You wouldn't think that something so simple as a "suggested users" list would create so much controversy, but Google+ seemed to have accidentally ignited a firestorm when they introduced a new feature over the weekend: the "Suggested People to Follow" list now appears when a new user joins Google+.
+Craig Kanalley collected all of the suggested users (so I don't have to). The list appears to consist of celebrities like +Britney Spears, full-time bloggers like +Xeni Jardin, and tech powerhouses like +Tom Anderson. On a few levels, this list was disconcerting and dismaying to a lot of people. One, the list includes famous celebrities who don't post very often, or worse - use their PR assistants to post for them, begging the question - how does Google+ define who's valuable to suggest? Two, the tech bloggers can be alienating to new users, and may not be what people are looking for when they're interested in joining a new social network.
Many critics of the suggested users list chimed in with different objections. The controversy sparked a lot of interesting conversations across Google+, about what Google+ is, who it's for, and what it's best used for.
+Robert Scoble poses that the list is elitist, and that it will pay off big time for Google in the long run. He also asked to be removed from the list, because "Newbies who don't know who I am make horrid followers. I don't want to be in a role where I have to welcome new users like my dad to the service. I want my audience to be only people passionate about tech. Users who find me on a suggested user list and who don't search me out aren't going to be fun to serve." And surprisingly enough, Google complied and removed him from the list. The whole process has prompted him to ask: "What is better than a suggested users list?"
+Guy Kawasaki thinks that Google needs to use the suggested users list to as a marketing tool to communicate to new users what Google+ is: "People need to understand, and Google needs to communicate, that for the time being, people should think of G+ as a place for passions and interests. Facebook, by contrast, is for pre-existing relationships with family and friends. This isn't completely true about both, but we're talking about marketing here, not truth. :-)
Using the words of George Lakoff, G+ needs to'frame' Facebook. Something catchy like 'passions not perverts' or 'passions not parents.' :-) - Having said this, G+ needs to 'merchandise' the Suggested User List. 'Merchandise' is very different from 'generate via computer algorithm.' The Suggested User List needs to communicate and position what G+ is and can be, not what it is already because of early-adopters. I don't know how the Suggested User List members were picked, but it cannot be an automatic algorithm--at least, not yet."
Ryan Crowe covered the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Google+ suggested users list, and says: "I would have loved to see +Mohamed Mansour +Christina Trapolino +Cam Meadows +Craig Kanalley +Daria Musk +Daniel Treadwell +Johnathan Chung +Ahmed Zeeshan +Kimberly Lau +Brian Krassenstein on that list among a ton of other fantastic users whom I've come across. All of those people (besides maybe Craig, a HuffPo tech editor) are power users whose popularity and influence was BORN in Google+ and yet they see no mention - they've worked tirelessly to create extensions, discuss innovative ways to use the platform, perform for hours and hours in a Hangout concert, dedicate their time to making websites for the platform. Where is +Michael Mozart who has been doing innovative things with the Hangout feature and live streaming?"
He also goes on to say: "So, if anything my fellow G+ users... don't look down your nose at this list, but rather support the effort by Google employees to help enrich and populate our Google+ environment. You'll thank them when your whole family can have a reunion via Hangout, or your professor will let you sit in on class, or you can find 10 or 20 more people to join your Knitting Circle."
For +Christina Trapolino, the whole situation led her to question what Google's Community Managers are doing, and wants to know: "In other words, I want to see a community manager who really digs in and curates, who finds and elevates non-Google employees who are helping to build the community. +Natalie Villalobos does a fantastic job of this, but I don't see a team of G+ CMs constantly participating in these activities."
In the comments, +Natalie Villalobos appears, and reiterates the various responsibilities and roles that the Google+ Community Managers take on: "You can think of the core team of Google+ Community Managers as the cornerstones of the community that help you all lay the foundation. People who drum up excitement around ideas and suggestions, produce really exploratory and engaging content, and thoughtfully reach out to help others - you all are the pillars."
+Bradley Horowitz chimes in, and tells us: "Today's list isn't yet personalized. At first personalization will be 'lite' - users in different regions and languages will get different recommendations. But per above, we intend to allow people to deeply personalize and connect with like-minded people that create great content around almost any topic they care about. Just as Google Search helps connect you to web pages about almost anything, Google+ should help connect you to people who deliver content you'll find interesting - on any subject. Stay tuned!"
+Alida Brandenburg takes on the various critics of the suggested users list, and says, "However, as a new user without a jump-off point, and with none of your family/friends posting on here yet, it certainly can feel desolate. A circle starter-kit can offer the initial catalyst necessary to feel a part of the community and get your foot in the door. All you have to do is add one user seed-crystal and boom! the whole thing explodes wide open. It's kind of magical, really."
If you're looking for people to follow on Google+, there are already a wealth of resources out there and most of them have more diverse recommendations than the current offerings of the official suggested users list.
Google+ Insider's Guide:
- 7 Talented Web Comic Artists to Follow on Google+
- Top 104 Amazing Photographers to Circle on Google+
- Getting to Know Google's Community Managers
- The First (Real) Celebrities Arrive on Google+
- The Top 32 Authors to Follow on Google+
- Top 13 Google Insiders to Follow on Google+
Unofficial Google+ Sites:
Followers Illustration by RJ Edwards