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Summary:

Google unveiled a new Google+ feature called Communities Thursday that does more than just mimicking Facebook groups: It builds on the social network’s strengths, and helps to alleviate one of its key weaknesses. Will it help to close the gap to Facebook?

googleplus communities

I know, I know. Google+ announced a shiny new feature called Communities Thursday, and all I am doing is open up old wounds. But I kind of have to, so here we go:

Remember that whole ghost town talk? Of course you do. The notion that Google+ isn’t really being used by anyone by Google employees has subsided a little bit ever since Google started to release some more meaningful numbers around the social network, with the latest being Thursday’s announcement that more than 500 million Google users have opted into Google+, and 135 million are actually engaging with posts in their stream.

But still, to this day, Google+ feels empty. That is the result of a key design decision. Google+ was meant to facilitate private sharing, which by the very nature of it happens under the surface. Go to my profile, for example, and you won’t find all that many public posts. But I’m actually using the service a lot to share photos and videos with friends and family. Unfortunately, not all of them are using the site yet – in large part because it feels empty to them.

Private sharing had become a double-edged sword for Google. It was a great feature to set the service apart from Facebook – but it also made the service look incredibly boring when compared to Facebook. That’s why both active Google+ users as well as some of Google’s own employees have been trying to switch the conversation in recent months. Suddenly, Google+ wasn’t primarily about sharing with the people you know very well anymore, but about finding people you didn’t know, yet have a lot in common with.

And in select communities, that has been working very well. Photographers — in particular — have been embracing Google+ wholeheartedly, sharing their works, organizing hangouts to talk about the tools of the trade and embarking on photo walks all around the world. Google’s Ingress Alternate Reality Game has helped to build another strong and very passionate community on Google+.

But these communities have also been hampered by the design of the network. Google+ is based on asynchronous sharing: I can aggregate all my photography friends in one circle and post all my photo-related posts to that circle – but the posts still show up in everyone’s home stream, unless they put in me in the very same circle. And there’s a good chance some folks in my photo circle won’t just talk about photography, which then leads to people I follow for their photo expertise sharing restaurant reviews from a town I don’t live in with me.

Communities can solve all of that. They can help to foster communication between folks with a shared interest, but they won’t pollute your home stream. They can help to pull people in, which can then discover some of the other features of the service. In other words: They can help to turn some of Google+’s weaknesses into strengths – and in turn make it feel less like a ghost town.

  1. Google+ only looks empty to those who do not follow sufficient people. If you are only following a few dozen, it is no wonder that it seems slow. I think that a few hundred in Circles is required to have a dynamic stream, and in the past, Shared Circles, was the easiest way to build your own Circles. If Communities make this even easier, all the better.

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    1. “Google+ only looks empty to those who do not follow sufficient people.”

      No, I follow the maximum number of people. Google does not allow me to follow more! I’ve hit the limit –and still, tumbleweeds.

      Google’s own staff barely use Google+ and prefer Facebook and Twitter — as recently reported by Mashable.

      The head of Google+, a guy from India called Gundotra, wanted to use Twitter but his boss ordered him to stop!

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  2. I hate to say it but this sounds like a too late to the party attempt to artificially address the natural and organic communities in Twitter! I write film reviews and there is no way in hell G+ is going to have such a broad base of similar users and even if they do, how unwieldy will THAT circle be in relation to bite sized twitter?

    Sorry Google, not impressed

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  3. “mimicking Facebook groups”

    That’s Google – imitation instead of innovation.

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    1. Sorry, pal, but google is not mimicking anybody. Communities in G+ is just a revamp of an older relationships network called Orkut, released in mid 2000′s and also owned by Google.

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  4. I don’t know what people are doing wrong if they see nothing in their G+ stream. I have 1,636 people in my circles and there are 1,784 people who have me in their circles. I can’t keep up with the number of new posts showing up in the stream. If I scroll down and view posts, within a minute or two there are 5 or 10 new posts at the top of the stream.

    Almost all of my posts are ‘public’ so everyone who follows me sees them. Maybe the problem is that people come to G+ thinking it is like Facebook and only circling people that they already know in the real world. To me that entirely misses the point. I want to see and hear from people with new ideas, scientists, programmers, artists, musicians, astronauts (seriously there are people on the ISS posting to G+ all the time, as well as one of the guys that drives the Curiosity Rover on Mars.

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  5. Communities seems to be similar to what subreddits do for Reddit?

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  6. good article but like other people, I have followed many many people and have done everything to make a great profile (pics, shared interesting news, joined communities) but google plus STILL feels like a ghost town to me. I would love to interact with people like I do on my facebook fan page but my google plus business page gets no actions, no comments, no likes despite me doing the same on both accounts!

    To be hhonest, no one I personally know actually uses (or likes) google plus and is a bit wary about hangouts with people they do not really know that well even if it would be better from a business perspective. Everytime I have tried to do a google hangout with more than one person, there is the craziest noise interference and none of us can hear one another unlike skype? I am hoping to be proved wrong but right now all I see on my google plus stream is a bunch of random people’s articles and news that yes can be interesting, but don’t really return the commenting or liking that I do..

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