Google+ is going to mess up the Internet, says someone who really hates Google+

Back in December, Jon Mitchell wrote a post about a week of jury duty. He posted it to his personal web site, posted it on readwriteweb.com, and posted it on Google+.

Around ten days later, he did a Google search for ‘Jon Mitchell jury duty’, and discovered that the Google+ postings of the article were being ranked higher than the ReadWriteWeb copy. For some reason this made him angry, so he wrote a posting on Google+ accusing Google+ of being sleazy.

Anyone familiar with how Google ranks pages could probably guess what was happening here. Google’s algorithm ranks pages higher if they are more recent, more frequently updated, or linked to from pages that are more recent or more frequently updated. As people shared and discussed the G+ posting, that was boosting its page rank.

I made a comment in reply to his whiney article that apparently pissed him off so much that it was featured in his new article about how Google+ is going to mess up the Internet. Not just the web—the entire Internet. Gosh!

His complaint starts with the following observation:

It all crystallized for me this morning when two Google+ transgressions presented themselves at once. Mike Elgan, “The world’s only lovable technology columnist™,” re-shared a post by Rohit Shrivastava, a manager at IBM. Elgan’s post bore an awfully familiar headline, although the punctuation and capitalization had been maimed. It was familiar because I had written it. I didn’t see any attribution, though, let alone a link to the story.

Page down, and you get to his repost of my comment:

But then another guy offered this gem:

“Speaking as a user/reader, to me the G+ version of your posting is more interesting than the readwriteweb.com version, because I can comment here without having to jump through hoops.”

This might be the Googlest thing I’ve ever seen.

That’s right—after complaining that Google+ is transgressing by not attributing content, he goes and reproduces my entire comment without attributing it in any way. No link back to the thread, no link to my profile, not even a name. Just “some guy”.

But I’m not writing this to point out the blatant hypocrisy; I’m writing because he apparently didn’t understand my comment. He could have asked me to explain it, but that would have meant actually carrying on a conversation on Google+ where I might see it. Instead, he wrote another article about how evil Google was, and set out to mock the comment there.

First of all, he designates himself a “user/reader,” which is just spectacular.

Thanks, Jon. I thought the reason for the two words was pretty obvious—I was a reader of your article, and I’m a user of Google+. I was commenting from the point of view of someone who wears both metaphorical hats. My comment would not apply to someone who read the article but didn’t use G+, or who used G+ but didn’t read the article. Hence my use of both words.

And he goes on to say that he’d rather see a Google+ post about the article than the article itself, because, and I quote, “I can comment here without having to jump through hoops.” Hoops like reading the article?

No, Jon. Hoops like having to register on yet another fucking web site. Reading the article was certainly no joy, but the thing about Google+ is that I use it. Therefore I can reply to something posted on Google+ simply by typing my reply and hitting the submit button.

If I wanted to reply on ReadWriteWeb, I would have to jump through the following hoops:

  • Enable cookies for ReadWriteWeb.
  • Enable JavaScript for ReadWriteWeb.
  • Reload the entire page.
  • Log in to Disqus, selecting an appropriate ID.

And that’s given that I’ve already used Disqus at least once and that I’m willing to link an existing ID to it; otherwise there are additional steps to link an ID to Disqus or create a new one. That kind of hassle is why OpenID hasn’t taken off, according to ReadWriteWeb. It’s why I confidently predict that Jon Mitchell won’t reply to this article on my web site.

In fact, the fact that all the comments on ReadWriteWeb are invisible without JavaScript is likely one of the reasons why G+ discussions are being ranked above ReadWriteWeb pages. Again, anyone familiar with how search engines work should have realized that.

This darling “user/reader” has hit on the most touted feature of Google+: the conversations. Everybody finds it so much better than other forms of conversation on the Internet.

Actually, no. It’s nowhere near as good as Usenet conversations were 20 years ago, from a functionality point of view. I could easily come up with half a dozen improvements that could be made to Google+. There are other sites I use, like Reddit, that I’m pretty much equally happy with. I use G+ to share links to things because it’s convenient, supports discussion, and respects privacy reasonably well. (And, alright, because it’s not Facebook.) I’d really rather we were all using something decentralized like Diaspora, but so far hardly anyone has followed me over there.

And yes, I’d be more interested in a Reddit posting of a Jon Mitchell article than the copy on ReadWriteWeb, for exactly the same reasons mentioned above—I already have the account set up, I’m already logged in, I can join in a discussion with zero hoop-jumping required.

So basically, there are a number of big obvious points that Mr Mitchell apparently hasn’t grasped.

Firstly, conversation about something on the web is far more interesting than sitting back and being a passive reader of it.

Secondly, friction matters. People are lazy, and will engage in conversation wherever it’s most easy and pleasant for them to do so.

Thirdly, friends matter. People will tend to converse on sites where their friends converse.

Because of these fairly obvious human tendencies, if you expect people to register just to comment on your web site, you are likely to be disappointed. If you expect people to pick your web site for their discussion in preference to systems they are already using, like Google+ or Reddit or Facebook, then you are even more likely to be disappointed.

This is exactly why I re-post the things that I write on Google+: so that my friends can discuss them without having to deal with OpenID-type registration hassles or learning yet another threaded comment system. I assumed that was why Jon Mitchell posted his stuff on G+, but apparently not.

There are other points in the article I could criticize, such as the ridiculous idea that it’s Google’s fault when the crappy iPad browser crashes trying to render Google+; my iPad crashes on Facebook too.  Sure, the G+ app on iOS isn’t as nice as the Android one; but given the way Apple has treated Google in the past, I think iOS users are lucky they’re getting an iOS app at all.

While writing all this, I noticed that two G+ postings about Jon Mitchell’s jury duty are once more appearing above the ReadWriteWeb article in the search results, so now he can get angry all over again. Or perhaps he’ll quote me anonymously and without attribution in another article complaining about being quoted anonymously and without attribution. Wouldn’t that be ‘darling’ of him?

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5 thoughts on “Google+ is going to mess up the Internet, says someone who really hates Google+

  1. I have to say I sympathise with Jon Mitchell — I’d love for people to comment on my blog posts in the comments thereto, but for the reasons of convenience you discuss, lots of people choose not to, commenting instead at LiveJournal, or Google+, or at their own blog.

    I don’t know if there are technical solutions to the problem. Google doesn’t seem to have a “Google+ comments for your blog” feature yet (unlike Facebook). It looks like the best you can do at the moment is to use Google’s API to embed a Google+ comment stream in your blog.

  2. Links trigger moderation. ReadWriteWeb has the same policy, but I didn’t criticize them for it because I do the same here. Spammers are the cause of a lot of the inconveniences that prevent decentralized discussion systems from taking off. I think they were the death of Usenet too.

  3. I certainly appreciate the need for moderation in general (though I would hope that you’ve marked me as exempt from moderation for future comments, at least until I start spamming you) — but I thought it was a nice illustration of one of the underlying reasons why social sites are indeed “messing up the Internet” as Jon Mitchell claims (though it’s unfair to blame it on Google+; Facebook and Twitter are surely much bigger factors in this shift).

    A couple of other pieces on this subject that I’ve encountered recently: Matt Gemmell on why he turned comments off on his blog; and Nicholas Whyte on the “slow decline of LiveJournal”.

  4. Anyone with a previously approved comment is supposed to be exempt from moderation. However, that feature doesn’t appear to be working.

    I’ve pondered turning off comments in favor of a link to the G+ posting of the article. However, I’m not willing to do that until there’s a satisfactory end to the Google Nymwars.

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