Google+ … like the internet, only with a gun to your head

I have a great many things to be thankful for. One of them is my job. Too many people have no job, or a job they find hateful and demeaning.

In October of this year (which was still 2012 when I wrote this) I became the head of digital at a PR consultancy that until my arrival had taken a fairly measured approach to digital communications.

One of the consequences of this has been that I’ve been a bit more measured too. I’ve had to think carefully not just about what the right approach to a given set of requirements might be, but also about how I present my recommendations.

As challenging as this may have been, I keep reminding myself that it’s good to stop relying on familiar and comfortable ways of doing things.

As part of this, in recent weeks I’ve found myself looking at Google+ and shaking my head a little bit. “Why are you here Google+, where do you fit, what are you for, why should I care..?”

Well, it’s obvious really. If I care at all about search findings (and I do) then I have to care about Google+.

While Google has a history of not getting social (remember Wave and Buzz..?), from Panda and Penguin, through to the knowledge graph and AuthorRank, Google is working the data it holds. It has lots of data, after all, and consequently it’s working it hard.

Maybe it’s too easy to point and laugh at Google’s attempts at social – I should know, I do a lot of that pointing and laughing. Lots of people in my industry have told me in no uncertain terms how wrong I have been when I have publicly said that Google+ is another anti-social media platform from Google.

I’m not entirely wrong though. But nor should I be feeling too self righteous.

As a genuinely social platform Google+ is bit rubbish. Unless you only want to read things from fellow PR, digital and marcomms people that is. It’s like Quora on steroids… lots of brainy people showing off about the things they know about social media, all connected to other brainy people who know lots about social media.

There are no real people here. So where’s the benefit for a business of being somewhere where there are no real people? Unless you’re trying to sell to a load of self-elevated home-baked social media gurus, of course.

I’ll tell what the point is… search.

Search is the heartbeat of ecommerce. No, I can’t quite believe I just said something so nauseatingly cliched either. Let’s move on.

Want to do business online? Better hope you appear on the first page of Google search results (don’t talk to me about other search engines… they are a minority issue, at best).

Want to appear on the first page of Google results? Better get on Google+, create some content, link your profiles, etc etc.

Google+ is now an intrinsic part of the way Google handles search results, and is becoming a fundamental component in the selection of the information you are served when you go searching for ‘stuff’ online.

Suddenly Google+ looks a lot more relevant.

But then Google has just put a gun to your head.

There are lots of reasons why this is not a good thing. One of them is the incredible shrinking online world being created. That’s a subject for another post though.

Further reading

PC Pro: Google’s failed ideas: timeline of axed projects


Snake oil, bone-shakers and witch-doctors 2.0

This is the first of two pieces on the subject of using the internet to find reliable information regarding things connected with health.

Over the weekend I was searching online for information about which foods are a good source of different kinds of vitamins and minerals. Not for myself, but for one of my kids.

It was, I thought initially, a pretty straightforward thing to look for online.

But what happened next enabled me to see the internet in all its naked glory.

My first encounter with the internet was 20 years ago and these days I am rarely offline, except when I am asleep – much to the occasional chagrin of those around me.

Consequently I consider myself to be pretty savvy when it comes to using the internet. A digital native, if you will. I am well versed in finding what I want online and quickly navigating my way through the many pools of information therein, some deep and some not so.

But the food search episode was quite the revelation. Pretty much all the results returned by Google (which has been my weapon of choice for searching since 1998 and is likely to remain as such for the foreseeable) were from websites that looked at best questionable as sources of information and at worst downright misleading.

How, I asked myself, am I supposed to be able to tell in whom I should place my trust?

I trawled through page after page, site after site, and came to the conclusion that I couldn’t figure that one out. So I ignored them all, preferring to remain in blissful ignorance.

This, I realised, is what it must be like to be unfamiliar with the internet and to trust in the validity of all the search results Google delivers you.

One of the most enduring changes the internet has brought about is the democratisation of publishing. Anyone with an opinion, a computer and an internet connection can publish those opinions and, potentially, gather around them an audience of believing readers.

This is a good thing.  And also a not-so-good thing.