Google's just taken some dangerous pot-shots at its G+ Golden Goose
There's not much secret that I'm quite conflicted in my use of G+ (view my profile page there for the backstory). But three things in particular have kept me on the site.
One is a community of interesting and intelligent people whom I've managed to find through the noise. The early adopter community included a lot of techies and geeks, many of whom I knew through prior associations, as well as others. While there's been considerable mortality, many have remained.
But community alone isn't quite sufficient.
The other two factors drive engagement and discovery.
Search is the latter. It's got a lot of warts -- crippled syntax, no exclusions, annoying specificity (search Communities requires navigating to their pages specifically -- it's like going through fucking Windows command menu hierarchies), and major lag on digging through large results sets. But it's fast and comprehensive -- both posts and comments are indexed. This makes the service quite useful as a content repository.
But the killer engagement feature has been Notifications. And Google have just made a big change to how that works.
Mind, as with Search, Notifications has its warts:
There's the "Eaten Post" phenomenon. The existing Notifications interface was presented as an embedded Iframe which has an incredible capacity to disappear in the midst of composing posts. As with Ello, there are limitations on being able to compose content elsewhere and paste it -- not quite so frustrating as Ello's tendency to mash together plain ASCII text, but in G+'s case, tags of usernames and hashtags don't expand the same when pasted as when they're entered directly into the editor window. Needless to say, I've lost a lot of posts and comments in procces...
Lack of control over what triggers notifications. If I'm mentioned, or a comment is made on my post or a post I'm following, I'm likely interested in knowing about it. Someone +1ing my comments or posts, not so much. And replies to people I've blocked, generally, aren't very interesting (some people just can't help feeding the trolls, and as I've said before, trolls are the control rods of intelligent conversation).
A dis-aggregated Notifications interface. If G+ dumps notifications I couldn't give a shit about in the stream, it also beyond all fucking reason fails to put notifications you'd expect to find. I've found the "Tabs" interfaces for "Hangouts" (the really idiotically named "Google Chat" / PM feature of G+) to be sufficiently annoying that I simply never use it. Checking through it just now, I've discovered two year old message notices that I'd literally never seen. Why G+ spams me with +1 notifications but fails to inform me when someone (a known and frequent contact none the less) is sending me a direct message is ... gah. I fucking give up.
But until today, what it did offer was a pane, accessible from whatever page you were on in G+, and however far down it you were scrolled, where you could check to see if there was new activity, to respond to it pretty much right there, and to scroll back through prior activity -- posts on which you and others had engaged (and not yet muted).
For all the brains and smarts of figuring out what content is relevant, shit people have interacted with, mutually and multiple times is an exceptionally high signifier.
There are days I never touched my G+ Streams -- the stuff shoveled at me was just too full of crap. But engaging, with people I had an interest in, on posts and topics likewise, was amazingly seductive (it's what drew me back after a near-total hiatus of six months).
Another thing that's impressed me about G+ is how its senior architect, Yonatan Zunger, has apparently either learned, or become increasingly vocal about his existing understanding, of how quite subtle effects can have profound influences over a social network. There area a number of features on G+ that I didn't particularly care for (and some I still don't), though I suspect they may actually be useful. For my own use I'd really like to be able to flag off content: not because it's violating any site or decency rules, but because I simply don't care to see it in my stream. Weaponized viral clickbait, for the most part, though various other stories and themes as well.
But public signifiers of dislike can be highly problematic. In balance, it's probably useful that G+ doesn't have a downvote feature. I'm not fully convinced, but ...
Similarly, threaded vs. flat discussions. I prefer threads in general, say as on reddit, but with flat discussions, the conversation is a bit more like a party -- there's an option for people to enter in and comment at pretty much any point. There are conventions which are helpful to follow (addressing whom you're responding to and quoting a bit of context helps), but, appropriately handled, the effect can be useful.
My fear though is that Notifications were one of those subtle elements, and that Google have screwed the pooch on this one.