How I made my online info diet healthier in May: progress with Google+

28 May 2012


I thought I'd devote this month's report on how I made my online info diet healthier to an update on my progress with Google+. If you missed last month's report, I'll just say that I think there's huge potential for this tool, but for many reasons, too few of us are using it effectively – if at all.

…But I devoted a fair amount of time and effort to improving my G+ experience this month, and had some great rewards for that investment. Here's what happened:

Image by Fillmore Photography, via Flickr

Re-Circling My Circles

I've talked before about how I've removed a few hundred people from my G+ Circles. When I had first started my account, I automatically Circled back everyone who Circled me. That turned out to be a bad practice, because it made my Google+ stream look pretty much like my Twitter and Facebook feeds – overcrowded and overwhelming.

So, I got ruthless and cut every single person who wasn't posting content on G+ that I found interesting. This felt very uncomfortable at first, because obviously, nice people don't unfriend nice people. But I just kept reminding myself of the goal I had in mind – a return to a focused and interesting G+ stream.

Screen Shot 2012-05-22 at 12.08.47 PM

It was a big project, and had to be done in a few stages, but oh! What it's done for my G+ feed! Now, when I pop in there, I almost always get to see something interesting. And I don't feel overwhelmed.

The other thing I did with my Circles was to create a lot more of them, with a tighter subject focus, as you can see above. This Circle structure may not be for everyone, but it really helps me to be able to see people's posts by theme. I can focus my mind on one subject at a time instead of sorting out a big jumble of ideas.

I don't read my unsorted G+ feed at all anymore; I just make my way through each Circle's feed.

Everyman, An Enquiry
Image by Camus Live Art, via Flickr

Making a Practice of Discussing

The other thing I started doing this month was posting a Wednesday discussion topic to G+. As I mentioned last month, I don't have much interest in using G+ to do the same things I do on Twitter and Facebook, which is share links and momentary updates about my day. If I'm going to use G+, I want it to be about interesting conversation.

…And so, attempting to be the change I want to see, I instituted this little weekly practice. So far, I'm loving it! We've had some very interesting discussions this month, and one that fell flat. But I'm learning a lot about what makes for a good discussion-starter, and I'm really enjoying hearing everyone's perspectives.

(Interestingly, I've had to promote these G+ discussion posts over on Twitter and this blog in order to get good participation. But that makes sense in this time when so few people in our community are using G+ actively.)

Screen Shot 2012-05-28 at 9.53.30 AM

Making a Practice of Responding

…And lastly, I've also made a point of going into my G+ feeds a couple times a week, and looking for interesting stuff people in my Circles have posted, and then – you guessed it – commenting on it.

As usual, this little practice is a really big key to having better conversations online. It's so easy for us to fall into Producer Mode, and pump out our content, and wish more people were commenting on it. The problem is, when we're ALL doing that, who the heck IS supposed to comment?

6/365(Y2) - Overwhelmed

Image by Nomadic Lass, via Flickr

…And I hear people making a sort of stultifying "should" out of commenting all the time: "I wish I had more time. I just can't do everything else I need to do online and comment, too."

Here's my take: if it's important to you to have online discussion, you'll find a way to make the time. And if it's not important to you to have online discussion, you won't. It's okay if online discussion isn't important to you. Unless, of course, you want others to discuss with you without you having to discuss with them. The web is, after all, a community sport.

Gift box
Image by sparkieblues, via Flickr

All soapboxing aside, this one little practice has also greatly increased my enjoyment of Google+. Now that my Circles are clean, and I'm focused on the small group of people who post things I find interesting, it's really nice to stop and take notice of this regularly.

…It's not all that different an experience, honestly, from what reading blogs used to be like back in 2006. There were fewer of them, so you could really dig in and enjoy them, and be in conversation with most bloggers.

Going forward, I'll be working to keep my G+ experience as enjoyable as it is now. I think it's about constant stewardship, and staying in control of what you want from the tool rather than letting it control you.


o my goodness diane, google + sounds interesting. more learning ;)
i'm with ya on the snow peas. love 'em.

Heh! Ah, but G+ probably needs some time to develop into a thriving community, so you can always let this one go for a while and stay with the blogging. :-)

I really like how you have your circles - I've done similar things with lists on twitter, and also enjoy that. I need to be a bit more ruthless about it (cutting people that I'm not interested in & categorizing right away). When the lists/circles are tight, though, it makes it easier to keep up with topics you're most interested in, and let go of certain things when you have less time.

I actually do something similar with my blogs in google reader, too, and that has been helpful there.

I love Twitter Lists, too - I couldn't begin to manage my feed without them. I also used to love the serendipity of my unfiltered feed there, but that was when I only followed a few dozen people. Those days are long gone. :-)

Hey, that's awesome, Stacey! I hope your G+ experience improves as a result as much as mine has.

Inspired me to clean my feed a little :)

i found this very interesting! :)

I really liked this. At times I feel like I am suffering from pressure to be here (G+) and there (blog)and somewhere else (FB, Twitter, etc.) and cannot figure out what the most productive uses for each or even how. Sometimes it seems like would need 48 hrs for every 24 to get it all done. Then there's the time to work on the things that am posting about too. This really gives me some good information to think about as I am figuring this all out. Thank you!!!

Absolutely agree, Shannon - there's no way we can do all the online things and still hope to have creative lives... much less balanced ones! But not all of these tools will appeal to everyone, and even when you have a business, you can totally choose the tools that work best with your communication style and reach your audience best. I think that anyone who says you "have to" be in all places at once simply isn't being realistic.

p.s. This post seems to tie in: Do you have a people strategy

I do love how Seth Godin can boil a complicated idea down into 500 words or less. :-) Great post! Many thanks for sharing the link here!

It's funny. I am enjoying G+ a lot more lately, too, but I have done the opposite thing with my circles. I started out with a lot of narrowly-focused circles and only friended back people I already knew. I have since had a change of heart, and made a new circle called "fans." That's where I put everyone who I don't know. I still have my other circles, so the focused streams are still there, but I have the added bonus of being able to include those unknown fans in the conversation, if I want to. Plus, I have accidentally seen some of their content on my general feed, and a few of those people are really interesting! I didn't set out to discover new people on G+ but it's nice to see that it can happen :-)

That's a nice strategy, Lisa. One definite limitation I've encountered with G+ is, it's hard sometimes to evaluate whether to "follow someone back." If a G+ user has never posted anything they've marked "Public," and only shared with their Circles, then when I go to their profile page, I can see only a blank page and the message that "this user hasn't shared anything with you."

This is making it challenging for me to know what kinds of content people usually post, and so I can't make an informed decision on whether to Circle them back.

...It might just behoove all of us to consider doing a few public posts on G+, so there's a universally-accessible record of what we like to share in that space.

I've just joined Gooogle + because I want to join in on those discussions. Looks like some good thinking!

I'm so glad you did, Rachel! I look forward to great conversation with you!

I still haven't signed up for G+ and I don't know if I want to. I probably need to do more research on it, but it still comes across to me like another Facebook, but with a bit more of a Twitter vibe. So far, I haven't felt like having the extra social media outlet will really add anything, because I have conversations on Twitter. So what, if any, would you say the difference is between having a conversation on Twitter vs G+?

Honestly, the main difference for me is that the lack of a character limit is very liberating. I've grown frustrated with trying to discuss deeper topics on Twitter. It seems to me that the character limit also limits the conversation, and reduces so much Twitter discussion to boiled-down statements. I've been enjoying the additional depth on G+ greatly.

...But, that said, absolutely, Ana - we all need to choose the tools that fit best with our business and personal needs.

I think the lack of character limit is a very valid point. Maybe one day, if G+ does gain more momentum, I'll cave :)

I still don't get it! How do I see these topics you post? Shouldn't they come up as soon as I sign into my gmail account? Where do I go?!

Still reading this post; just frustrated with G+

Do you have me in any of your Circles?

ooohhhh. I see... maybe I'm not in your circles. Is that why?

Well, I'm going to go try to figure this out while I wait for a colleague to answer me in 'face time'.

I always share my discussion topics as "Public," so my Circles wouldn't matter in terms of visibility. I think the thing to do would be to check whether I'm in any of your Circles, and then see how many posts you're allowing from that Circle into your main feed. Or, go to the Circle feed and see if I don't show up there.

I love your once weekly discussions. I keep thinking of doing the same. We'll see. I think a lot of what is going on right now is people realizing that they need to stop trying to keep up and instead build stuff that matters. But isn't that how it's always been? ;)

I agree - I'm feeling like there's a dual craving for both less information AND more meaningful information out there. And we're all making our own way through this chaotic info landscape. I'm glad you're enjoying the discussions - I always appreciate your well thought-out contributions there!

Thanks Diane for sharing this with us. I've got a Google+ account, but I'm not really active on it. I suppose I still don't know quite what to do with it.

I use Facebook as most of my family/real friends and long time cyber friends use it. I use Twitter to connect with crafty people like yourself. Google+ is still a bit of a mystery but I think your own use of it for discussions and hang outs is a good one.

Each social media site has its pluses and minuses, so it makes sense to use each one in a different capacity. I think I need to embrace Google+ more. I need to decide which aspect of my online life I want to use it for. But your own use of it as an in depth discussion tool is very appealing and I feel this could be the way for others like me, who haven't quite warmed to it, to finally put it to good use.

I'm glad you found the post helpful, moleymakes! I think if even a handful of us were posing interesting discussion topics on G+, and supporting each other's discussions, G+ would become a very interesting place indeed.