Unless you have been living in a bunker for the last couple of weeks, deprived of all access to the media, you can’t have failed to have received wind of Google‘s latest foray into the colourful world of social networking.
How many failed attempts at gaining traction on this greased pole lie in Google’s wake depends on how generous you are in determining failure and how broad a view you take of what precisely constitutes social networking. Products such as Orkut, Buzz and Wave immediately spring to mind. One could argue that Orkut and Buzz have been limited successes — after all, both still exist today — whereas it’s hard to argue that Wave succeeded in gaining a foothold for itself at any level.
No matter, our attention was assertively grabbed in the last couple of days of June by the appearance and media feeding frenzy surrounding the launch of Google+. Opinions vary widely from “Google’s Facebook killer” through “Twitter should be concerned” all the way to “fundamentally different from either Facebook or Twitter”.
To my mind, Google+ combines the best of Facebook and Twitter. It provides the former’s ability to track friends and share photos, videos and links, but it also learns from Twitter that not every relationship is symmetrical, so whilst I may want to read everything you produce, you might not want to see anything from me. Google+ embraces this not uncommon case, thereby allowing a publisher’s relationship of a single producer to multiple consumers.
Added to this is a serious attempt at providing a better virtual representation of the way we interact with people in real life. Whereas Facebook views all of your contacts as friends, thereby devaluing that currency, Google+ realises that not every relationship is a friendship. Some are with family members, people with whom we have little choice but to associate. Others are with colleagues, most of whom we would categorise as acquaintances, not friends. Other relationships are those we have with our (young) children, and yet others are completely one-sided, people who have no inkling of our existence, but whose on-line utterances we wish to follow for the same reasons we might read their blog.
It’s clear that some of these relationships are mutually exclusive. For example, I may not want my young children to see some of the photos and videos I might post to family and friends. Equally, I may not want my colleagues at the High Court to know about my fascination with bukkake or my cannabis growing hobby.
Even within the group of people I could accurately designate as true friends, it’s important to realise that this grid of people is not a mesh. No one person knows all of the other people in the grid. Here, the individual user forms the hub of the wheel and all of his friends are the spokes, some of whom have links to each other. So, I may wish to share a story with a bunch of people I have known since secondary school, without sharing it with colleagues from my last job who I have since promoted from acquaintance to friend. After all, the story might be an old one and be utterly meaningless to anyone not involved in the events described.
Google+ more accurately maps the complex relationships of real life human interaction to the virtual world by introducing the concept of circles. This allows you divide people into groups of friends, acquaintances, colleagues, family, Dutch speakers, obnoxious but entertaining, etc. The number of circles you can create is unlimited and you can file people in more than one.
Now, it becomes possible to share content with the union of multiple circles. It’s not yet possible to share with only the intersection of two circles, but I’m hoping this will be added at some point, thus enabling a link to an article in De Volkskrant to be shared only with people who are both friends and Dutch speakers.
Google+ has addressed many of my objections to social networking platforms. Not only has the awkward sharing model been addressed, but the very fact that it is Google behind this product, not Facebook, immediately reassures me that privacy and security will be less of a concern with this new platform. Frankly, I trust Mark Zuckerberg about as far as I can throw him, which is much less far than I’d like to throw him. Google’s no angel, but I trust them with my data. I have the added advantage of having worked there for a number of years, so I have actual knowledge of the company’s intentions on which to base my trust.
That really leaves only my objection to the closed door policy of social networking market leader, Facebook, by which I mean that the company — or more accurately, its users — is responsible for the sequestration of vast quantities of interesting content that would hitherto have found its way onto a home page or blog. If you’re not a Facebook member, you can’t see what your friends are writing. I still have no idea what’s on my wife’s wall. Maybe it’s just as well.
Google have addressed this issue by allowing postings with a scope of public. These are placed on the user’s profile page, where they are visible to all and sundry, whether or not the reader is a registered user of Google+.
I favour open communication, even when I know I hold a contentious view, so all of my Google+ postings over the last couple of weeks are in plain view for all to see. Nevertheless, I intend to expand on a few of these in the next 24 hours to give people who are accustomed to reading the blog an update of what’s been happening in our lives over the last few weeks.
If you’re interested in trying Google+ but haven’t received an invitation from any of your friends, send me an e-mail to that effect and I’ll rectify that situation.
In the future, I can see more and more of our postings finding their way to Google+ as the primary means of distribution, as it’s so much easier there to put one’s thoughts before an audience. Whereas a blog requires people to regularly visit your site or to sign up for notification of new postings, typically by e-mail or by subscribing to an RSS feed, a service such as Google+ significantly increases the opportunity for people outside one’s closest circles to become aware of our postings, by suggesting to friends of friends that they, too, follow what we share on-line. Often, these friends of friends are people that we, ourselves, know; just not terribly well. However, there may still be enough interest there for someone to consider their postings worth reading.
Until there’s a way to automatically propagate postings on this blog to Google+ and vice versa, you may wish to check both venues for postings by us. I’m more likely to post a sentence or two on Google+, whereas a full article would more likely find its way onto the blog.