July 15, 2011

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Digging into Digital: The Google+ Comics Explosion

I joined Google+ about a week or so ago, because I wanted to see what it was like. One of my friends, who happens to be in the world of comics, was kind enough to hit me up with an invitation.

While I certainly wasn't in from the beginning, I did get about the time the entire thing was blowing up with people--and one group of people in particular, it seems: comics folks.

Now there could be a huge number of refrigerator repairmen on G+ that I don't know about or maybe bird watchers or the National Jaywalking Society, but it sure seems like cartoonists and their ilk have taken to this new social networking system in a way that others haven't.

From what I've seen on my personal feed, the general consensus is that G+ makes it extraordinarily easy to share entire comic stories with a group of interested people. The seamless integration of Picassa with G+ provides users with a way to make accessing a comic or drawing that the artist is willing to give away for free online with a minimum of fuss for the person who wants to read it. In addition, the use of circles means that artists can share different things with different people, giving them a chance to be both inclusionary and exclusionary--all at the same site--and without breaking terms of service or upsetting anyone.

Google+ is not perfect, of course. Its default image size makes certain comics harder to read than others, for instance. Images can get put together in the wrong order. Some folks are still suspicious that Google might try to take their content. Sharing is a mixed bag because you have to do some work to ensure posts are not re-shared. In addition, people who have comics friends in common right now do tend to get spammed with the same post, due to sharing.

Also, due to the explosion of people getting on, whether its true or not, there's an overwhelming feeling to the entire process that might turn people off. It's one thing to get hit with a bunch of stuff at 140 characters or to see you have hundreds of new RSS posts on your feed reader. It's another to see post after post of comics and images, all wanting your time and all from different people. One of the things that everyone involved in G+ will need to do in time is to figure out how best to both provide as much content as possible to a hungry, comics-wanting audience while not making it seem like you just walked into a room with scores of attention-seeking artists all trying to get you to read their stuff at once.

In some ways, I imagine G+ might be the closest thing I (and others who are consumers rather than producers) get to the experience of the slush pile of an editor for a major publisher. I am hit with a ton of potentially good content, but there's just so much out there, it's hard to stop and really read any one thing. This is not meant in any way to slight the creators who are on G+ and posting actively and frequently. I'm just trying to think of the best way to make people understand the situation if they aren't on G+ yet or have not started to really use it.

Of course, I'm choosing to create this situation by following anyone any everyone who looks interesting right now. One of the most interesting things about G+ is because it's new and because it's unlike anything else in the world of social media right now, no one quite knows what to do with it yet. People who think G+ is just Facebook with easier filtering are dead wrong. Google+ has elements of all that have come before it, just like Google's other products. They're good at sensing how to make things better, or at the very least, more useful for those who are particularly web-savvy.
To some extent, Google+ is a bit like the mythical Wild West of the 1800s. Those who can see the potential of G+ and make it work are going to hit a gold mine. Right now, I'd single out Ryan Estrada as one of the best at using G+ from a creative perspective, of the people I know and follow. Others are slowly catching on, with folks already in the webcomics/sharing to get people hooked model having an edge, I think. Eventually, the system will settle in, as its predecessors have, but for now, watching people figure out to use G+ to its fullest will be a fun process. I'm usually slow to the party, so being here as it happens is cool.

In the future, I--and others on G+--will know what we're doing. For now, from a digital comics perspective, if you are a reader, I would suggest the following:

1) Get a Google+ account as soon as you can. It's free, there's no rule saying you have to post anything, and you get a chance to see what you might be missing.

2) Give it a chance before you dismiss it. I'm seeing some people give up on G+ without really seeing what they might get out of it. Yes, I know the internet is full of instant gratification, but I think you have to spend a few days on G+ to really see its potential.

3) Don't worry too much about circles just yet. I'm sure I'll want to refine my circles as I go along, but for now, "comics folks" is all I need as a reader.

4) Make sure you say something about yourself. Mine is quite simple: I'm the brains behind the Panel Patter review blog. You might say you love comics or you review things or whatever it is that you do, but make sure you tell people. That way, they can add you back.

5) Don't be offended if you're not added back. G+ is a bit like Twitter in that regard. Not every creator is going to follow your back. They're busy people, and if all they did was read social networking feeds, we'd never get good comics. Be flattered when they do, but remember that the idea here is to see what they're working on and sharing, not necessarily to discuss why you hated the season finale of Glee.

6) Use +1 liberally! One of the nice things about Google+ is that you don't have to write the useful but annoying to scroll through "I liked this" or "good stuff" comments that are all over the internet. Liked that comic or pin-up but don't have much to say beyond that? Hit it up with a +1 and keep on going. The +1 icon is one of the best things on G+ in my opinion and has made me start reading comments again.

7) Enjoy the comics and support the creators. Artists who are giving their work for free do it because they want you to like what you read, but they also need to eat. Definitely read as many free comics as you can or want to, but don't forget to click around and see what they have for sale, especially if you really like them. From an artist's perspective, things like G+ help them get their name out. It doesn't do any good, if name value is all they get. Find them at shows and tell them you got into their work online. Make comments when you want to say something. Share when it's so awesome the world needs to know. Support your favorites, and they'll reward you with more work. It's as easy as that!

Are you on Google+ yet? What are your impressions? Am I on the right track, or totally off-base? Let me know in the comments!