Thursday, July 11, 2013

If you're interested in following topics, don't follow people (or, why Shimrit Ben-Yair is not a bad person)

It sounded so innocuous when Google's Shimrit Ben-Yair announced a change to Google+:

Many of the best photos, articles and videos we find online are the ones recommended by friends. So we're making it easier to discover these recommendations in your Google+ stream. Starting today:

- We'll occasionally highlight posts that were +1'd by people in your circles
- And if you +1 a post, we may highlight it to your friends as well

Ben-Yair continued with various tips regarding how to change your Google+ settings if you don't like this feature.

And some people definitely don't like this feature - for two reasons.

First, it exposes people to the things that you like - I mean, +1. (I'm a Facebook user also.) The fear here is that someone will suddenly discover your admiration for Barry Manilow. Well, personally this isn't that much of an issue. Once I +1'ed a Barry Manilow item on Google+, my love for Barry has become part of the public record. If Google+ has made it easier for my friends to discover this, is it really a problem?

But there's the second thing - you are exposed to the things that other people like. And this really bugs some people. For example, one of my online friends presumably follows me on Google+ for my expert analysis on business topics. I suspect that this person was extremely displeased when the person's stream contained an item about Robert Sacre re-signing (as opposed to resigning) with the Lakers - an item that I had +1'ed.

Actually, I don't suspect the person was displeased - I KNOW that person was displeased.

+John E. Bredehoft Please turn off your out-going plus notifications. Here's how:

Psst - just between us, I reacted to this request to turn off my out-going plus notifications about as well as I do to any "You're doing it wrong" posts. I did, however, restrain myself from liking 100 Barry Manilow items just because.

And now everyone is demanding that Google+ change its behavior. But there's a much simpler way to accomplish the same thing, without requiring a Google code change and without requiring you to change your Google+ settings. And this simple solution is well-known; heck, even I knew about it way back in 2009.

The solution? Don't follow me.

Hear me out - or, better still, here's some of what I wrote back in 2009, when FriendFeed was king and Google+ didn't even exist. First, I start by talking about the problem with following people:

Twitter's content-searching capabilities are admittedly atrocious, but one thing that is really easy to do in Twitter is to follow people. And when you follow people, you get the good with the bad. Perhaps you follow someone on Twitter because they posted an inspiration quote...and then their next 10 tweets are of the "make money fast" variety.

Or perhaps someone followed my Twitter account because they saw a tweet that dealt with feature creep. Little did that poor person know that I also tweet about my college radio experiences, the surviving Gibb brothers, and my aging phone.

Yes, this was 2009, back when I still had the Motorola Q. But you probably don't care about that. So what do you do?

Or perhaps there's a better way - follow by topic rather than person. That way, if you're interested in requirements management, you can see what people said about that specific topic, and ignoring all of their LOLcats stuff. FriendFeed now supports topic searching capabilities.

And now, nearly four years later, Google+ supports topic searching capabilities also. Let's say that you like my posts about Slim Whitman, but don't like anything else that I write. Why not just perform the "Slim Whitman" search in Google+? You can tailor the search to your needs; for example, you can just see what people in your circles are saying about Slim Whitman.

Follow topics, not people, and then you won't have to worry about people who write all sorts of stuff.

Now if you see a share of this post on Google+, don't forget to +1 it...
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