Saturday, March 16, 2013

Who is the Ghost Town Now?

Today, I maintained my friends list on Facebook and circles on Google+. I was expecting a few deactivated accounts on Facebook as I always do have a few and I had not done maintenance since June. Out of 1200 friends, I wound up unfriending over 100 accounts, a record for me. I now have to wonder of the accounts that had not been deactivated how many had not seen posts in months. It is not uncommon I check out a friend's profile if I had not seen a post from them for a while only to find that they had not posted in weeks maybe even months.

I then took to Google+ which I had not done any circle maintenance on since June either. Maintenance there is much easier. I  installed the Chrome extension Uncircle Inactives. To my surprise after running it and taking out a couple of false positives I only removed 34 people out of over 1800 people I had in my circles. I was figuring since I had taken part in circle shares I would have many people that had created an account and circled me only to never come back to Google+.  That seems not to be the case. It seems people had come to Google+ to stay.

Now I know that my stream is more active on Google+ with people posting all the time. Some post many times a day, others once or twice a day, while still others may only post once or twice a week. But they do post. My news feed on Facebook is less active. I had always thought this was because Facebook uses EdgeRank, their mechanism for filtering out posts they think you do not want to see. I am now wondering though if it is just a case of folks not posting. Indeed, the amount of interaction I get on Google+ is more than what I get on Facebook at times, but I had thought this was because more people had circled me than I had friends on Facebook. But again, I am wondering, maybe folks simply are not going to Facebook anymore.

For months news stories and op-ed pieces were proclaiming Google+ a ghost town. They were always saying, yes, Google claims Google+ has so many active users and is growing, but how often do those users actually post? No doubt in all probability many reporters would go on Google+ and not bother to circle many people or to interact, and then go away thinking there was no activity. First generation Google+ users like myself knew different that there was plenty of things going on. You just had to circle people and interact. Now though the tune in the press is beginning to change. A story on Frobes' website published in January, 2013 stated Google+ had 343 million active users around half that of Facebook's 693 million ("Watch Out Facebook, With Google+ at #2..."). And Google+ is growing. It has not shown a month where the number of active users has declined.

And that is not all, while Google+ is gaining active users Facebook's usage is declining. According to a story on Yahoo News, 20% of American adults have stopped visiting Facebook all together with another 60% taking breaks from it lasting for weeks (Mark Zuckerberg's attempt to counteract 'Facebook fatigue'). It would seem then that my perceived lack of activity in my Facebook news feed was more than Facebook aggressively filtering posts out. There may really be less people posting on Facebook, and less people interacting with me there. It would seem Facebook is becoming the ghost town that Google+ had been accused of being. In my opinion years of tampering with features like the news feed, using EdgeRank to filter posts, inflicting the dreaded two column jumble called Timeline on users, and its general unresponsiveness to user input has lead Facebook to this. Meanwhile Google has been steadily improving Google+ by adding features like events and communities. When there is something about a feature Google+ users do not like, Google is eager to get input on why the users do not like it, and are quick to fix it. When community posts began appearing on users' profiles many complained they did not like that. Within weeks Google+ offered the option not to show public community posts on one's profile thus pleasing the many users that had complained.

I have to admit I am biased. I enjoy Google+ much more than Facebook. But I do use both extensively making between five to six posts a day each on both. I have many friends on both networks. But were all my close friends to suddenly up and leave Facebook for Google+ you would see me shutting my Facebook account down. Unless the new features like the new single column Timeline, and revamped newsfeed increase my enjoyment of Facebook I am likely to remain feeling that way. However, I do not think I am alone in this. I think there are perhaps many dissatisfied  with Facebook, and the figures seem to support that. It does lead one to ask, "who is the ghost town now?"

Note: The title of this piece was swiped from something Google+ user +steph wanamaker  said in a conversation on the site.