UXG+: Unpaid Laborer

Every time the Google+ team makes a change, an impassioned response swells from a small group of us users followed by an equally predictable roll-of-the-eyes from another group calling us people who care a bunch of whiners who can’t deal with change. To add insult to injury, we are then reminded that this service is free, we don’t have to be here, and our masters Google owes us nothing. Translation: So SHUT UP. 

Yesterday +Steve Faktor took this line of reasoning one step further (just a joke, I know, Steve. I saw the emoticon) by calling me a “fellow freeloader”. The implication is that it is I who owe Google. They provide a service to me which I use for “nothing”—if we define the only worthy transactions those where money is exchanged. (My mind wanders to wives and whores.) What is my worth in this new economy where we expect everything for free and no one is paid?

I’m not a freeloader at all. I invest my time and my mental energy on this product. I do three jobs on Google+ for which I usually get paid good money:  

  1.   I provide testing and feedback to the Google+ team.
  2.   I document features and train people on this platform.
  3.   I produce the original content that draws an audience.

If Google paid me the rate they paid me when I worked for them as an independent contractor for the number of hours I’ve put in on this little project, I could afford a really, really nice vacation abroad right now. And maybe even health care.

However, I’ve never expected a monetary reward for my efforts on Google+. I’ve been thankful for the exchange of ideas. Beyond that, I’ve had some interesting social interactions, some good, some bad. But to call me a freeloader, as if I have proffered nothing and thus should expect nothing, rankles. 

We whiners and complainers are the unpaid labor force that keeps Google+ going.

In the olden days of desktop apps, software companies employed test teams and technical writers/trainers. In the Cloud app era, every user is a guinea pig…just release the feature and let the users sort it out. I’m not a big fan of “throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks” development.

In April after the first big redesign, I said much the same thing but with a more positive spin, in an attempt to reassure the Google+ team that criticism was a good thing, that it was an indication that people were using the product and cared.

“Users who care enough to speak up are your most engaged users. We are using Google+ to do things. We have visions for what we could accomplish with it. We expend a tremendous amount of effort stretching its boundaries, using it for purposes never imagined by the developers, instructing others, forming communities, and encouraging others to try it. We are your active community. We are your fellow innovators. We take the time to examine what bothers us, to articulate our problems, and to brainstorm solutions.”


Time is money. It just doesn’t pay my bills. 


Engaged Users Are Collaborators (April 14, 2012)
If the Google+ team paid attention to me, they should be discouraged to notice how little I wrote about the change to notifications. I made a few comments to people who pinged me into conversations but otherwise made little effort to educate others about the changes or even explore them much myself.

+Steve Faktor The Goal is Jobs
In response to +Michael O’Reilly

+Peter Strempel Explaining the Sartrean “other’s” influence on the individual via the mechanism of labor

+Alexander Becker reshare of +Fraser Cain‘s post Are You Notification Worthy?
The thread in which Steve Faktor chummily called me a fellow freeloader.

Discussion on Google+

Steve Faktor  9:00 AM+1

+M Sinclair Stevens I like that you’re fanning the flames a bit here!   I generally agree with you in that you do offer Google value in return for their “free” services.  However, being an immigrant, I am wired to appreciate remuneration for labor.  I know the social world has somehow turned that concept on its head, but in this case, only one party is gaining monetarily from this exchange of value. Over time, a transaction like that becomes unsustainable to the unpaid party when chosen over paid alternative uses for their time.  

I completely appreciate your feeling on this, but as in your example – the whore gets to pay rent and buy new shoes. The wife, if she’s married to a deadbeat, goes hungry.  I’d hate to see you end up in an abusive relationship with a partner who doesn’t appreciate you the way you feel you need to be appreciated;)  You might need to find another husbandsocial network or accept being unloved…in conventional (immigrant) terms.

Jon Eric9:01 AM+3

Well-put. Google+ wouldn’t be worth if not for the content provided by people like you. It’s a cyclical effect. And when the Goog changes too much all at once, or makes a dramatic alteration in how a basic tool like Notifications works, then the base of users (the ones who create all that content that drives new users to the service) get discouraged.

I don’t feel like Google owes me anything, nor do I feel like I owe them for providing this network; I just think we’d all be a lot happier if they’d better consider the implications of changes like these before implementing them.

+Steve Faktor Those are not my only two choices. I choose a third alternative. To speak up.

M Sinclair Stevens9:08 AMEdit+9

It is not my relationship with Google which is abusive. They are not the ones trying to silence me when I offer feedback on their platform. No. I’m speaking out against the people who counter any type of critique with a “love it or leave it—they don’t owe you” line.

This is my community and I intend to fight for it.

alias inkhorn9:18 AM+3+

M Sinclair Stevens, I’d like to print this on gold edge leaf then place it on my desk in a black lacquer frame as a perpetual reminder that neverending gratitude is owed legions of endusers, especially the ones who behave like stakeholders and care the most.  

In fact, I think your words should be on the desk or wall of every PM, developer, and tester – even every office in the C-suite. Tip my hat to you. 

Steve Faktor9:31 AM (edited)+5

+M Sinclair Stevens One thing that’s important to recognize is that not everyone is vested in the same way in any given community. When I first joined Google+, I wrote about why I was starting to love the platform https://plus.google.com/101420285783101939251/posts/4j8ksod4XnW .  As a power-user, I still enjoy the interactions though I’m sometimes frustrated by some of the clunkiness and ill-conceived changes. As for fighting for change, I take a more pragmatic view.  I personally don’t enjoy posts about the platform itself.  They bore me – as content and as “an issue”. Plus I realize it’s still a new platform with growing pains it needs to sort out and that there are others (like yourself) representing the cause effectively. Personally,  I’d rather use my limited social bandwidth to write about innovation, economics, and culture – which I am far more passionate about.

Maybe at its root, is my belief that all social networks are transient beasts that will come and go – Myspace, Friendster, Friendfeed, Facebook, and yes, G+. I try to invest most of my energy in my real-world relationships so that if all social networks went away, my life wouldn’t skip a beat.  Conversely, it might unlock more time to invest in deepening real relationships with people who have a vested interest in my well being and vice versa. It nets out as being very laissez faire towards G+, but quite impassioned towards the real world.

Rick Nimo9:24 AM+2

There is a  danger in ignoring users and customers.  On the other hand, you can’t please everybody.

Randy Resnick9:35 AM+4

Change Google to government and users to citizens. Now look at the comments made demonizing people critical of the USA.

Fraser Cain9:36 AM+2+

Rick Nimo Exactly right. Google+ has to walk that fine line between providing the power users the features and functionality they’re looking for and not overwhelming new users. Right now, the general consensus is that G+ is a ghost town that nobody’s friends are on. I would assume that for right now, the primary issue on everyone’s plate at Google is marketing. How to get more people using it and getting the people who do use it to do that longer. 

And if they can’t solve that problem, the whole network will go the way of Wave and Buzz.

Once G+ is widely recognized as a juggernaut in social, you’ll see more of an emphasis placed on the functionality. 

But for right now, I’d expect they’re looking to make the network simpler, not more complicated.

There are no ads, you can extract your data out of the network any time you like. You’ve derived, I hope, tremendous benefit from the network already.

Give it time.

Steve Faktor9:40 AM (edited)

In a way, this discussion reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine about online dating. She was getting very frustrated by her results on Match, eHarmony, etc.  She was investing an incredible amount of time and emotional capital in those platforms and over-analyzing every prospective date…or wink. My advice to her was to lighten her expectations of those services.  To invest less time and emotion in them and instead treat them as “just another channel”, a supplement to what she and countless generations before her, have done for centuries to find mates.  That way, she can think of her avatar as a representative for her dating interests, scoping out prospects while she does other things. The same logic could be applied to social interactions here.

M Sinclair Stevens7:03 PM (edited)Edit+5+

Steve Faktor I have never assumed or suggested that everyone should be vested in this community (or in any activity in which I engage) in the same way. Actually it rarely occurs to me that people share my passions.

All I’m doing is asserting my right to criticize Google based on the fact that I am a member of this community. In fact, I have very little patience from “gurus and experts” who never use Google+ and yet mock it from the outside. 

I am going one step further and saying that not only do I have a right to criticize Google+ but that I assume (without asking you or anyone else to) an obligation to do so, in order to improve conditions here for myself and others. 

The point of this post, to those people who call me a whiner for speaking up, is that Google expects me to do so. That they are counting on me to do so as part of their unpaid labor force. This may make me a fool or a slave in some people’s eyes but this is the bargain I’ve made for being here. I’m completely aware of my part in this transaction. I would not do it if I didn’t get something out of it. When I stop getting something out of it, I will stop doing it.

I write about user interface design because I’m a tech writer and that’s  one of my areas of interest and expertise. So, I am interested in how the tool works (not just Google+ but any tool) and how people are affected by it and interact with it.  

Also unlike you, I do not consider my online relationships to be less “real world” than my offline relationships. Many of my online relationships also flourish in the offline world.

Michael O’Reilly9:41 AM+1

+Steve Faktor, I disagree with your statement that “only one party is gaining monetarily” from this exchange of value. As I read it from your marriage analogy you seem to be imply that end-users are gaining monetarily while Google is not. If anything I would argue that the balance leans somewhat the opposite direction, with Google gaining direct monetary benefit from end-user participation in Google+.

Steve Faktor9:42 AM

+Michael O’Reilly No, I think you and I actually agree.  Might have have to go back and re-write that section if unclear.  Typing fast…

alias inkhorn9:44 AM

+Rick Nimo, there’s a significant difference between common sense and an outlier of thought 🙂 I’ve seen VPs fired for the outcomes of such unbalanced thinking. The usual metrics monitor progress and success, but +M Sinclair Stevens‘s share inherently suggests Google would do well to use reactive methods, too.

Michael O’Reilly9:44 AM+1

No worries, +Steve Faktor. I must have misunderstood your analogy.

Steve Faktor9:47 AM (edited)

+M Sinclair Stevens Since you mentioned my earlier comment (a throwaway joke!!) in the post, I presumed your other thought here was to address the issue of value exchange between parties, as well.  On the point of complaining about the platform and petitioning for change, I agree you have every right to do it as a vested member of the community.

Steve Faktor9:50 AM (edited)+3

+Fraser Cain I think a very smart marketing move they’ve done is getting news organizations like ABC and HuffPo to use Hangouts.  I think it will attract lots of attention to the platform and Hangouts may be come the gateway to broader usage.

Alexander Becker9:52 AM+1

As I indicated before, at some point, it’s time to protect one’s investment.

Tom Dignazio9:57 AM+5

Well, someone once explained the fact that Facebook was free because we are not the customers, we are the product being sold.  It’s the same arrangement with G+.

alias inkhorn10:03 AM (edited)

+Steve Faktor, one doesn’t have a right to complain because they’re a vested member of the community – unless there’s a hierarchy of users I and others are not aware of on Google+ or there’s a phantom club. Should any technology Einsteins use Google+ twice in a year, their insights would not be valued? Their complaints dismissed? if you are right, some of the greatest successes in business were accidents 🙂

Marc Jansen10:28 AM+2

Well said (naturally). I applaud you and the others who keep carrying the torch. I went through a phase where I made it my mission to educate others on every new feature, but I quickly discovered that there were many others doing the same – and doing a much better job of it.

Thank you for your service to the community. It really is too bad that folks like you don’t at least get an occasional pat on the back from Google.

Steve Faktor10:34 AM

+alias inkhorn I think you’re reading too deeply into my earlier comment by presuming the converse and extrapolating it.  Though it is fair to say that knowing the product you’re seeking to change helps make your feedback more useful. Very casual users would not have that level of knowledge, nor the incentive to waste their time submitting ideas or petitioning for change of something they barely use.

alias inkhorn11:23 AM (edited)

+Steve Faktor I’ve read all your comments again, and find nothing misunderstood. There are no acrobatics – presumption of converse and extrapolations : ) And I don’t presume a puddle of thought has the depths of a sea. In fairness to intelligent practices, any tight variable of knowledge or comprehensive understanding of a product is not by itself more useful feedback. It is one range of feedback, and feedback from any sources is important and can be valuable. I get paid for what you need to know and put it in simple terms that senior IT managers and executives can appreciate, seize and implement with little mediated thought. Various measures support a methodology you implicitly dismiss, and innovative companies don’t typically hire people that think your way. 

M Sinclair Stevens 2:02 PM Edit+2

Excuse my absence. I’ve been in the corporeal world doing a little yard work and installing a new ceiling fan: some unpaid tasks on my “honey-do” list which, even though not monetized, provide (I hope) some value to my loved ones.

+Steve Faktor Yes, indeedy. It was your throwaway joke which got me all riled up. Not at you specifically (I did recognize it as a joke) but at the idea that work is only valued and valuable when there is a price attached—the idea that because I do not get paid for my services (or pay Google for its services) that I am a freeloader and have no right to provide constructive criticism.

As I said before, my issue is not with the transaction between me and Google. I’ve made my bargain and, for the moment, I am happy with it. I take issue with the idea that value is measured only with cold, hard cash, the idea that my time is of no value because I don’t get paid, and that Google’s service is beyond reproach because I don’t pay for it. As we Texans say: that’s the bee in my bonnet.

Google built the tool but we users build the community.


Like +Marc Jansen, I do not spend as much time educating and helping the next generation of users as I did when I started. In terms of the newbies, I have passed the torch on to people like +Rahul Roy, +Jaana Nyström, +Yifat Cohen, +Mark Traphagen and +Shamil Weerakoon.

And yet I still contribute. It doesn’t matter to me what you make of my contribution. I know my own worth.     

Ronja Addams-Moring2:17 PM

+alias inkhorn Could we have that again, this time in English? Thank you!

Ronja Addams-Moring2:31 PM+1

+M Sinclair Stevens I would very much appreciate your (and anyone else’s) thoughts on the post +J.C. Kendall made yesterday: “So Google, what is your take on Plagiarism?” https://plus.google.com/115145812983523155770/posts/P6cB5mV18i2 . IMO J.C. is really pushing for an additional policy statement from Google, and at least I would become a lot less invested in the community here, if serial plagiarists were not routinely pushed out.

In the comments to J.C.,  there can be seen two trends. To paraphrase:
1) “I do not want to have this kind of behavior accepted in my community – how can I help+” and
2) “What’s the big deal, just block the jerk”

I see some similarities with what you wrote, but do you?

Eileen O’Duffy2:32 PM+4

I think it is precisely because nobody is paid that G+ is such a wonderful collaborative community. Hourly/daily contract workers rarely show such enthusiasm and usually pay lip service to the paymaster and stakeholders. On the other hand we are the G+ stakeholders and we are passionate about wanting our own community to work. Yes, that’s why we are emotional and enthusiastic when there are changes. Yes, I too have been critical of some of the changes (e.g. the volume slider that does not show all but shows what Google consider ‘relevant’, BTW I love your cooker analogy MSS) but generally I think the changes are good and are usually refinements/improvements. 

+Steve Faktor   No, I don’t think G+ is a fad at all. It’s only just over a year old and combines the best of the Facebook/Twitter and LinkedIN experience. I think it’s here to stay and let’s continue to help improve it

Jon Eric2:42 PM (edited)+2

+Ronja Addams-Moring, I’m not Sinclair, but I’d like to weigh in on that matter, too.

I’m really of two minds about the issue. On the one hand, yes, people who do nothing but reshare other people’s content (often without attribution) are annoying, and I try to disengage from them here on Google+ as much as possible. On the other hand, I’m not convinced they’re really hurting anything, because in most cases it’s blatantly obvious that the content didn’t originate with them—they’re just not citing their sources.

There are whole social networks out there dedicated to this “here’s something cool I saw/heard on the Internet” kind of sharing. Tumblr is rife with it, for instance. And if there are users who find genuine value in treating Google+ like Tumblr, then, well… I feel like they’re doing it “wrong,” but far be it from me to tell him how to share things. If it annoys me, all I need to do is not follow any people who use Google+ in that way, and there won’t be any of these unattributed blank-slate shares in my stream. I feel like I’ve put more effort than most into curating my circles around that kind of abuse, and the effort has paid off.

On the other hand, I don’t create content that gets plagiarized. If I did, I’d probably be upset to see my own words or images shared all over the place without anyone crediting me. Even if I didn’t think anyone else was actively trying to take credit for the work, it would still be frustrating to know that there are so many people out there who read, saw, or heard something that I did, and enjoyed it, but didn’t have the resources to connect it to me.

Sharing someone else’s content and claiming that you made it yourselfis point-blank wrong, and Google should be taking every reasonable measure to prevent it. But I don’t think that’s the majority of plagiarism that goes on here at G+. And I don’t know if it’s feasible or wise for Google to go after people who share stuff in a manner that they might not even realize is inappropriate.

M Sinclair Stevens2:41 PMEdit+2

+Eileen O’Duffy Precisely. Here we are amateurs in the classic sense. We do it for the love of it.

Steve Faktor2:45 PM+2

+Eileen O’Duffy I don’t believe I used the word fad, but I do think social networks (like most non-financial web services) are structurally impermanent. By that I mean switching costs are low, you just click to something else.  And you do it extra fast when power users lead the way and take their networks with them.

Google has some advantages in that they have tons of cash to promote and develop the product and a broader relationship with consumers across services. That increases stickiness and the likelihood of converting new users.  However, socialization evolves.  There may come a time when G+ has a perfectly servicable network, but user tastes change and people move on. It might even be for a minimum viable product.  Some might argue that that was the fear with Instagram, so it had to be sniped acquired.

Jon Eric2:48 PM (edited)

Oh, and +Ronja Addams-Moring, I should clarify: PJ is one of those obvious cases where it’s clear that Google should suspend his account, with extreme prejudice. But most plagiarists on G+ aren’t as malicious as he is; I’m setting forth an argument for why maybe it’s better in those cases for Google to turn a blind eye to it. I’m not sure I buy my own argument, though. I haven’t made up my mind.

M Sinclair Stevens2:54 PMEdit+2

+Jon Eric and +Ronja Addams-Moring . Dudes. You’re derailing. If you want to talk about plagiarism, start a new thread.

Ronja Addams-Moring3:05 PM

+Jon Eric Thank you for a thorough answer. I may need to sleep on it to manage something coherent enough as a response.

To clarify a bit, my point was approximately this: in your (plural – all answers welcome) opinion, is it OK for users of a free service to push for amending the rules that the service provider has set? After all, there are those with the attitude “It’s a free service, if you don’t like it, why don’t you quit?”

Personally, I see the exchanges around PJ partially as a demand that Google must find a way of defining where to draw the line between innocent enough (non-actionable) vs. malicious enough (requires shunning) plagiarism. From my experience as a college/university teaching assistant I know how very hard drawing that line is in practice, from case to case. I think Google has to do it, but I don’t envy the people who have to figure out how the new rule will be worded and enforced.

Ronja Addams-Moring3:06 PM

+M Sinclair Stevens So you see the comments that nonpaying users make about usability as fundamentally different from the comments we make about policies/rules?

M Sinclair Stevens4:08 PM Edit+2

+Ronja Addams-Moring This is not a post about usability. Nor is it a post about pseudonyms, Google’s war on words, data cows, the rise of the visual web, the social graph, the mother of all forums, comparing Google+ with Facebook, blocking other users, deleting comments, or wombats (full metal, cuddly, or coital)…although most of us in this thread have discussed these topics with each other.

If you want to discuss plagiarism with me or my readers, this is the thread where we addressed content-scraping.

You can also take your comment and start your own thread as I often encourage people to do.

Ronja Addams-Moring4:13 PM

Sorry. I thought this thread was about the validity and value of feedback to Google from us users. But it is midnight over here, so I may be reading things  weirdly already. My apologies.

Peter Strempel5:40 PM (edited)+6

Give ‘em hell Sinkers.  The only way to deal with censorious fuckwits is to shame them publicly, by exposing them as ignorant, ill-educated, and altogether ugly people.  There is no such thing as a right for such barbarians to voice hateful, extremist or self-righteous twaddle without having to face the scorn and contempt of their betters.

One would have thought this were obvious, but it seems too few people feel the need to say: ‘Stop right there.  This is MY world, and I’ll grant YOU a place in it only if you cease your attempts to make it an ugly place.’

In the same vein, it’s past time for real patriots of whatever allegiance to be counted in their vocal and implacable opposition to preachers of uterine politics, of xenophobia, of acalculiac economics, and of contempt for their fellow men and women.

As for this space, it’s an open ocean in which I WILL act as a freebooter, flying a black flag and opening broadsides against all who would demand that I honour or obey prescriptive doctrines on what can be said or thought.  I’m always on the lookout for friendly flags (like the star spangled Mutan-T banner), but my course is my own, and my fealty isn’t a thing of commerce and profit.

Now I need to get a coffee or I’ll sound like a buffoon for the rest of the day.

Alexander Becker5:43 PM+2

Nice +Peter Strempel, the analogy is one to adopt for most so called social spaces —

“a freebooter, flying a black flag and opening broadsides against all who would demand that I honour or obey prescriptive doctrines on what can be said or thought.”

Peter Strempel

Rod Dunne6:07 PM (edited)+2

Excellent post +M Sinclair Stevens. I came at your third point about building content on G+ last week in the sense of Content Creators: Whats in it for Us?

For anyone working a 40 hour week, if their boss asked them to work an extra 8 hours EVERY saturday for FREE then they’d be told where to stick it….

Yet we freely contribute 8 hours a week to G+ (some of us more/less)… thoughts, text & concepts which I and many others have been able to profit on writing/selling on the open market (freelance writing).

I get a buzz from the banter & dialogue here but I do question how much we freely give, creating content for the Google machine. Without this content well G+ would turn into Google Buzz.

The Patrick McGoohan part of me doesn’t like seeing this – and worries that the power of individual blogs are being sapped only to be replaced by some all encompassing social network.

Steve Faktor7:12 PM+2

+Rod Dunne I agree. To embellish on your last point, I think too many idealists are too quick to pledge allegiance to Benevolent Borg Inc. Be careful what you wish for, Fair Do-Gooders. Your hearts may be in the right place, but your collective actions may eventually act to crush individual will. Tending to the lawn and crashing in the poolhouse does not make the home yours. When the mansion you maintained is sold to a less benevolent bidder, you may not even get a chance to pick up your leaf blowers. So, enjoy your stay, but keep a healthy distance. And, never mistake private enterprise for a kibbutz, no matter how communal it feels.

I predicted it last October with Twitter and it can happen here too, just in a different way. Surviving platform risk: http://www.ideafaktory.com/entrepreneurship/platform-risk-devours-digital-entrepreneurs/

M Sinclair Stevens7:24 PM Edit

+Steve Faktor “Fair do-gooder” eh?

“Concerning the work that we’ve all put in to building communities on Google+, +Peter Strempel  worries about ‘the ominous threat of impermanence, of being edged out altogether, and of losing any benefit that might have accrued to the significant unrewarded effort that went into building a small corner of the Google imperium’.”

“In the family where my character was formed, that’s pretty much life. I’ve descended from a long line of people who made something out of nothing, who struggled with the insufficient tools, who succeeded for awhile, lost it all, and were forced to start again.”

“So I focus on the process of building and accept the idea of impermanence. Will I be sad when it’s over? Of course. Will I think my time here was wasted? Absolutely not.”


Steve Faktor7:26 PM

+M Sinclair Stevens 😉

Rod Dunne7:33 PM+1

+Steve Faktor You kill me man, in a good way 🙂 . Your AAA ‘All About Alignment’ section is a concentrated MBA for Social Media. I could just hear Alec Baldwin’s voice a-la Glengarry Glen Ross give the warning call against our digital kibbutz.

M Sinclair Stevens9:09 PM

+Steve Faktor So what’s your angle again? I have a healthy distrust of people who spend all their time telling me what I should be getting out of life. And who have to communicate via emoticons.