How to find people on Google+: A brief update on Google+ Counter

28 Aug
28/08/2011

It’s only been some four weeks, since I started Google+ Counter. Initially, I just wanted to play with some  advanced web technologies, sort of a proof-of-concept project.

Even in my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have expected it to become only half as popular, as it already has:

  • http://gpc.fm is now visited more than 75.000 times a day
  • We are crawling roughly 85.000 profiles, among them the most active Google+ users
  • Users have conducted more than 150.000 searches
  • The average time a user is spending on the site is 3:34 minutes, which is pretty high
  • More than two third of Google+ Counter visitors return to the site more than once
  • 57% of the visitors are based in the United States, closely followed by German, British, Spanish and French folks
  • Google+ Counter has been covered by many popular technology blogs, with The Next Web being one of the strongest referrers
  • Even the fine folks at Freakonomics seem to love it
  • Within the first eight hours after introducing interest tags, users have suggested more than 1.100 tags to be added to the system, most of which we’ve approved immediately (for details read on)
  • Even Bradley Horowitz, Google’s Vice President Product Management and main person in charge for Google+ in an email told me “We love your site”

No deep integration… yet

As the more technical part of my audience knows, there is yet no official Google+ API, which would allow a much deeper integration with the network. This means, Google+ Counter literally parses the raw HTML to do it’s magic. The absence of a programming interface is also the reason, why I cannot yet implement some pretty obvious features.

A prominent example being to circle a complete list with just one click. I’ve prepared the Google+ Counter code to be completely API ready. So once Google opens the doors for developers, expect Google+ Counter to offer some cool new stuff within hours.

If you are a user of the very popular list feature, you might have wondered why Google+ Counter does not yet offer sign-up and sign-in functionality but instead uses list-related passwords. That decision is actually also driven by the lack of an official Google+ API. If you’re like me, chances are you already have way too many logins and accounts for various outlets on the Web.

I deliberately did not want to add an additional one to your list. It is pretty safe to expect, that Google will at some stage provide an OAuth like delegated login mechanism for third party services. Given that Google+ Counters services are deeply tied to it anyway, I rather want to wait and see what Google is going to offer.

Hopefully, it will create a greater user experience than adding anything proprietary to the site.

It’s not about statistics

My initial idea was grouped around numbers, most followed, top growing and top losing users.

However, I soon changed the direction. Many discussion on Google+ have proven, that those numbers really don’t mean anything. The most followed – or, to say it the Google way – most circled user doesn’t necessarily have to be very interesting. For example, Mark Zuckerberg, who still leads many charts, has not yet said a single word on Google+.

And while the Most Famous Ladies page is still the fourth most visited on Google+ Counter, I’m not actively working a lot on the Halls of Fame, which constituted the main part of the site, when it launched.

Instead, it’s about discovery

There are now three main areas, Google+ Counter focuses on:

  • Helping you finding interesting new folks on Google+
  • Providing means to share lists of profiles, e.g. for a specific interest group, event participants, company etc.
  • Promoting your profile and making it more discoverable

Everything I added to the site during the last two weeks, drives one of the above objectives.

Here’s a brief rundown of the stuff rolled out since my last post:

  • Search: Pretty obvious one, but not that easy to implement. Initially, I planned to separate profile and list search, but ended up unifying everything. The search feature is not yet incorporating the recently added interest tags, but will soon.
  • Open lists: I planned to support open lists – everybody can join a list – from day one, but had a delay in implementing it. There are now user curated lists comprising more than 2000 selected profiles!
  • Improved algorithm for most popular lists: Initially, I planned the lists feature to purely allow people to share profiles with their social graph. I never really thought of a “Most Popular Lists” page for Google+ Counter. I soon found out, that this was exactly, why many users came to the site the first place! In a first attempt, Popular Lists simply ordered the lists by member count. This opened the doors for “list spam”, people were starting to add as many profiles as possible, just to rank high on the landing page. I subsequently fine tuned the algorithm that is tagging lists as popular. It’s now a vector calculated – among other factors – from list views, member count, follower count per member, exposed list owner/disclosed list owner, relationship between list owner and profiles on the list.
  • Bug fixing: Though I carefully review all changes prior to pushing them to the production servers, given the many changes and enhancements, there were many minor bugs. My number one source for scouting those are my users. I don’t have a testing department. It’s really just me. So I’m glad for every email I get that helps improving the overall quality of the service.

Interest Tagging: The most important addition since launch

Inspired by a post from Robert Scoble which, unfortunately, I cannot find anymore, I’ve started to work on what will probably be the most important addition to the Google+ Counter features: Interest Tagging.

In a nutshell, interest tagging allows you to attach tags to your profile, which will (soon) facilitate a powerful new search capability. Think about curating a list of your hobbies, interests, passion or profession. Here is how it looks like (click to enlarge):

When submitting your profile to our index, you can now add up to seven interests from our growing database of tags. You can add more at any time later. If you have already been in the Google+ Counter index before, the procedure is exactly the same, just resubmit your profile along with some tags that best describe what you want to be associated with. We’ll attach the new tags to your profile.

While search on Google+ itself is already pretty good, I believe that there is a huge difference between purely algorithmic search and letting users tag their profiles. Actually, I make for a very good example: One of my long-time hobbies is close-up-magic. However, I never ever discussed it on Google+. It’s also not part of my public profile. It’s not that I’m hiding it, it’s just that I focus on the more technical part of my persona on Google+. However, I’d love to get in touch with other “magicians”. Adding interest tags will make it easy and simple for others to find me for keywords, that I have chosen.

When designing the feature, we I one particular challenge: I wanted to make absolutely sure, that all submissions are genuinely been made by the person behind the respective profile. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have taken long until we would have seen “Adult Movies” attached to “Barack Obama” or even worse.

Without an official Google+ API, there was just no easy way, to programmatically check authenticity.

Therefore, I’ve introduced a two step process: Once you attach tags to your profile, those requests are enqueued within our system. You are then asked to add a unique verification link to your Google+ profile. Obviously, this second step can only be concluded by the person who owns – or at least has admin level access – to the Google+ profile in question. Our crawlers check for the existence of the verification link within 24 hours after the tag request has been received. You can also trigger ad hoc verification by visiting the verification link at any time (even beyond the 24 hour period).

This is very similar to the well known sign-up > email confirmation link > click confirmation link scenario, it just uses Google+ as the verification source.

Once verified, you can remove the link from your profile.

I’m very happy to report that more than 1.200 users have completed verification within the first 12 hours since the feature launched earlier tonight.

What’s next

Here is the list of stuff which ranks high on my list for the days ahead:

  • Incorporating interest tags into search: Personally, this is my favorite one and I’m really looking forward to start coding. I envision a search where while you keep adding and removing interests (in a very graphical, drag-and droppy way), relevant profiles dynamically get added and removed from the results list. This will likely make for a great resource to find people with similar interests.
  • Incorporating interest tags into the rest of the site: Profiles are everywhere on Google+ Counter, from the Halls of Fame to the user curated lists. Interest tags are not yet displayed anywhere. This is an easy one, so expect to see it soon.
  • Provide bulk import and export for lists: Starting a list is easy with the current, ajax-ified user interface. However, sometimes you already have a large Circle inside Google+ and just want to transfer it into a list. No API, no elegant way, yet. Google already allows you to export your data into .csv files. I’m working on an importer, which will make bulk adding members to lists dramatically easier.
  • Natively support profile suggestions: Today, if you decide against an open list and want to remain in charge, chances are, you get swamped via Google+ with requests from others to be added to your list. Since the launch of the lists feature, I planned to create a more integrated experience. The idea is, that visitors can submit an “Add me to your list” request via Google+ Counter. List owners will get a dashboard that easily allows them to accept or reject.
  • List statistics: Internally, Google+ Counter already counts various factors about the visitors of user curated lists. I’m planning to expose some of the data to list owners, making it more fun for them to come back and see how their lists are doing.

Supporting the project

A few days ago, somebody sent an email to support@gpc.fm, asking the tech support department for help.

This was funny in many ways. For once, there really is no support department. Google+ Counter is entirely done by me. From infrastructure to design. From prototyping to coding. Frontend and backend and Customer Service. And I love it. For developers, there’s really nothing more rewarding than experiencing users loving your creation.

I have been asked how one can support the project.

While I resist the temptation to put ads on the site, I obviously do invest a lot of time and given the current growth, scalable hosting and smooth operation becomes a greater issue. I’ve therefore added two ways for you to support Google+ Counter:

  • Featured users: Promote your profile, brand or services through Google+ Counter. Just head over to http://gpc.fm/FeaturedUsers and check out the available options.
  • Donations: If you want to support Google+ Counter, but don’t want to do it publicly, I accept donations via PayPal. Every single dollar is welcomed.

Wow, that was a lengthy post…

I once again would like to thank everybody for feedback, ideas and suggestions. It’s you guys, motivating me to do what I do.

If you want to get in touch, find me on Google+ or Twitter.


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2 replies
  1. Pali Madra says:

    Great job with Google+ counter.

    I was curious to know how big is the team behind the Google+ counter project?

    Keep up the good work.

    Reply

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