The Pluses of Google+
posted by Ari Waldman
I love shiny new toys. Sometimes, its a crisp new book (Pauline Maier, for one… thanks Gerard!); other times, it’s something plush and adorable, like the yellow Angry Birds doll my 5-year-old nephew “bought” for me last month. Last week, it was Google+.
Google+ is social networking done the Google way. The soft launch is part of Google’s long-running master plan to enter the social networking market and try to do it better than the basically moribund MySpace and the supposedly plateauing Facebook. We are told that Google+’s chief asset is its ability to simulate real relationships, and our different interactions with different types of friends, on the Internet.
Google+ introduces us to circles, where you can take the 800 or so “friends” you would have on Facebook and break them down on your own terms. You have friends, acquaintances, co-workers, well-wishers, frenemies, those-guys-you-met-at-that-terrible-bar, whatever. And, you can use these classifications to tailor your interactions, thus avoiding the problem of your mother, sister or child accessing a picture meant for your pals.
There are also sparks, which are news and video aggregators. It is easy enough to tell a spark what you enjoy doing when you’re not working on important affairs of state, thus allowing you to spend “more time wasting time without wasting your time looking how to waste time.”
And, hangouts are Google+’s attempts to recreate chance encounters. I’m not sure these are completely functioning yet, though. Remember when you used to visit the mall or walked through the West Village and ran into someone you hadn’t seen in years? Hangouts attempt to turn an online social networking into a place where anything social can happen, only with Google+, you “bump” into someone through a video message.
Let’s assume for the moment that all this works as well as we hope and that Google+ allows us to recreate real life in the virtual realm. Facebook is not really trying to recreate real life and simulate precisely how we interact with one another in the physical world. It is trying to supplement it, foster new interactions in new ways. At times, we don’t like that. Facebook’s forced socialization and privacy issues give many social networkers pause. There are many other digital technologies that seek to supplement our physical social world. Grindr, a geolocating social networking service for gay men, is one such example. Grindr allows its members to be out and about, smartphone in hand and find other gay men in the vicinity. Its purpose is to eschew traditional social networking that keeps you saddled to your computer and to let you physically meet people you have something in common with who may be living across the street or down the block. It is interactive, mobile and a multi-purpose tool.
So, Google+ is trying to forge a different path, i.e., using the Internet as an extension of our physical social circles and to keep those circles the way they are now. Of course, that is not to say that Google+ will not bring us closer to new friends — we can still interact with friends of friends, let people we barely know into our network and share content with whomever we please. But, Google+’s chief draw appears to be its greater fidelity to real life. If that is true in the long run, as Google works out the kinks and listens to its users, is that what we want in our online social networks?
The benefits are clear — we can avoid the grandmother seeing you at the bar problem. But there are also disadvantages — we lose the liberating potential of reaching new people. What do you think?