Google+, the post-friend social network

24 Jul

The other day I was reading an exchange between two friends on Facebook, neither of whom “gets” Google’s recently-launched social network Google+. It occurred to me that the moment I “got” Google+ was the fourth or fifth time I was added to a circle by someone whose name I didn’t recognize. In those cases I can usually figure out why they’ve added me with a bit of research, but there’s still a lot of people I don’t know who want to connect with me; and vice versa. Then it finally sank in that Google+ had provided me with a circle called Acquaintances.

One of the awful things about social networks up until recently was that they forced you to say that everyone you connected with online was your friend. (I’d classify the friend/not friend binary as Bad and Right: it’s ugly but functional.) Twitter eventually changed the verb from “friend” to “follow”, which made things easier. Facebook was built to emulate the way friends hang out in the real world, so everyone I’m connected with is still either a friend or (in the case of pages) an interest. LinkedIn now gives me the option to connect with someone as a friend, a co-worker, or someone with whom I’ve done business.

But to me, those services still carry the baggage of commitment. Unfollowing someone on Twitter or unfriending them on Facebook is an act that has weight. I’ve never severed professional ties with someone on LinkedIn.

Google+ presents itself as an online place for sharing that has been built from the ground up to address the complexity of human relationships, and rescue the word “friend” from its distorted online usage along the way. I can finally satisfy my neo-Victorian sentiments by calling 80% of my social network connections by their true name: Acquaintances.

(I was going to take things a step further and create a circle called “Who?” for the people I don’t recognize and want to someday identify, but at that point I had another epiphany: if I want to share things with people who are not in one of my social circles, I can make those posts public. EUREKA. I’ve rediscovered blogging.)

I can use Facebook the same way by creating lists of friends (though not as easily.) The circle-creating functionality is the entire point of Diaspora. And frankly, the Google+ solution is flawed because at some point I’m going to call bullshit on the whole time-consuming exercise of categorizing all the people I know, and start dividing my content into things that are public and things that are visible to ten or so very, very close friends.

Unless Google starts to automate the process for me, which is where I think we get to the potential of Google+. I’m drawn to Google+ because Google already powers a lot of my online life outside of Facebook and it’s good at making educated guesses about what I want.

What I suspect would finally make the process of connecting people online Good and Right is for Google+ to make an educated guess about which of my social circles people belong in. It could say, “Wade’s contact Jane Smith works at Weber Shandwick. He’s added all of his contacts who work at Weber Shandwick to his Work circle, and added most of them to the Frolleagues or Acquaintances circle. So I’ll make it incredibly easy for him to add her to those three circles, with the option to do something else with her  in the usual Google+ way.”

Ideally I won’t end friendships and change jobs so often that getting people out of those circles requires an automated solution.

Will circles help me in the long run? I think so. There are friends who don’t want to see the PR-related posts my colleagues would be interested in. My agency colleagues are probably not all that interested in the latest post on Grognardia. But in today’s highly-connected world, if I can use circles to keep track of how I’m connected with each of my contacts, it will be insanely useful. It will provide me with context for my relationships. And that means I won’t spend time searching the Web or my mailbox to figure out how I know someone.

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5 Responses to “Google+, the post-friend social network”

  1. Tracy July 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    I totally have a Google circle called “who are you? have we met?” and wish I could do something similar with a few FB friend requests I’ve had trouble identifying. Also very much agree that the word “friend” needs rescuing from online interactions in general. Curious to see where these platforms go next, like reading insights from clever folks like you (rediscovering blogging! I love it!)

    • Wade Rockett July 25, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

      Most of my unidentifiable friend requests on Facebook are people who know me from Everything2.com. I can figure that much out by looking at our mutual friends, but I do wish they’d tell me what their E2 handles are.

  2. BPLewis July 25, 2011 at 5:09 am #

    Wade – I love your idea about having G+ suggest where people should reside in circles (I, too, think it’s a pain – unless you’re looking to kill time – which raises a larger question: If you’re putting people into circles in your spare time, shouldn’t you get out more)

    I digress.

    Don’t you think the suggestion problem would be quickly solved if G+ took information from multiple sources like LinkedIn or (gasp!) Facebook and noted: “Person X is connected via Wade’s Facebook, LinkedIn and GMail, so I’m going to guess they’re a friend as opposed to person Y who is only a LinkedIn connection” and put them into corresponding circles?

    Of course, that could raise some sort of privacy concerns about Google collecting data from across multiple social graphs, but isn’t that risk always there? I’d prefer G+ to become a central repository for my multiple online presence(s) than a whole new social network that forces me to adhere to its parameters. We need another proprietary, walled, social garden like a hole in the head

    • Wade Rockett July 25, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

      Google+ determining your relationships through your connections on other services would be pretty smart. Using Facebook to authenticate to third-party sites raises similar privacy concerns, but for me, the convenience usually trumps that. I’ve had even longer to get (mostly) comfortable with how much Google knows about me through my search habits and the contents of my Gmail inbox.

  3. Eric R. Franklin July 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    I’m realizing that my Google+ Circles are going to be more “interest groups” than anything else. So far, my single largest circle is “Analog Gamers.” I have (weirdly enough) friends who aren’t gamers – and they won’t enjoy reading post after post after post of game-related things. So by putting my posts into the “Analog Gamers” Circle, I keep non-gamers from being horribly bored …

    It’s an approach that I think will work for nearly everyone.

    Eric

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