Thursday, October 06, 2011

Google Plus versus online news sites (like Reddit)

Google Plus is a new social networking site. If you haven't heard about it, it is similar to other social networking sites like Orkut or Facebook.

There has been a lot of discussion about how Google Plus resembles Facebook. Indeed, you can search the Internet for the two names and there are countless comparisons. I think this misses a broader point.

Once I started using Google Plus, I haven't checked Reddit.

In case you don't know, reddit is a popular news website. Reddit started out as a small startup with mostly programming topics. The stories were interesting and it had an impressive signal to noise ratio due to the self-selected audience. For a while, reddit was even better than Slashdot, another popular geek news website.

Over time, reddit descended into cheeky cuteness, pictures, and pointless articles. At some point, I stopped reading the reddit main page, and started reading the programming subreddit. Even that is becoming irrelevant. At around this time, Google Plus came in.

Social Networking connects me to virtual cows
I'm very skeptical about social networking. Very, very skeptical. Social networking puts me in touch with a wide number of acquaintances, where the level of interaction is shallow at best. I dislike shallow interactions, and so I avoid checking social networking sites. I check these sites roughly once every quarter. The quality of posts is between pointless and annoying. Things really went down the toilet when Facebook allowed games to post updates. Suddenly, you could see how some long-forgotten acquaintance of yours had just obtained a virtual cow in some online farm simulation. Do you want to make a farm next to his? No thanks. If I had hours to waste and wanted to simulate reality, I would duel in the sky.

So the previous social networking stuff was a total chore. I would check it infrequently, and post self-promotional content: links to my articles when I was happy with one.

It took a lot of prodding from my friends to try out Google Plus. You know who you are: thanks!

Google Plus connects me to Peter Norvig
When Google Plus came in, it allowed me to subscribe to people who weren't friends: Tim O'Reilly, or Peter Norvig. These people have insightful articles to post or reshare. They are interesting to me, and are relevant to my area of work. Suddenly, Google Plus had much higher value content than Reddit. It was the Reddit front page, all over again. Except this time, it wasn't fluffykitten13, but Peter Norvig himself. Woohoo! The articles were interesting, topical, timely.

I doubt Google Plus would descend into the cutesy pointlessness of Reddit anytime soon. I doubt Peter Norvig would switch completely to posting lolcats. Actually, knowing Peter, he probably would post lolcats to prove someone wrong.

And that's the beauty of Google Plus, the articles are linked to the poster's reputation. I wouldn't post lolcat pictures: partly because I have better things to do, and partly because my friends would think me crazy if I did. People are free to engage in their interest of choice: it is like giving everyone their own reddit-like site. Unlike blogs, the content is usually smaller. You can subscribe to many people, and find related content very easily. Like blogs, it is personally generated content. The content is frequently updated, topical, personal, and recent. The site layout is great and no page is missing.

Google Plus isn't perfect. I still read Slashdot due to reasonable editorial filter and good comment moderation. Google Plus comments on highly visible posts are quite useless and spammy. But overall, Google Plus has given me a high signal news source.