So I finally nipped over, accepted my Google+ invitation, and have been exploring for the past few days. I have to say, I have been very impressed, so here I am…thinking aloud…about what Google+ means for me and why I have made the decision to migrate over there.
First off, when I say, “migrate over” you have to understand that this is a process that will take me months. I am connected to or syndicated on over 64 social network sites with status updates, the blog and general idle chitchat. It has been a long building process and one that has reached its peak for me and is now undermining the rest of what I am trying to do. Many of these sites indulge in the kind of proprietary coding froufrah that means for lack of one common element, they must be posted to manually. Over the 6 years or so that I have been involved with social networking (and the 12 in which I have had my websites) things have changed. Trends change. Active sites rise and fall and at this point, I have a web full of holes, but I haven’t been able to fully drop sites because friends linger on some or there is some other redeeming factor. A few sites, like MySpace, I made inactive over a year ago because the way in which their membership and activity changed was either in a direction I did not support or, was just frankly – a waste of my time.
I went on Facebook a while back and have been desperate to get off it since about oh-say-hey day two for a variety of reasons. The strongest being the disregard for users shown by the administrators of the site and the culture that has grown on Facebook that emphasizes a lack of boundaries, narcissism and general puerile behavior. I like to fool around online just like everyone else, but I like to do it with my friends – not with a bunch of people who think they know me because my name shows up in a list.
But Facebook has been a challenge to get rid of because you weren’t able to tell where it was going. A lot of the decision I make (and have made) over the years concerning managing my online presence has been based in trend forecasting in regards to the Internet. With Facebook, like Twitter, there was the sense that it was more than a fad but what it was has really never evolved.
And along comes Google+.
It is by no means a perfect and finished thing. It is, however, a ray of hope for the future for anyone who lives a life in which all the aspects of your life are intertwined and integrated with a virtual life. If you are someone like me then the majority of your communication with friends, family and work related things happens on line. Sometimes it feels like I have a gazillion little programs to let me stay connected – video chat, text chat, email and so on. To not be online, for someone like me, is to become socially isolated.
Given the extent of the work I do and its online publication I combat the fact that I have 12 web sites that I run and 6 other services I use for everything from writing to teaching to video to music. This does not even begin to touch the 36 video sites I have accounts on and numerous audio and eBook sites my work is distributed on.
The majority of my entertainment and sources for news are also all web based. I shop online. I read eBooks, I book travel online and on and on and on.
In the end though, the one window that is always open on my computer through which my entire day revolves around is – Gmail. I use Gmail, Google docs, Google calendar, Google apps – if it has a g in front of it, I use it.
And along comes Google+.
So what makes it so great?
Start with how you make connections. Google+ lets you assign people to “circles” like friends, family, acquaintances, work etc. They even allow you to define your own circles. As you make connections, you drop the person in their circle. Now – here is what is important about circles – no one can see what circle you have placed them in and when you post something you use a simple drop down menu to select which circles will see your post. Google+ also gives you the option to “Follow” people like on Twitter.
This structuring of connections is the first reflection I have seen of the reality of mature boundaries and relationships online in a social networking environment ever. Let me repeat that – EVER. Gone is the encouraged illusion that everyone is buddy-buddy with everyone else and surprisingly – and I will talk more about this later – this is perhaps the single most important aspect to how they protect your privacy on line. By allowing you to manage your own boundaries. Even if you choose to “like” a status update and someone else does too, everyone can see the count of likes but not the names unless you have that person in a circle.
Does Google mine your data and activity? Of course they do. That is how they make money in order to offer all these things free. However, the way the data is packaged and sold while still basically intrusive and unfair is fair because the primary area in which privacy violation harms people – when their personal info (and I am not talking name, location, etc. and so forth – all that info is in the public domain anyway) but their personal info – their feelings, moods, opinions and thoughts are protected because the user sets the boundaries as to who they communicate with – BUT – they do so without building isolated communities that would promote sub-culture rejection of outsiders because on a larger level they are still participating with the community at large.
Everyone is all excited about the “Huddle” feature and I will get to that but more important to me is something called “Sparks.” With “Sparks” you input in a series of things that interest you like “art, social theory, economics, fashion, Twilight” whatever and all day long a little Google bot goes and finds you new posts and links related to those interests. When you want to browse through and find something juicy to read, you click on your Sparks to see what it has found. Nobody else can see what you have set as a spark.
“Hangouts” is sort of a status that you broadcast saying that you are “hanging out” online and maybe want to do something. Like watch a YouTube video or play a game or chat. You pick the circle that gets to see this status, your friends then can join you and watch the video with you and you can chat back and forth.
“Huddle” is kind of a Skype thing. It is a multi-user video/text chat stream where you can invite people into your huddle and converse as a group.
All of this will also be coming to mobile phones.
So far so good. Better yet, Google did not remake the wheel when designing all this and it is easy to use and designed along the same lines as Twitter and Facebook. Although Facebook has been trying to steadily block the Google+ apps, there are plenty springing out that allow you to import your photo albums and friends over to Google+. There are also apps appearing to help do this for other sites as well and one’s available (if you are using Chrome) to integrate your FB and twitter streams into plus so you can see them and post to them through the plus updates.
But larger than this is the network in which all this sits. While in Google+, I can monitor, read and respond to my Gmail. Several services that I use like blogger are also Google products. And, because I am looking at all this and seeing the enormity of the connections possible on a global basis, I am making the decision to move all of my websites over to Google sites and then integrate them into Plus through Chrome so I can monitor and respond to comments and all sorts of things that will make my life easier via one network.
Google+ is not a Facebook killer. It is the next step for people who are using the Internet as a means of enhancing their lives and expanding their communities. I could see it damaging Twitter quite a bit because it is as easy to use but allows for the option of a richer content environment. Combined with mobile computing, I think that Messrs.’ Google have finally hit on a product that will only grow but do so in a way that does not become a sprawling mess.
It is the dawn of maturity on the ‘net.
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.