Should Catholics be on Google Plus?

Those who I've circled and those who've circled me

Those who I’ve circled and those who’ve circled me

Google Plus, or G+ for short, is Google’s version of facebook. But what’s the state of G+ in terms of Catholic usage?

I joined G+ right when Google rolled it out. I was interested to see how it worked and also hoped it would provide a good competitor to facebook. The idea of circles was intriguing, allowing me to create a “Family and Close Friends” circle where I could share family photos with just that group of people, rather than the whole world.

Executive Summary for the tl;dr folks: Google Plus remains for Catholics much less popular than facebook. Most Catholics using it are of a techy bent, so if you are interested in that Catholic niche, it would be a good social network to join. Otherwise, you are not missing out on a big evangelization outlet by not being on G+, since relatively few Catholics are on it.

What You Find on G+

It’s interesting how technologies and platforms lend themselves better to some things over others. In the case of G+, animated GIFs are displayed inline, so they are very popular, bringing back a good ol’ web trend from the late 90s.

Along with the animated GIFs, numerous people share cute cat pictures and memes, as well as clips and photos from favorite TV shows. Especially popular are sci-fi shows like Dr. Who, but Star Trek and Star Wars and similar movies are also common.

Google also “pushes” content to your stream. For example, if a particular news story is hot at the moment, or liked by many people, G+ may show that story in your stream. You have the option of muting it (which hides it), or even going to the originator of the story and blocking them, something I’ve done numerous times for various reasons.

But what about the Catholics on G+? 

They’re an interesting group. A lot of techy and nerdy types; lots of young Catholics who work in their dioceses’ evangelization or new media offices. But rather than using the network strictly along those lines, they are also sharing funny GIFs, music, or stories from their personal interests.

Some of my most prolific Catholic friends on G+ include Ashley Collins, Thomas Sanjuro, Joyce Donahue, Lisa Josephsdatter, Ryan Ostendorf, Brad West, Jason Pascucci, and Fr. Cory Sticha. (You can also add me to your circles.)

Many Catholics have set up automated postings to G+ from their blogs, though this is less effective, since most regular G+ers know who is really active on the site vs. just pushing their content to it.

Greg Willits, the popular Catholic evangelist, made a small faux pas when he swung over to G+, said he’d been ignoring the network for months and (not seeing much activity in his stream) “didn’t miss much.” The regulars like me licked our wounds but did our best to explain to him the chicken-and-egg nature of G+ being a ghost town.

This leads us to….

Circles

In facebook, friendship is mutual. If you friend someone, and they accept, then you see their stuff and they see yours. In G+, much like twitter, you “circle” people, which means you want to see their updates in your stream. They can circle you back, or not, and if they do they will see your updates.

You can also push updates to your circles. This is what I did when I made a Family circle. I added my family members, both those who use G+ and those who don’t, and then shared family photos with just that circle. You can check a box at the bottom of the post to tell G+ to email the update notification to your circle, which is helpful for those not on G+. The only problem is, most of my family isn’t very tech savvy and didn’t understand that the email was telling them that I shared photos with them that they could go and see. Fail. So now I just manually email photos out to my family, which is lame in a sort of 2006 kind of way.

Differences

G+ has a different “feel” than facebook. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like I know people on facebook pretty well, even strangers whom I’ve never met in person. On G+ it feels like they are still strangers, just ones I happen to read updates from. Maybe it’s the content they share on G+ vs. facebook? Maybe it’s the nature of facebook, which feels more private while G+ feels more public?

Facebook makes it easy to “hide” a friend’s updates. Perhaps they post too frequently or you vehemently disagree with them on almost every issue and don’t want to see their propaganda. Whatever the case, you can just hide them, but remain friends. On G+, you really need to uncircle them if you don’t want to see their updates. Theoretically they could find out that you did that, but it is not easy to do so, so there’s no big backlash there.

Conclusion: You are not missing out on much in terms of evangelization if you are not on G+. There just hasn’t been that critical mass of people there, at least not yet. In spite of being in over 500 people’s circles, and circling almost 1,000 people, my stream is not hard to manage, mainly because most of those 1,000 people are not active on the site. They joined, maybe posted a few updates, then got bored.

That said, I hope you will join so that more neat people will be on there, making it a better avenue for Catholics to share their faith!

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4 Responses to Should Catholics be on Google Plus?

  1. Amanda says:

    Humm… I can only handle one social network at a time. That’s why I haven’t joined. Haven’t even done the Twitter thing.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Amanda, I hear ya. I think that is true of most people. Facebook is good enough and trying to check two or three different networks all the time is unnecessary.

  2. Brad West says:

    I agree there is a big difference that is tough to put a “finger on”. I personally think the service is mistakenly being compared just to Facebook. At the core of most Google products, it’s about collaboration. Google+ is a means to tie a lot of those Google things together and enhance the ability to collaborate even more.

    From a parish and Church standpoint it’s tough figuring out where does this fit in? Do we really need to be on another social network? But what if we look at internally in our parish operations as a means to collaborate and communicate better? The events system is awesome and you can easily tie photos to the event from may attendees. Messaging can be targeted through circles and even those outside of Google+ as you mentioned. Hangouts makes meeting easier for ministries (and docs sharing in the Hangout) and it can be used for things like discussions with the Pastor.

    It’s tough to explain to others. I see far greater functionality that parishes can benefit from than Facebook (which I like a lot too), but it’s slow to be adopted especially with so many that are already heavily focused on their Facebook Pages.

    Great article.

  3. James says:

    I agree Brad, and thanks for outlining some ideas of how it can be used. My co-workers and I were talking just a couple of days ago about why we think that G+ has not really taken off that well.

    One of the biggest differences between the two are how they handle privacy. FB assumes that everything you say is intending to be public and to be spread far a wide. It was after all created by a hacker thumbing his nose at his entire student body by hacking into his university’s system and posting their school photos to the world. You need to lock down people and places that you don’t want to see what you wrote.

    G+ assumes that you want your privacy and no one will see anything you wrote unless you add that person to a circle.

    At first this sounds desirable as G+ is more private. FB’s approach is that you can never really be sure if you have your privacy set up the way you want. Usually the only way that people find out is after they have offended someone by saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.

    But it is this very feature of FB that has caused their growth. People get on to blog about stuff they want everyone to see. Until it come back to bite them. Google approach is such that it is hard to promote your page because you have to rely on making the right connections and other people in your circles putting you in a circle that hopefully others will see.

    It is a painfully slow process. Especially when virtually everyone on G+ already has an active FB profile. For the most part, I don’t see many people writing and blogging on G+. Mostly, they just share links and pics. I think this is because they have learned that posting anything else on G+ is an exercise in futility.

    But this is also what makes G+ so useful for business. There, you contacts and your intent are more focused.