There’s one constant in the world of digital content publishing — there will always be new and exciting tools to explore, and new ways to use them.
Take the case of poor Mike Elgan. He’s getting picked on for being the poster child for Google+ blogging. Alas, that is the risk you take when you’re a tall poppy.
Now, I’ll admit that he makes some fairly interesting arguments for using Google+ like a blog.
For example …
- A simple platform stripped down to the basics makes writing easy.
- The community is fantastic.
- User accounts are verifiable, thus comments are less likely to be anonymous.
- It’s easy to block trolls.
- Google+ posts are public on the open Internet.
- You can segment messages to specific audiences via Circles.
- You can raise your level of engagement through Hangouts.
- Follower growth happens fast.
Mike calls Google+ the “best blogging platform available today, in my opinion — at least for the majority of bloggers.” A peculiar line of his argument runs as follows:
Do you want to swim in a backyard swimming pool where you’re in control of every variable? Or do you want to swim in the ocean? That’s the choice you make as a blogger.
Mike is so gung-ho about Google+ he’s thrown down the gauntlet: blog on Google+ exclusively for 30 days and see if you don’t fall in love. Not a bad idea. In fact, I’ve taken him up on his challenge.
Only thing is … I already like Google+, but when those 30 days are over there is no way in the world I’d quit my blog for Google+ — and you shouldn’t either.
1. You become a digital sharecropper
Nicholas Carr boiled Web 2.0 down to this: putting the content production tools into the hands of the many with a concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few.
That, my friends, is, to use Carr’s term, digital sharecropping.
Instagram. Facebook. Twitter. Medium. LinkedIn. Tumblr. Google+. All of them — electronic plantations. Their users, the sharecroppers.
It’s an attractive proposition. The social sites build the tools of production and give them away for free. You, the user, provide the content, do all the work while the company reaps the benefits.
Granted, users are generally happy to work for free — they love the chance to express themselves and socialize. It’s what Clay Shirky calls cognitive surplus: the things we do with our free time.
Each individual contribution is trivial. In sum, however, it’s massive.
The conventional model to monetize the content and the traffic it drives is advertising, which is a terrible business model. Gawker’s shift from traditional to affiliate marketing is a case in point. They hope to monetize without sacrificing quality (debatable) content real estate.
That’s not a unique challenge they face. When the heavy hand of perennial sinking advertising revenue competes for precious content real estate, companies seek ways to make more money. It usually means more and bigger ads.
In the past, contributors have revolted en masse and quit the plantation, draining the equity of a site. Wikia was one such project.
Facebook’s effort to monetize its traffic on the web and mobile seems to be having the same impact. Facebook is losing its core audience.
In other circumstances, there has been utter collapse. When Twitter shut the doors on five year-old Posterous it also shuttered more than 15 million blogs and 63 million pages. You could download your content, but what a pain.
Moral of this short story: don’t become a digital sharecropper. It won’t end well for you.
2. You can’t (easily) monetize a social media blog
How you use a social site like Google+ depends upon your goals. If your goal is simply to dash off your thoughts, share popular images, or hang out and socialize in the comments or video chat, then so be it.
But if you have a mind to earn a living from your ideas, then your tactics are going to have to change.
You are going to need traffic, an audience, and a way to turn that traffic and audience into paying customers. You could do that on Google+. Mike Elgan has over 2.5 million followers. Like him, you could build your bio around your business promotion and share posts offering your consultation services.
There have been others before Elgan who used Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn the same way.
But that’s the hard way to do it.
The lazy way is to build a blog with subscribers whom you can nurture into email newsletter subscribers and eventually turn into paying customers. Google+ isn’t a platform that makes elevating that relationship easy.
And those are the obstacles you face as a consultant. What if you were trying to sell a physical product? You couldn’t.
Google+ doesn’t give you an in-app ecommerce site, the ability to create product pages, or landing pages to promote those products. If you wanted to collect email addresses to build a list (where the money is), you still have to send them to a standalone page.
3. No effective archive
As a Google+ content creator, how do you keep track and manage old posts? In WordPress you have the option to scroll through or search your archive inside the admin panel. And on a robust platform like WordPress, you can easily share your archives on your home page.
You can’t do that on Google+. About the best you can do is highlight your most popular posts on your bio page.
And neither are there plugins or widgets available to highlight related articles or create a “most popular article” sidebar. You need to do that by hand inside each post.
Which brings me to my next point.
4. Clunky link structure
Drop a web address into your Google+ post and Google will turn it into a link. Cool, simple enough. However, because that link is not inline, it’s ugly … even if you abbreviate it with a URL shortener.
Drop a Google web domain (from YouTube, say) and Google will grab the title tag and render it as an inline. Except for the heading, every single one of those lines is a link.
Fancy. Too bad it doesn’t happen across the board.
This is not a deal breaker, but certainly an issue that counts against Google+ as the “best blogging platform.” If anything is apparent at this point, it’s that Google+ is primitive.
5. No schedule posting feature
We are a programmed people. We want our coffee brewed at 6:15 every morning. Our newspaper on the driveway at 6:30. Morning Edition at 8:00. Your Copyblogger post by email no later than 9:00.
And so on.
This is what makes scheduling blog posts so powerful. But you can’t do that inside Google+.
You do have two workarounds. One, write a post, keep it open in your browser, and sit on it until the scheduled time. However, you risk losing it from a browser crash (no auto saves in Google+), power flicker in your house, or accidental shutting down of all open windows (guilty).
On the other hand you can use a Chrome extension like Do Share, which allows you to schedule Google+ posts. Only three problems:
- You must use Chrome.
- That Chrome window must be open to publish.
- Google+ must also be open to publish.
Again, Google+ is primitive and lacks even the basic features that would make it the best blogging platform.
6. No control over design
Sorry, but Google+ is ugly. So are all the other social networks.
This is why each one tries to give you some design customization options to personalize your account. There was a time when MySpace did this the best. Showing that sometimes too much control is not a good thing.
Twitter, on the other hand, currently takes the cake with background options and your profile image. Google Plus? Yeah, about the only thing worth mentioning is the monster banner space on your home page. If you’re not a designer or photographer, don’t expect this to look good.
Even then, most people interact with your content through their stream, notification widget, or Gmail.
On the other hand, WordPress themes give you a variety of options to decorate and personalize your site and pages. You can buy premium design inexpensively, which can then be customized as much or little as you want. With a good design, people can pick up your brand in seconds. Not so with Google+.
7. Plantation owners change, wither, and die
The short video parody “Social Networking Wars” is achingly funny … but in five years the story could be updated to include some of the most popular sites today as “has beens.” To borrow an analogy from the banking world, no social media site is too big to fail. Even Google … who, by the way, is not afraid to shutter failing products. (Remember Wave, Buzz, and Reader?)
What’s disputable are the reasons why giants wither and die. Yet, they are legion. It could be an expiring business model. Conflict among the upper ranks. A buyout — and the consequent changes — that drive loyal fans away.
Of course, nothing guarantees that anything will last forever. Your blog, hosting providers, or even the Internet. But when you have control over the tools of production (hosting, blogging platform, email software, and so on), and the content, you put yourself in the best position to control the economic rewards as well.
8. Google doesn’t think it’s a great idea, either
Google+ plays a part in the war on perfect search. I say war because Google wants to punish weak, anonymous, stolen content and their creators while rewarding solid, authoritative, original work and their authors.
Google+ and authorship are a step in that direction … where your historical online content record becomes portable when you connect your Google+ profile with your external website.
Therefore, maintaining an external blog/website is actually what Google wants you to do.
Sure, you could create a Google+ account and just write. But if you want to build a reputation that extends across the web whether you are publishing on your own site or on a guest blog … then you need a verifiable identity and an external website.
In conclusion …
So what’s the most convincing argument against using Google+ as your sole blog/website?
Your content and reputation should belong to you. Not Facebook. Not Google. Not Tumblr. But you. You should own the plantation.
Two closing thoughts on Google+. First, when using any social network Jeff Atwood advises you ask yourself these questions:
- What kind of return do you get on your investment?
- Do you get credit for your work?
- What are your rights regarding your work?
- Can the landlord suspend your account or delete your content without your permission?
- Can you download your contributions?
- Do you agree with the landlord’s business model?
Second, here’s one of my favorite ways of looking at Google+ by Frank Meeuwsen:
Google+, or any other platform where you don’t own the key, are like satellites to me. I have my own mothership, my blog, website, domain name etc. Any other platform is a satellite to share, engage, and sometimes get off-topic from my blog. Which is all fine. Like real life, you visit bars, theatres, etc to see new things, talk to other people. But it’s always good to get home.
By the way, have you joined Google+ yet? Follow us here.