The trouble with Google+

The trouble with Google+

I’m concerned about some initial sociologial (versus technological) trends I’m seeing on Google+. Admittedly, I haven’t played around with it too much — I still like Twitter and Facebook, since people with whom I have high-value relationships participate heavily there. Google+ is more a novelty (and a necessity for me to figure out for my clients). And frankly, while I know lots of people love the Circles — for the non-Google+-er, those are groups in which you have to put people — I’m overwhelmed by having to choose where I want to put every single person in whom I have some semblence of interest. The implications of Circles could be a whole ‘nother post, so I’ll leave it at that.

What I’ve found troublesome so far is that the atmosphere/culture Google+ has far less “personality” than the other services do. I don’t see as much intimate content there (yet?) as I do other services. And the intimate content that is posted there doesn’t seem to resonate as much with readers.

I’m theorizing that this is entirely due to Circles. Because people have the ability to limit their more intimate moments to smaller groups of people, they seem to be automatically choosing to keep most intimate moments extremely private. This is a boon for issues of safety and vulnerability, for sure– as an advocate for privacy controls elsewhere, and against egregious privacy changes, I of course see the value.

But I’m mourning a little bit the loss of what often, for me, makes social networking so interesting: the very human, authentic versions of ourselves being shared in a wider public way. That kind of sharing initiates trust-building, validates others who have similar experiences, educates those who don’t, among many other sociological phenomena. But really, bottom line here, it made everyone seem actually human.

Google+ feels like a personal branding engine. And I hate personal branding. I’m often reminded of this quote from Tara Hunt in my book:

“People shouldn’t be acting more like brands,” she said. “We’re humans! Instead of having a personal brand, why not just have a personality?”

People on Google+ are sharing what they think wider audiences want to hear from them. Audiences. As in, “let me broadcast to you.” There is a missing emotional connection there that makes posting something “sharing.”

The last few years, we’ve had this remarkable revolution in sharing that has made it a little safer, and a little more fun, to make ourselves a teensy bit vulnerable. Now that we have a toy that gives us the option to hide our vulnerability, it feels like we’re choosing the easy way out.

The other thing that bothers me is the amount of people on Google+ talking about their exodus from the new red-headed stepchild of the moment, Facebook. I’m no lover of how Facebook handles a lot of its policies, mind you, but it still holds lots of value for me. One of my (many, many) cousins, who just had her first baby, isn’t on Google+ to share photos of him. Neither is my brother, who posts rare but utterly hilarious status updates. Nor are a huge swath of people from whom I want to learn, and about whose lives I want to hear.

Maybe you’re saying, “Not yet.” And maybe you’re right– maybe there will be a huge exodus someday, just as we all left Friendster and MySpace. But the tone of these anti-Facebook-community statements reminds me too much of what danah boyd talked about in her Personal Democracy Forum 2009 keynote, “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online.” If you haven’t heard or read it, go now.

The basic point is that because social networks are social, they are completely wrapped up in all of the class, race, gender and other identity parameters that we carry with us in our offline lives. When the exodus from MySpace to Facebook started, it started with predominantly white, affluent kids who decided to get away from the “ghetto” of MySpace. A key quote from boyd:

They narrated MySpace as the dangerous underbelly of the Internet while Facebook was the utopian savior.

It sounds achingly familiar to what I read on Google+ == getting away from family members, getting away from app/game users, getting away from the inconsequential jabbering. There have also been sexist/ageist analyses saying “your mom won’t use Google+.” Because it started with the tech elite (who, I dare say, don’t have the highest emotional intelligence a lot of the time), this sad course of Escaping The Other(s) has started to be set.

This is all anecdotal, so I’m trying to raise a red flag and ask people to thing about their migratory behaviors and thought processes.

And, for the record, personally, I’m a big fan of inconsequential jabbering.