Major Change to Google Plus Notifications

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In an update that began rolling out to new users on August 22, 2012, Google+ made huge changes to the way notifications about posts are created and received. The initial announcement caused a lot of confusion among active users, and some of the changes to the related options boxes only added to that confusion.

Here’s our attempt to explain and untangle the three major notifications changes:

1. Subscribe to a Circle

UPDATE: The location and exact functions of the circle slider shown below have changed. Please see this post for current usage.

 

subscribe-to-google-plus-circle

For several months now there has been a slider above the stream view for each of your circles that let you choose how many or few of the posts in that circle you wanted to see in your main stream view. Now a new fifth position has been added to those sliders. Setting the slider to this position “subscribes” you to the circle. You will then get notifications for each and every post from anyone you have in that circle.

Here’s an important thing to note though: As of this writing it appears that you get both email and notification bar notifications for posts in a subscribed circle. There does not appear to be any way to opt out of one or the other. I have my settings configured to receive no email notifications whatsoever, and I still get emails for these new subscription notifications.

UPDATE: As of 1 September, 2012, Google+ settings now include a checkbox to opt in or out of receiving an email notification of posts from subscribed circles.

2. Notify Circles of New Post by Red Square and Email

 

google plus notifications in sharing box

 

Notification option gone from circle popover: Before this update if you added one of your circles to a post or reshare and then hovered your mouse over the circle’s “chiclet” you would see a check box allowing you to notify members of that circle of the post (in the empty spot marked “1″ in the screen capture above). If checked, circle members would get notified by either the notifications bar (“red square”) or email, or both, depending on their own notifications settings.

Now when you add a circle to a post, you get a check box that says “Also send email to [name of circle].” At first glance it appears that you can now only notify a circle via email. But testing overnight proves this not to be the case. Checking the box sends both and email and a red square notification to the circle members.

IMPORTANT: You should be aware that any time you send a notification for a post now you are potentially sending email to all the circle members whether you want to or not! This greatly increases the chance that your notifications will be seen as spam, unless you are certain the recipients want the notification. UPDATE: After extensive testing by users, it appears that unlike the case of subscription notifications (see above), the user’s email notification settings do affect this action. To prevent receiving email notifications from people who check the box, uncheck the box shown below in your Google+ settings (thanks to +Shamil Weerakoon for this tip):

There also appears to still be a limit to the number of people you can notify in a post, although we don’t know what it is. I was told by a friend that a Google engineer told him they aren’t going to reveal the number, as doing so would “encourage spammers.” It even appears that the number per post may be random! Users have reported being able to notify over 250 people in one post, while being rejected for trying to notify less than 100 in another.

See screen shot from Ronnie Bincer below:

Google Plus notifications per post limit

 

3. Mute Notifications from Individual Users

 

Muting a Google Plus Profile's Notifications

Image courtesy of Ronnie Bincer of http://www.videoleadsonline.com/

 

Have someone who notifies you too much? Don’t want to block them or ignore all their posts?

Now if you go to that person’s profile page, you will see an option in the right column that says “Mute [profile name].” Once again, this is poor wording. Clicking that option does not mute everything from that person (e.g., it does not stop their posts from appearing in your stream). As you find out only after clicking it, it mutes only their ability to send you notifications.

As you can see in the illustration above, you can undo that muting at any time by revisiting the profile and clicking the same link.

Why Did Google Plus Change Notifications?

The one common denominator in the many complaints about these changes on Google+ is “who asked for this?” And the obvious answer is: no one. The only justification that anyone I’ve chatted with can come up with is that Google must have noticed a lot of notification spamming going on, and this is their response. In other words, this is the Penguin update for Google+ – a nuclear bomb to try to discourage spammers.

But is this the best solution to that problem? It seems to be a good idea to turn over more control to recipients over what notifications they receive, but does this update really accomplish that?

  • Users must now rearrange their circles with notifications subscriptions in mind. This further complicates the already-confusing concept of circles.
  • Is an all-or-nothing subscription to a circle really a useful solution? Suppose I have a “close friends” circle, and generally I’d like to see all posts from those friends. I move the slider all the way to the right, only to discover that a few of those friends are massive posters who are now overwhelming both my red square and my email inbox. Do I have to quarantine them now in a separate “close friends” circle that I don’t subscribe to? Sure I can now mute their individual notifications, but I might not want mute all their notifications. The mute button is too “nuclear bomb.”
  • Why not set up what users have actually been asking for: subscriptions by topic. In my opinion this would accelerate Google+ over all other social networks like crazy. Imagine if I could list topics that I post about, and followers could then subscribe to those tags? I could then tag posts appropriately, and those users only get notified about the posts I create that they care about.

What is your opinion of the new notifications? What could have been done better? Are you finding a way to make them useful to you?

UPDATE: Google+ super user +Fraser Cain has an interesting counterpoint to my complaints about this update. He thinks much as Google is using the Penguin updates in Google search to try to incentivize quality content creation and natural, relational link building over spam and SEO tricks, so Google is using this update in Google+ to disincentivize spammers and encourage users to become, as Fraser puts it, “notification worthy.” In other words, to post in a manner that earns one’s way onto as many people’s subscription lists as possible.

 

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Major Change to Google Plus Notifications by

Mark is Director of Digital Outreach for Virante Inc. Mark helps businesses build strategies to increase brand influence and attract natural links and social signals. He has a special reputation as an expert on Google+ and Google Authorship. A former teacher, Mark has worked directly in Internet marketing since 2005, but has been involved in social media and online community formation since the mid 1990s. When not helping Virante clients improve their online presence, Mark participates in competitive storytelling, plays with a Dixieland street band, and (surprise) spends more time on the web.

Comments

  1. Good Job Mark trying to help us all understand the new world since the changes yesterday… I appreciate all the references to my and our work trying to wade through the mess.

    I’ve started to develop new strategies (yesterday I could not!) to managing these changes and their impact but I still have a few ‘holes’ to fill in functionality… I honestly think some of these changes are just plain dumb! (aka not thought out well).

  2. My point more positive. I think putting control over notifications to the receiver is paramount to a good user experience. Also (since I receive emails when notified already) it is the same as someone clicking the notify box on the chiclet. no difference except i can now have more control over who can notify me. (mute) although I agree the name is misleading. If I am not notified by email of my notifications, how will I know I have recieved important information from my specific circles, Leave G+ open 24/7? I just filter in preferences to keep it manageable.

    One thing that confuses me is why people are confused about circles. they are a great way to organize people into groups and interests, I would like to see sub grouping, and a little more control over how the drop down works when adding new people, but it is the best way I have seen to organize contacts. I also think it’s good to have people have to reorganize their circles, Many , many people have been complaining they have needed to do that for a long time since they weren’t curating their circles well, or at all to begin with.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Ron. Obviously a change like this is going to strike every user differently. I too support any move by Google+ to increase user control over what gets into their streams and notifications. I just think this was a somewhat clumsy and confusing way to implement that.

      In any case, did you see the post by Fraser Cain I linked to at the end? He’s someone who actually taught me how to use opt-in notification circles to increase my following. Now even though that whole system is down the tubes, he is being positive about this. He thinks it will end up a good thing because content creators will want to get into notification circles, and to do so they have to consistently post valuable stuff, and not over-post.

      • I will look at post that now. I find that often changes like this take a few “upgrades” or further “roll outs” to become finished or sometimes even useful. Google + has often introduced faulty new features, like the Events fiasco. Now I use Events as a powerful tool to get interest and viewership and know who is responding. I know Google Reads and listens, even if they don’t respond or implement right away.

    • I agree also that letting the receiver control what they want to read or be notified is a good thing, so perhaps Google could have stopped there, but instead they added some more Receiver controls (although they seem to be too much ‘all or nothing’ for me) AND they also removed some important Sender controls. From what I can see, your comment seems to only see the receiver side and is not looking at the sender side of things.

      From one Ron to another, nice name! ㋡

      • As I understand it, you can still notify, but the notify chicklet is missing and replaced by “also send email” the notification “and” the email go out, which for me so far hasn’t changed anything. I only have a few people I notify and they need to receive the email to know I have sent critical post updates.

  3. ‘subscriptions by topic’ works well only when subscribing to people who carefully chooses tags, when posting something. I agree that’s a good way to filter content, for many people.
    But, not all the users in my circles use tags when they post (I think it’s the came case with many other people too!).
    And circle based notifications makes it simple.

  4. Stuart O'Neill says:

    I have a different take on this, Ronnie and Mark.

    Since creating a more difficult experience for GPlusser’s can’t be a Google goal, what is Google’s true motivation?

    First, Google said they want to limit spammers. Then they give any talented hacker team a perfect ‘email address farm’ to target because Google mandates the use of those address with any notification or comment update. It doesn’t make sense. The hackers may not be successful but why would Google take the chance? (I don’t need anyone to tell me this system of notifications is ‘hacker-proof’. If the DoD can be hacked repeatedly this online notification system can be hacked.) It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Second: The use of email notifications moves part of the user experience off-site. I like following the original comment string on a post. That’s an on-site experience. It gives me the option to use more of the on-site G+ features. Why would Google give the user an option to be off-site more often while still experiencing a G+ feature?

    Third: I get the email version of my notifications and comment string updates. I was about to shut that off yesterday because it’s a *royal pain* and boom! Now i doubt changes will make a difference in my experience. I’m stuck with the *royal pain*

    Let’s compress this post into three questions. Why would Google create a system that could make the G+ experience more difficult? Why would Google create a system that allows people to spend more time off-site and still get part of the G+ experience? Why would Google make G+ more attractive to hackers?

    There must be an underlying motivation. If I can see the contradictions then they have people who saw them long ago. I have no answers only questions.

    BTW I’m going to post this into my stream and see what others have to say.

  5. Is there any option where I can set limit to the person, whom i will send notification as email ?

  6. I still can’t figure out how to limit the number of circles notified by a particular post. It was intuitive before, you checked only the ones you want to notify. Now, I always get offered both of my circles and cannot (I have two science degrees, have been a professional programmer, systems engineer and IT support worker for more than 30 years) figure out how to restrict the distribution. The only choice I have is whether to add e-mail notification. It is no longer clear if I am even notifying by e-mail people who are not Google Plus members.

    Why change the SEND procedure? I can understand restricting the RECEIVE notification but this is just nuts. I only have two circles and don’t like to send my argumentative family any posts of a political nature.

    Is this another example like FaceBook and YouTube where change-for-change sake is being propagated upon perfectly happy users?

    • Hi Boyd, thanks for your comment and questions.

      I share your confusion about why we lost granularity in notifying selected circles. Yes, checking the “send email” box in a post does send both and email and notification bar notification to everyone in the circles you added. But it does at least obey the notifications settings of individual recipients. In other words, if someone in those circles has unchecked the box for getting an email notification for “posts share with you by others,” they will not get an email.

      I won’t pretend to be able to answer for Google’s motivations in doing all this ;-)

  7. Thanks for this Mark – Having rolled this out in the dead of the (european) summer I’m only know seeing this, since on the mobile app these extra functions were less visible. It seem hard to keep up with the G+ innovation at times. I just hope it does not become as infuriating as the incessant Facebook tweaks were.

    • short follow up….it strikes me that users on the receiving end of unwanted notifications are more likely to “mute” a user than self select and disable the notification options, or uncircle people. I cannot recall what the default settings are on notifications but overall I think this is a sort of backdoor unintended Edgerank effect coming into play. May I dub it Gedgerank?

      • I had the same thought, Paul. Since the only reason I can think of that Google made this change was an anti-spam move, were the forced email notifications a way of “outing” the spammers by causing users to want to mute or block them? Seems a crude way to do it, if that’s the case, to annoy the hell out of your users in order to clean up your network.

  8. very nice and complete information in this post i found about Google Circles . Thank you for sharing with us.

  9. Thanks for the info. I was unable to understand some of the notifications that I received from Google+. You made it too simple to understand. Thanks!

  10. Ok, I’m a little late to the game, since I rarely used the “Notify circle” option. I would occasionally notify my political circle on popular, recent news/topics. Today, I went to notify the political circle on one of my posts and I noticed the option to “Notify Circle” wasn’t there. But, it did open up the circle, showing a list of each individual who is in the circle. As I clicked on each person, the picture icon of the user turned from white to blue (Showing they were selected).

    After selecting several of my main political G+ friends, I closed the circle and sent the post. But I’m clueless if that sent them a notification………or even what purpose that served.

    It offered no direction on why you would highlight an individual, or what it accomplishes

    Any thoughts or info on what I’m referring to, because I’m perplexed?.

    • Hi Mike,

      I’ve not seen the exact behavior you’re mentioning. I’m curious, after you selected the individuals and went back to the sharing box for the post, did it add those individuals to the share to section of the post (where you see the circles and individuals the post is going to)? If so, then I would assume they were notified, same as if you +mentioned them in the post.

  11. I am pleased that you are having so much success with Google Plus. Perhaps the secret to your accomplishments lies in the fact that you already have people who would definitely be interested in being a part of a community and by making a page available on Google Plus, you created a space for the ready made group.

    This is different from Google Plus users who may not have a central interest that would unite all interested parties.

    The discussions on your page are fueled by participants who would probably have happily met anywhere else, once it was convenient.

  12. Hey Mark, great points. I would like to and that Google likes to test everything. So I’m sure if they’re implementing this across the entire Google+ network, they must see an increase in engagement and interaction or we might have seen this change disappear very quickly.

  13. I am just working my way through Google. I like it so far!

  14. AvolareIgnis says:

    I’m still getting email notifications even after i unchecked ALL boxes for the email notifications in my google+ settings page. Anyone have any idea why? It’s VERY annoying, because i get more than 100 emails a day b/c of these email notifications.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Google Plus Notifications Change – But Are They Better? 1 Upvotes Discuss Flag Submitted 1 min ago Mark Traphagen Social virante.org Comments [...]

  2. [...] Last week, apparently in an attempt to cut back on spam in Google+, the platform completely changed the way Google+ notifications work. My post linked in the previous sentence goes into all the details, so I won’t labor them [...]

  3. [...] Last week, apparently in an attempt to cut back on spam in Google+, the platform completely changed the way Google+ notifications work. My post linked in the previous sentence goes into all the details, so I won’t labor them here. [...]

  4. [...] Google Plus made the first major change to its notifications system in many months. Here is a clear explanation of the changes and their impact.  [...]

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