Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thoughts on Google Plus

I should start off by saying that I am not a user of Google Plus and only heard of it recently when Politesse said he got an invite and thought he'd check it out. As you know, we initially left Facebook for a number of reasons: the top ones being privacy concerns, callous business practices, and the fact that in the end, it took a lot of time without adding any real depth or value to our relationships with people. That said, would a replacement Facebook be better? I'm not a marketing or trend analyst or anything, but I wanted to share a few thoughts about this new service that could actually offer a real threat to the current empire of social networking.
Part of the problem of THE social networking site (SNS) is that, as it is the only one of its kind, it sets the rules on what we can and can't experience. And that's just it, there has to be only one for this format to really work. The whole idea is that ALL your friends are using the same service; otherwise everyone will all be spread out and no one will really be connecting with each other in a vast sense (as Facebook et al. caters to being connected to friends by simply knowing them and not through shared limited interests as other sites may be). So in order for G+ to really work, it has to BE the next Facebook, it has to dominate it and replace it.

I'd rather see a new social networking model than a repeated Facebook model, and it seems as though things could possibly go in that direction with what G+ is promising. I am a huge internet user; I spend hours a day online doing all sorts of various things (networking over shared interests, for instance) but I am not comfortable sharing one identity across the board. I am also not comfortable with people in real life that I do not want contact with tracking me down and then associating me with things I'd rather them not know. So right off the bat the standard SNS model does not appeal to me. I'd be more interested in checking it out if it were something a little more flexible. When Facebook was created it was intended to be a networking site for just one college, and then for colleges in general, so the whole "real face real name" thing made sense as that was who you were trying to connect to. A lot of people know me as having XYZ interest, but an old college acquaintance is not going to know anything about me but the name my professor called out during roll. But that's not who I am online, so social networking sites that work by getting me to offer sensitive, personal information in the interest of connecting to bosses and professors is mostly irrelevant to me. What it really comes down to is this: because I am a part of so many separate interest communities online, will the social networking sites of the future offer something to me? Or will they force me to just choose one identity and forge my relationships around that?

And what about the other concerns? Google Plus starts off by creating a SNS that essentially caters to user complaints about Facebook, meaning that some of the issues we all know and hate are improved in G+. That sounds great, but would it be likely to last? I don't think so. If G+ dies in obscurity just like other attempts have, Facebook will still be the one setting the rules and they have already made clear these issues are not issues to them. If G+ does manage to take over, that means they will be setting all the rules. What rules will they set? Will they value user concerns, like privacy and convenience? Or will they value the bottom line at all costs, until some other company comes along and tries to do the exact same thing? Again, I have stated that I do not care for the standard model already available, and copying Facebook means copying that model. I’d hope to see it improved somehow, but it is unlikely to improve in any way that would interest me. Sure, you can group your friends easier and control who sees what content better. Sure, everything is streamlined and you can see your soccer buddies right along with your drinking buddies. Sure, you can keep tabs on all your forums at once. But doing so still requires me to give up exactly what I gained by leaving Facebook.

Again, this is all speculation. I really don't know where things will end up. But at the moment, I have no plans to join Google Plus as it stands, unless as one article suggested Blogger gets cut off and integrated with it, forcing me to use it anyway. And the irony of using a Google service to blog about another Google service unfavorably is not lost on me.

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