Neil Gaiman Book Signing, Kinokuniya, Sydney

Image by misswired via Flickr

I am a big fan of author Neil Gaiman, as you may know. He’s a bestselling author but he’s also very active in social networking. He signed up for Google+ immediately upon its release and then, a few days later deleted his account.

In his words:

I joined Google+ and decided that I didn’t want another public platform yet.

I like Twitter. I tolerate Facebook. Google+ seemed (for me) like an awkward mash-up of the two. I found the continual stream of notifications telling me that another 500 people I did not know had put me into circles and that lots of other people I didn’t know had mentioned me really irritating and distracting, and I couldn’t turn them off or easily find the signal in the noise (or find my friends in the flood of people putting me into circles), and when I grumbled about it mildly (agreeing with Warren Ellis that I couldn’t find friends I’d actually want to put in circles among the thousands of people who I was being told were putting me in circles) a couple of hundred people explained to me that I was Doing It Wrong.

It was the “You’re Doing It Wrong” messages that were my personal tipping point. As far as I’m concerned, the mark of a good social network is that it either does what it was made to do easily and cleanly, or it’s bendy enough that you can make it do what you want. And being told “you’re trying to use it like Facebook but really it’s like Twitter!” just made me strangely nostalgic for Twitter. And as Twitter was still there, I cancelled my Google+ account, feeling at this point that I didn’t need another time sink, another place to check, another distraction from work or from life.

(If you cancel your Google+ account, Google+ will then start helpfully emailing you notifications every time someone puts you in a circle or mentions you, even if you had all of the “Email notifications” options previously turned off. This is fixable when you discover the “unsubscribe” option at the bottom of the emails that wasn’t visible when they came in on your phone, but you shouldn’t have to unsubscribe from something you didn’t subscribe to.)

Anyway, I wish Google+ all the best. I’ll probably check it out again in a year or so, if I’m still on the Internet, or sooner than that if they make things so I can’t blog without it. And it may well be an excellent Social Network eventually. It’s still in Beta, after all, and most users aren’t going to get a huge instant flood of followers (circlers?).

So that’s a social network I said goodbye to.

After he posted it, the mob was after him somewhat and then he posted this email from a reader in another post:

Dear Mr. Gaiman:

Regarding Google+, you’re right; it is in beta and I don’t think it was designed with people like you in mind right now, but it will get better. Other celebrities have voiced similar complaints, that they don’t have the granularity of alerts and notifications they need when they’re being added by a thousand people a day, and genuinely know about five of those people. I think maybe it’s not quite ready for people like you yet, who’ll have a large web presence on the site but don’t really spend much time at all thinking about their web presence or personally managing it.

I’m sorry people told you You’re Doing It Wrong when the actual answer was probably closer to This Is Not Your Thing Right Now, which I find tends to be more accurate and reasonable than You’re Doing It Wrong, almost 100% of the time.

The people who told you “It’s not like Facebook, it’s like Twitter!” were wrong. It’s not really like either. If you want to write a short update with a general blast, it’s like Twitter. If you want to write a blogpost with a public audience, it’s like a blog site. If you want to write a blogpost with a closed audience, it’s like Livejournal. If you want to start an online conversation with only four participants it’s like an e-mail thread. And if you want to build and share with discrete communities of people and interact with folks you know, it’s like what Facebook says it is but isn’t. There is no “it’s like this and you’re using it the wrong way,” but that means there’s a lot of flailing around to use it until they figure out a way to help people flail less initially. That’s a developer’s job, to help people use their stuff more effectively and efficiently, and that’s what beta testers are for, to tell them ways they’re succeeding and not succeeding at it.

I hope to see you back in a year or so when they’ve got the functionality a little more manageable for folks like you.


Neil replied:

That’s astonishingly sensible.

And I agree. But I’m not a celebrity and I still find it astonishingly pointless so that doesn’t 100% help me.

I also can’t help but point out that the biggest problem for me with Google+ is that it isn’t filling a need or want. I signed up for Twitter and my account sat dormant for several months before I started to “need” it and then it became part of my daily life. I had a Facebook account for years before people my own age started to join it and I wanted to use it. Right now, all Google+ is to me is another place to talk to the same people on Facebook and Twitter and it doesn’t do a single thing that I can’t already do on another service. So why should I waste my time with it?

Am I, like Neil, doing it wrong? Is it truly not ready for some of us yet?

What’s your take?