Why I Dislike Google+

Originally this post was called “How To Automatically Share Google+ Posts on Twitter and Facebook.” Except, as it turns out, you can’t do this.  At least not in a way that I’ve figured out yet.  I was hoping to be able to talk to and share with my students via multiple channels (since they all use different services) in one fell swoop.  I thought I had a good theory on how to do it too. This was the theoretical workflow:

1. Drag this bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar.  Or, if you’re using Chrome, you can try this plugin: Google +1 Button.

2. Create an RSS feed for your Google+ profile by using the instructions found here: http://plu.sr. (To find your user number, go to your Google+ profile page, and look in the address bar)

3. Use If This Then That to create a recipe like this one: http://ifttt.com/recipes/27704.  (If you want to feed your Google+ posts to Facebook and Twitter you will have to create separate recipes for both.  You can also feed your Google+ posts to a Tumblr or WordPress Blog.)

4. The next time you’re on a site that you want to share, use the Google+ button you’ve installed in your browser and share away.  If This Then That will handle the rest.

I tested the theory and realized that it doesn’t work.  The problem lies with step #2; it seems that Google has made it impossible to create an RSS feed from a Google+ profile, which would be the key ingredient to creating an IFTTT recipe.  I did a little research and came up with this comment in a Google Groups discussion by Chris Chabot, who is a Developer Advocate with Google (what does that mean?):

     Social networks are all about, nor surprisingly, social interaction; Human beings connecting with each other and doing ‘social things’.  Social things are anything from satisfying our intrinsic motivations such as exchanging stories, collaborating, mastering things together and creating and maintaining social connections with the people around you – the internal primal instincts and needs that drive us all and make us human beings, a social creature.
     On a social network the things that make up all those social interactions are posts, comments, +1′s and re-shares – and we only really feel satisfied in those primal social instincts if we interact with other human beings, when you’re talking to a computer or an automated process, we don’t become happy – when we engage with fellow social beings, we do become happy.
     Automatic imports of any kind (such as importing RSS feeds) lacks that social interaction – the owner of the post doesn’t really know when it’s posted, doesn’t thank people for their +1′s and doesn’t engage in conversation in comments – it’s automated and it’s broadcasting as it should so why bother right? So what happens, and I’ve seen this in practice on other social networks I’ve worked on in the past I remember seeing that a large % of all content was imported content, but not even 1% of the social engagement came from that imported content.
     It made it look like a bunch of robots talking to each other, and not a place where humans hung out and interacted with each other – which really is very damaging to the ‘social’ part of a social network.
     So in short, we don’t support RSS feeds because it doesn’t have a positive impact for the people on the social network who want a social place to interact with people – even though perhaps on first glance it seems like a no brainer.
In my particular case (wanting to create a feed so that I could broadcast my Google+ posts over two other channels, Twitter and Facebook) Chabot’s point doesn’t really hold since creating the RSS feed is actually in the service of my G+ posts, not simply to migrate my posts (or view the posts of others) into a non-interactive medium.  Yet, I can see his point.  I have advocated for the existence of a truly human social web before, and I would agree with him on the point that “[automatic] imports of any kind (such as importing RSS feeds) lacks that social interaction – the owner of the post doesn’t really know when it’s posted, doesn’t thank people for their +1′s and doesn’t engage in conversation in comments”.
So, the question I’m asking myself now, is “Why do you want to share automatically via multiple channels anyways?” And the answer to that question is that it would allow students, who might be using one social tool more comfortably and frequently than another, to see my posts from one social channel (Google+ in this case) on a social channel they might be more comfortable with and check more often (like Twitter or Facebook). My ability to respond to those who might respond isn’t exactly hampered…I get emails from all of my social networking services if someone makes a comment in response to my posts or shares.  Locking down the feed mechanism for Google+ is, whether intentional or not, a way of locking down the pathways of communication, bottlenecking them through G+ only, creating a kind of country-club exclusivity that, frankly, I can live without. The beauty of things like IFTTT and Twitter and Facebook are their applicability across multiple platforms, allowing for interesting and unique combinations of communication patterns.
I do acknowledge Chabot’s statement regarding “a bunch of robots talking to each other” as pretty accurate in some cases.  We’ve all gotten the automated “Thanks for following me on Twitter” email from some robot and are justifiably irritated with its pseudo-intimacy.  But Google is effectively locking down their system based on the behavior of a few Ponzi Posters. It’s like giving us all detention because one kid launched a spitball at the teacher’s head.  As the number of social bookmarking, sharing, and curating services on the web grows, users will increasingly gravitate towards services that incorporate others they may already be using.
The future of social networking lies in services (like Tweet Deck) that pull in numerous feeds and offer a single posting area that can be channeled towards the platform of the poster’s choosing, or in services like IFTTT that allow users to connect, modulate, and corral services into doing cool stuff that the original developer of those platforms never dreamed of or intended. Actually, I suppose the future could be one of exclusivity and Members-Only areas, yet I would like to think that Awesomeness trumps Exclusivity in this day and age. So, Google+, if you’re listening, drop the pretentious claims of social advocacy because what you’re really doing is steering the web in the wrong direction.

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