When I started using Google+, I added a few shared circles full of gamers. I ended up with more than a thousand people in my circles. It felt weird, however. Many of them never posted. Others posted stuff that wasn’t related to role-playing games, politics, or other issues I cared about. Others posted way too much.
At first, I thought all these problems could be solved via Circles. But in practice, that has been harder than I thought. Problems I found:
- People don’t automatically know in which circle to put you. You need to have some public posts indicating your interest, or your need to write about them on your profile, and you need to trust other people to take this information into account. There used to be a lot of posts saying “put me in these circles, if you have them”.
- If you realized that a person posted about topics you cared about and topics you didn’t care about, it was socially awkward to ask them to remove you from one of their circles. Some people also posted everything public and felt that this was what they were like, as a person, as a whole, and if you didn’t like it then perhaps you were better off uncircling them entirely.
- A lot of people never seemed to write a word. Are they even real? Are they snoops, monitoring everything I write? Is my writing different when I believe to write for a private “circle” compared to writing in public? What if these circles have more than a hundred people in them and are essentially a public?
- As the circles of sender and recipient are not coordinated, you might put a person writing about topics A and B into the appropriate circles A and B on your side, and if you write about A or B, the right people will get to see the post, but if they write about A or B, their posts will end up in both your A and B circles. Reading circles to sort incoming posts by topic don’t work for people in your circles that post about multiple topics.
- When I started uncircling agressively, I realized that it would take forever to get rid of the estimated 950 people in my circles.
- Communities seemed to solve many of these problems: Posts are generally on topic. I can read by topic. If I really like a lot of what a person posts, I can still circle them. I expect to do that for a very small number. Communities have their own problems, unfortunately. The thing I find most obnoxious is that some people post things I don’t care for to communities. Do I need to block them in order to curate my community stream? Right now this is just a very minor annoyance.
I needed to figure out whether the effort spent on circle maintenance exceeded the effort needed to curate my communities. Right now, I think that communities work better than big circles. So I did the obvious thing: I ditched my almost all of my circles. No more RPG, Emacs, Copyright & Patents and Typography circles. I’ve uncircled practically everybody. There are but 12 people in my circles right now.
I’m giving communities a try.
If you want to make sure I see a post or comment of yours, you’ll need to plus-mention me. I guess you had to do this when I had a thousand people in my circles, too.
I still read the blogs.
Tags: Google Plus
The problem with Google+ used to be that joining it gave you nothing. You needed to circle some people. Those people could potentially read what you wrote. For them to actually see it in their stream, however, they would have to circle you back. Alternatively, you could just post for all to see, but that doesn’t announce yourself to others, thus they won’t circle you, thus they’ll never see you in their stream.
Now, if you keep posting to your circles, and somebody new stumbles upon your profile, they see nothing. If you did not any public posts, then there’s nothing to see. That’s why people kept saying that you had to list your interests on your profile for others to figure out which circle to put you in. Hopefully you would in turn—based on their posts you saw—put them in the appropriate circles. This situation was better if you posted publicly, but it also tended to annoy some people: they just want to see posts on a particular topic, not see your political ranting and all that.
I sent Google feedback saying that I wanted to announce some of my circles on my profile such that people would automatically know how to sign up for them. Instead, we got Communities.
I think that in addition of working like instant forums, Communities can work just as I intended. Here’s how: Pick a circle like RPG. Instead of posting to the circle, post to the RPG Community. Tell others that this is what you are doing, eg. on your profile. The others add you to their circle and join the RPG Community. Now they’ll see your RPG posts without ever going to the Community. In fact, neither you nor they will ever “look at the Community”. All you’re doing is tagging the posts. This works because if you have circled people and they post in Communities both of you joined, you’ll see their posts in your stream. This way, the simple membership expresses interest in a circle. What do you think? It sounds like an excellent solution to me.
The benefit is that you, as the author, don’t need to circle your readers. At the same time, newcomers can go to the Communities, check out who writes interesting stuff and circle the authors. It’s no longer symmetric.
The drawback is that now all your posts are effectively public—and obviously so since you posted to a public Community. If you want to draw a thin line, you can switch of the setting “Show your Google+ communities posts on the Posts tab of your Google+ profile.” Unfortunately, this also stops announcing your interests unless you link the communities you are posting to from your profile.
There is also the additional drawback of potentially annoying the people that want to treat communities like a forum. I’ll have to try it in order to know for sure.
Yet another drawback is that people that have me circled but haven’t joined any of the Communities I am using will not see those posts. I used to post to the RPG Circle, but now I’m posting to the RPG Community. If they are in my RPG Circle but haven’t joined the RPG Community, they won’t see the post unless they visit my profile. Well, to be honest I haven’t posted much of anything at all, but that would be the plan.
My current RPG communities:
- Pendragon RPG
- Rollenspieler (deutschsprachig) (German RPG)
- Roleplaying Games
- Encounter Critical
- Sci Fi OSR
- Traveller RPG
- Jeux de Rôles (French RPG)
- Five Minute Maps
- Labyrinth Lord
- Fans of Frog God Games (I’ve been a big fan in the past, not sure about now)
I don’t think joining communities for systems I don’t use or Google+ Hangouts makes much sense (since I get to play a lot offline).
My current software oriented Communities:
Any other suggestions?
If you want to get started with Google+, here is what I would suggest:
- Go on Google+ and work on your profile: add a picture of yourself and mention the topics you are interested in. Surround keywords with
*asteriskes*to make them bold. You might say, for example: “I’m a gamer and love to talk about table-top role-playing games (RPG) such as classic D&D from the eighties and computer role-playing games for the Xbox (CRPG) like Skyrim.”
- Create a circle for every topic you are interested in. You might create a circle called RPG and another circle called CRPG, for example.
- Write a post for each circle. For example, write a short post explaining how you got into role-playing games and share it with your RPG circle; write a short post talking about your current Skyrim character and share it with your CRPG circle.
- Find a shared circle with people relevant to your interest. Add them all to your circle. (This only works on a desktop computer. As far as I know, the Google+ mobile clients don’t allow you to do this.) This is where the first few steps pay off: as these people get notified of you circling them, they might check your profile and your posts, trying to figure out which circle to add you to. If your profile is empty and you don’t have any posts up they won’t circle you back and you won’t be seeing their posts in your stream unless they post publically! Examples include the 6d6 Fireball circle (found here) and Harald’s circle.
- Post comments, +1 the ones you like, check out the profiles of people making interesting comments, check out the profiles of people leaving a +1 on your posts and comments and keep adding them to your circles if you like what you see.
When posting, try to keep the posts on topic and share them with the appropriate circles only. Check out this flow chart about sharing on Google+.
You’ll find that Google adds “What’s Hot” items to your stream. This sucks! Somewhere in the vicinity of these posts you’ll find a way to adjust how many of these posts you’ll find in your stream. Setting the slider to zero worked for me.
Much later, you might want to install Chrome and check out the “Uncircle Uncircles” and “Uncircle Inactives” add-ons to prune your circles again.
If you have a web cam hooked up to your computer, look out for ConstantCon games via Google+ if that is your thing (it’s not for me).
Update: 2013-10-31 New Google Plus Usage is where I explain how adding a big ton of people to my circles ended up not working for me.
One unfortunate aspect of the increased privacy Google+ offers is that by allowing you to share your posts with certain circles only many interesting posts end up being undiscoverable by new readers and hard to link to – I linked them below but if you haven’t seen them before, chances are you’re not in the circles of the the two respective authors and thus you will not be able to read them.
In You ate the sandbox, Stuart Robertson wonders how people run their Sandbox games. He argues that if you don’t have things set down before play begins – if you improvise everything – then the decisions players make don’t have significance.
In the comments there is a whole lot of debate on the wording: Does that make decisions by players meaningless? Is this really how improvisation works? I’m with Zak Smith, I guess. He says “That’s why in true sandboxes the GM gives the PCs information about what’s in what direction, and this information can be used to inform the PCs decisions and avoid railroading.” He linked to two excellent blog posts on his blog. One is a huge Ontology for sandboxes – it provides a shared vocabulary for anybody wanting to talk about sandboxes: Chokers And Chandlers. (I think my own games mostly fall into the “Sandbox With Triggerable NPCs or Plot Events” category.) Anyway, this is a super awesome post. Read it, if you want to write about sandboxes. Using the terms suggested by Zak will make it easier to understand for your readers.
The other article Zak linked to is Conan Knew More About Cimmeria Than Howard Did. The most important part of that blog post is that one of the techniques to make a sandbox entertaining is to emphasize the tension between two opposing ideas: the gameworld is defined as the players explore it and the players need information in order to make meaningful decisions about which way to go. There is a lot for players to explore, but there is also a lot of information that allows players to make meaningful decisions.
The other Google+ post that got me thinking was Authored role-playing and so-called "story games" by John Allder Stephens. He cites some conflicting definitions of Story Games. I liked Graham Walmsley’s comment, It's not meant to mean anything. It's just a label for "The games that people on the Forge and Story Games tend to like".
My impression is that most people seem to agree that there is no significance beyond a personal preference in the term. There is an interesting discussion in the comments comparing Story Now and Story After. Story Now is where the story happens right now, at the table. Play focuses on conflicts that would make a good story. Random encounters are a hindrance to the story unless they are immediately relevant to the character’s struggles. Story After is where events happen at the table and as players look back, they see a story has emerged. People make decisions based on their character’s goals, based on the imagined world, and as they look back, what emerges is a tragic road to failure and death, or a heroic sacrifice, or victory over ones enemies, etc. The important part is that nobody planned this. It just so happened and surprised everybody. As Stuart Robertson says, “that’d be a fixed game!”
Here’s an example of how I see it. Assume the old school D&D party is encountering four dwarves in the wilderness – a random encounter. In a Story Now game, this only makes sense, if the dwarves are relevant to the characters and their issues. Is one of them a dwarf? A fugitive running away from his obligations? Are these scouts that are trying to return a rebel son to his father? In a Story After game, the dwarves may have totally unrelated goals. They’re here to set up a copper mine. This adds a potential mine to the map. Do the players want to help or hinder this endeavor? It’s just another plot hook. Looking back, players might say, remember those four dwarves and their copper mine? Funny how that made us visit the dwarven king in the western mountains and break the sleeping enchantment… Story emerges later.
I think I prefer Story After games. I feel they encourage perpetual play. The campaign grows and turns and creeps and tumbles forward, the world expands, characters come and go… A game that is focused on the drama of a particular set of characters and their issues is basically over when those issues are resolved. I guess I’ll see for myself soon enough as I’m switching my D&D 3.5 game to Solar System RPG where characters have keys and get experience points when they hit those keys. Perhaps characters can keep switching keys and the campaign has the potential of going on in perpetuity. My suspicion is, however, that once those keys are resolved the campaign will automatically begin coming to a close.
Assume Alice doesn’t really like Bob and Eve and puts them into the circle of douchebags. Alice then writes a really lame post and makes it available to all douchebags. Eve can check who this message is being shared with and seeing how Bob is such a douchebag, she can now guess that Alice considers her to be in the same circle as Bob.
Am I wrong thinking that this feature is leaking information?
When I started setting up Google+, I put people in their most obvious circle: RPG, Work, Zürich, that kind of thing. When I wanted to post the above question on Google+, I didn’t know what to do. I was missing a Geek circle.
Sure, setting up more of these overlapping circles is easy to do – but the doing needs time.
Tags: Google Plus