July 27, 2015

What Google's New Changes to Google+ and YouTube REALLY Mean

In a pair of blog posts today, Google announced major changes in the operations of their Google+ (G+) and YouTube services:



There are a number of changes noted, but my executive summary would be that Google is ending the enforced connection of Google+ user profiles to other Google services, notably YouTube.

The popular clickbait analysis appearing on many sites today is that this is the death knell of Google+, proof that it cannot compete with Facebook.

This is incorrect.

Taking the longer view -- and my experience with networked social media reaches back to the dawn of the ARPANET and the earliest email lists -- my own analysis is that the changes are great both for YouTube AND for Google+.

In fact, I believe that these changes indicate Google is actually ahead of the curve regarding the future of social networking, and has already learned lessons that other social media sites -- notably Facebook -- have yet to fully understand, likely to their own long-term peril.

The linkage of G+ profiles to other Google services came during a time when a particular theory -- taken to extremes by Facebook -- was in ascendancy.

Simply put, this premise -- part of a general anti-anonymity concept at the time -- was that forcing users to only post under their ostensibly true identities would result in higher quality posts, with less trolling or other posting abuses.

Experience quickly demonstrated that this was far too simplistic an idea, tangled with immense potential for collateral damage.

Many abusive posters and commenters by and large seem happy to spew their venom under their actual names -- a twisted badge of honor, perhaps.

At the same time, real-name linkage requirements caused all manner of problems for many innocent parties.

There are all sorts of reasons why posting with your own name can be immensely problematic in various cases -- in some situations even dangerous. This is especially true when discussing controversial issues, medical conditions, and all manner of other issues that reflect one way or another on your personal life.

The underlying reasons for this dilemma relate in large part to life contexts.

For example, when you're posting or commenting about highly controversial political matters, you're operating in a very different context than when you're trying to give advice about a problem someone is having with their child.

Similarly, there are no logical reasons why your discussions regarding technical matters must be intertwined with your posts regarding alternative lifestyles or other personal concerns -- unless you voluntarily choose to connect them in this way.

Contextual issues play a major role in the YouTube/Google+ arena as well.

YouTube-side commenters tend to gather around particular YouTube videos and YouTube uploaders/channels of interest. Google+ users who happen to share specific YouTube videos are much more often speaking to an audience that has no continuing interest in those particular videos, but rather are following the varied postings of an individual or other profile on G+ over time.

As someone with nearly 400K G+ followers, I can tell you from experience that the conflation of YouTube and G+ comments wasn't only confusing to many users, but could trigger some nasty situations as well, when YouTube uploaders viewed a G+ share as an "intrusion" into the comments on their channel. I quickly learned to avoid sharing YouTube videos relating to any controversial topics on G+ (especially with my own preamble text that might be critical of a particular video). Otherwise, I could end up spending hours afterwards cleaning up the mass of troll comments -- and on some occasions even threats -- that spewed in from the YouTube side.

But YouTube users' complaints about this were not entirely without merit, since the commenting contexts were intrinsically entirely different. in a perfect world we might hope that this would be a recipe for expanded points of view and teachable moments, but in reality it tended to trigger trolling and conflicts -- and as I noted above, confusion as well.

Confusion is indeed another key point. I love Google+, but it became increasingly difficult for me to convince existing Google users -- or new potential Google users -- to create G+ profiles. Often they were convinced -- based on inaccurate stories they'd heard -- that activating G+ would cause their Gmail accounts to suddenly be exposed, searchable, and tied to their real names. This was never true, but the perception was widespread, likely helped along by various of Google's adversaries.

I'm not a fan of Facebook for a whole bunch of reasons. One of these is that Facebook so often seems to be a place where users feel obligated to be because their friends and families are there -- rather than somewhere they really want to be.

On the other hand, I love Google+. I'm constantly meeting new people from all walks of life around the planet, and am able to engage in a range of discussions with them across a wide scope of topics. Are there some trolls mixed in there as well? Sure. But overall the scope of intelligent and fascinating G+ users utterly swamps the relatively small number of trolls who are comparatively easily dealt with on G+.

I'm convinced that the changes Google announced today will not only make YouTube users happy, but will be great for the organic growth of G+ and other Google services. These changes reduce confusion and bring clarity to these offerings, and that's good for users and good for Google.

Kudos to the Google teams involved!

I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so.
All opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Posted by Lauren at July 27, 2015 06:36 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein