—arguably better constructed Facebook—that lets it understand the connections between people. It also lets Google tap into a stream of real-time data, and build a search system around that without having to worry that it will ever be left at the altar. And it does so much more, too! It has real time photos, like Instagram. It has a video chat service, like Skype. It lets you see which businesses your friends recommend, like Yelp. It’s a one size fits all solution, and what’s more it’s on the open Web. Perfect!
One problem: People don’t really want to use it. They’re already entrenched in other stuff. Many of Google’s recent actions can be explained by understanding that dilemma. Google wants to know things about you that you aren’t already telling it so you will continue asking it questions and it can continue serving ads against the questions you ask it. So, it feels like it has to herd people into using Google+ whether they want to go there or not.
This explains why Google has been driving privacy advocates crazy and polluting its search results. It explains why now, on the Google homepage, there’s a big ugly black bar across the top that reminds you of all its properties. It explains the glaring red box with the meaningless numbers that so desperately begs you to come see what’s happening in its anti-social network. It explains why Google is being a bully. It explains why Google broke search: Because to remain relevant it has to give real-world answers.
Google has to get you under its tent, and break down all the silos between its individual products once you’re there. It needs you to reveal your location, your friends, your history, your desires, your finances; nothing short of your essence. And it needs to combine all that knowledge together. That’s Search Plus Your World. “Your World” is not just your friends, or your location. It’s your everything. The breadth of information Google wants to collect and collate is the stuff of goosebumps.
To my astonishment over 560,000 people have put me in their Google circles. That is over half a million strangers who want to hear what I say on Google. That crowd is far greater than the number of people subscribing to Wired magazine during the years I was editing it.
Where did these half million people come from? And who are they? Because they are starting to post a lot of spam in the comments. You the reader don’t see much of this spam because Google does a fantastic job of suppressing it so it’s invisible to readers. But as host I see the hidden spam grayed out so that I have the opportunity to undo it in case an entry is legit, but that has happened only once so far. All the other times Google has expertly and accurately removed spam before it displays.
Still, there is enough comment spam that it got me to wonder: how many of my circlers are spammers? With the help of my research assistant Camille Cloutier, we randomly sampled my great circle to see who was there. I’ll tell you our conclusion and then how we got there.
Conclusion: Most of the half million people following me on Google are ciphers. They have signed up, but have not made a single public post, or posted their own image or a profile, or made a comment. They aren’t home. The only place you’ll see people are in the same small set of 100 “recommended” people they follow, of which I am one.