The problem with social networks - and why I still miss Google+

Author Christian Reading time 5 minutes

Photo by Kaique Rocha:

Nowadays, it feels like everyone of us uses at least five different social networks. Mastodon, Twitter/X, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, etc. Even messaging apps like Whatsapp and Telegram try more and more to become social networks of their own. Allowing you to follow channels of your favorite brand, celebrity, topic, etc. And even technical sites like GitHub are slowly getting new social features. Following the age-old mantra, "User retention and engagement are key."

Unfortunately, I have a basic problem with all these social networks. See, a human being is not a single-interest individual. Each one of us has multiple interests. And those can vary widely. Additionally, they overlap in different parts of our lives. Sure, your kids are your most valued and precious interest, and you love sharing your experiences with them. What about professional or job-related experiences? Or your leisure time crafts like gardening or cooking? Do you fancy some videogaming to relax? Are you politically active? Help out in your community? All of these are good examples.

Unfortunately, I have a basic problem with all these social networks.

But.. What, and forgive me my ignorance, what if I'm only interested in your job-related experiences? Or your experiences as a developer of some open-source software I use, and I simply wish to be a little ahead on the information flow. And not rely on some IT news site but instead get it directly from the developer?

I don't know your kids. So why should I care? Surely some stories are nice and sweet. Alas I have the same limited time each day as everyone else. Therefore, for me, information reduction is key. I don't want to be constantly bombarded with bits of knowledge I don't want and don't need to know. Each single social network out there forces me to swallow every single drop that comes out of the "digital information water tap".

Each single social network out there forces me to swallow every single drop that comes out of the "digital information water tap".

Yes, you can unfollow. Or block people entirely. Maybe blacklist some channels. Click the "show me less of this" button. But again, these are partially incomplete features. What if I am interested in only some aspects of a person's life? Not their garden, not their kids, not their political views. How do I filter that? Or those "lovely contacts" that set up automatic content generation and spill 3-5 posts into your feed every single day. Do these features help in such a situation? No, they don't. And that is the problem I have with social networks in general.

Currently, I feel the only option offered to me is a rather ultimate one. Block, unfollow, unfriend, or mute. And while the unfollow feature is somewhat usable, it still doesn't solve my problem.

The solution, or: What Google+ did right

The main feature of Google+ was that the content creator was able to group his contacts into circles, for example, a circle called "family" for family members and a circle called "coworkers" for work-related postings. And then he or she could share content only with that circle (or both). Or decide to share publicly for everyone. The follower or friend, of course, was able to group his or her friend into different circles. But the key point was: It was possible to choose which content stream to display by clicking on the button for each circle on the left of Google+.

Yes, that leaves room for improvement. I can't control with which circle(s) the creator associated me. But for me, it was a step in the right direction. One, which sadly was shut down by Google.

One step further

How about a social network where each profile of a person has several feeds (or streams)? Several. Not just one. And of course, we are allowed to define, create, and delete as many feeds (or streams) as we like. And every follower can choose to just follow one stream (or none at all) or the whole profile with all feeds. Sounds a bit like (Hash-)Tags? Yes! Exactly! As hashtags in themselves are nothing different than key words. Each post can be linked to any number of feeds. Like a post about budgeting your new hobby can be shared in your streams labeled "Finance Tips" and "Gardening".

Then the burden of information sorting and reduction is shifted from the followers to the creators. Giving them the burden of choosing what to post where. But in return they should get users who are more engaged, as they are actually only consuming content they are interested in. Well, in theory. The whole psychology and market behavior regarding social networks is not my strong point. And I fear that most people just don't care. They just scroll past that content that is not interesting to them and never think about whether they should be forced to scroll that much, let alone how to fix that problem.

Google+ was social media for me. Forget every other network.

But I remember that Google+ was social media for me. Forget every other network. There, I engaged the most. I posted the most. I commented the most. And I actually learned more than in any other social network I've been or am still active in.

Yes, Twitter has lists, Mastodon too, and so on. But these networks weren't designed around that feature! It wasn't displayed prominently on the start page. Always hidden 2-3 layers deep in some sub-section of some rarely used menu.

I still miss Google+.
(Does this count as an "Old man yells at cloud"-post? 😅 )