First Contact: Early Reflections on Google+

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Currently, I’m on a beach vacation with my family in Long Beach Island, NJ. This would normally mean that the only thing I read is US Weekly and the only thing I write are shopping lists that look like this “Beer, Candy Bars, Sunblock, Beer.” However, every afternoon my son needs to take his nap And since the baby monitor does not reach the beach, someone has to sit in the house, waiting for him to wake up. Today that someone is me. But, waiting around the house is no real tragedy when there is a porch overlooking the beach for me to sit on and a wi-fi connection. So I thought I would use this time to reflect on the latest bit of social networking technology to come my way: Google +.

First contact. Thanks Annie!

I first heard about Google+ last week when I received an invitation to join from a friend who I met, tellingly, through another social networking platform, Twitter. I didn’t know what Google+ was, but it sounded exclusive and new, and I love things that are exclusive, so I decided to check it out. When I clicked on the “learn more about Google+” button I was informed that the system was overtaxed and that I should try again later. This experience of course only piqued my curiosity further. The site was so exclusive that even the early adopters were having trouble getting on. How tantalizing.

A few days later I tried again and was able to log on with no problem. Exciting! I set up my profile, looked around, and … was instantly bored. What was I supposed to do with Google+ now that I was on Google+? Indeed, that seemed to be the question everyone else on Google+ was asking.

My first post on Google+

As far as I can tell, Google+, which is still in its “field test” mode, meaning there are not a lot of people using it yet, is a lot like the other social networking platforms I am currently using. As with Facebook, Google+ allows you to compile friends, post updates and links into a live feed, comment on other people’s posts, add photos, comment on other people’s photos, etc. So far I can only detect two big “differences” between Facebook and Google+:

1. Instead of a “like” or “share” button, Google+ offers a “+1” button. 

2. Google+ allows you to group the people you’ve connected with into “circles” of “friends,” “following,” “coworkers,” and customizable categories to suit your needs, like “fellow graduates of clown college.” 

Now as far as #1 goes, who cares? In fact, it kind of reminds me of the character in Mean Girls who keeps trying, and failing, to get all of her friends to use the word “Fetch.”

As for #2, yes this is a nice addition. Facebook provides this functionality as well, so that you could theoretically corral your updates in such a way that your work friends won’t see the status updates about how much you hate the people at work and your non-work friends won’t see the status updates about how much you hate them. But I’ve found this process to be clunky (and what if I ever screwed it up?), so I tend to make my Facebook updates for a “general audience.” But since Google+ demands that you place people into circles as you add them, well, I guess you don’t have a choice do you? Indeed, although I have only found 18 people to add to my Google+ circles, I find that making choices about whether to put an individual into the “friend” or “following” category is a little stressful. As Farhad Manjoo points out in a very illuminating Slate article, Google+ allows your friends/followers/coworkers/fellow graduates of clown college to see exactly what circle you’ve put them into.  Awkward. [Editor’s Note: I was under the impression that people on Google+ will know what circles they have been placed into, but after I was on the site a few days I realized that this was not the case at all. Phew! Now I can keep those “Assholes” and “Douchebags” circles in tact]. Should the person who I only know through Twitter, but with whom I frequently have conversations, be considered a “friend” or simply someone I “follow”? Will she think it presumptuous of me to list her as a friend or rude of me to list her as someone I simply follow?

Circles on Google+

Manjoo also makes another great point about Google+’s circles:

I wonder, though, whether the whole theory of “circles” is misguided. It’s very possible that we’re all less obsessed with compartmentalizing our relationships than Google imagines. It’s probably true that, as Paul Adams says, we keep multiple circles of acquaintances in real life. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that people want to take the time to reflect that behavior online. After all, in the real world, managing your circles of friends is usually an implicit thing—you hang out with your school friends when you’re at school, you hang out with your New York friends when you’re in New York, you talk to your coworkers when you’re at work. Unless you’re planning your wedding seating chart, you don’t usually go around categorizing and grading groups of friends, adding some people in and keeping other people out. And take my word for it: After you do it for your wedding, you’ll never want to do it again.

Yes.

In the few days that I’ve been on Google+ I’ve noticed that most posts are about users questioning the value or purpose of being on Google+. Others post links to articles like the one I just cited, which either question the site’s value or which list the reasons why Google+ has the potential to be revolutionary, such as “The Google Plus 50.” When I read these articles, I find that they don’t offer users like me many compelling reasons to be on Google+.  For example, do I care that “With G+ seeing our comment streams, their ability to better plot social graphs and integrate AdSense and maybe even Google Affiliate opportunities is huge. (Yes, FB does this, but Google thrives on Adsense.)”? Do I even know that means? Alas, I do not.

Everything on Google+ right now is highly meta.

I am not a media analyst, I’m not in marketing, I’m not interested in “analytics” or “location focused media delivery.” But there should be compelling reasons for someone like me to use Google+. And who am I? Quite simply, I am an avid user of social networking sites. I share a lot of content: links, photos, blog posts, etc., on Twitter as well as Facebook. I truly enjoy chatting and interacting with friends who I have met online. So what value does a site like Google+ have for someone like me?

Sharing photos on Google+

Right now, at least, I am interested in Google+ because I am interested in watching a new social networking platform develop. I was late adopter of both Facebook (August 2008) and Twitter (March 2009), and I have always been curious about what these sites looked like and how they functioned before they achieved a larger user base. What did people on Twitter do when there were only a few people on Twitter?

Currently, Google+ resembles the first 30 minutes of a middle school dance. You were told the dance started at 8:00 pm so you had your Mom drop you off at 8:00 pm sharp. But when you get to the gymnasium, there are only  few other kids there and nobody knows what they should be doing. The PTA did its job and the gym looks great: the strobe light is on, the punch bowl is full, and the DJ is playing “It Takes Two.” In short, every component of the dance is in place, but no one is sure where to start or what to do. Should I get on the dance floor? Should I have a cup of punch? Is it time to start making out under the bleachers?

This is how everyone on Google+ seems to feel right now.  A few of us have ventured out onto the dance floor, posting a comment or a link here or there, and then retreated, noticing that no one else was joining in. But I suppose that this is exactly how a social networking site begins. And as awkward as it all is, I’m excited to be here. I’m ready to dance.

So readers, any of you on Google+ right now? If so, what do you like about it? And more importantly, can you add me to your circle?

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15 thoughts on “First Contact: Early Reflections on Google+

    Dana said:
    July 4, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    I got an invite on Friday but haven’t been able to sign up yet b/c they shut down the join function. when I am able to get on, I look forward to being part of your “graduated from clown college” circle. I am ambivalent about it (your late adoptions look positively trend setting next to mine), but the friend who invited me works at google, so I certainly don’t want to offend him.

      princesscowboy responded:
      July 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      Yes, Dana, we had some great times at clown college. Remember when 10 of us stuffed ourselves into that tiny car? Man that was funny.

        Pris said:
        July 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm

        You guys busted my clown car, though.

        I missed the window of opportunity with Google+, but I absolutely require the ability to create circles – or whatever you want to call them. This is how I ended up with two Facebook accounts, and it’s still not really enough.

      princesscowboy responded:
      July 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      Kara, I think we broke the car because you insisted on wearing those gigantic floppy shoes.

        Pris said:
        July 6, 2011 at 12:07 am

        WHAT’S WRONG WITH GIANT FLOPPY SHOES???

    Kelli Marshall said:
    July 4, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Hmm, I never danced at school dances–always felt as though I’d look like an idiot… I’ll let you all lead.

      princesscowboy responded:
      July 4, 2011 at 7:55 pm

      But you dance on Twitter all the time. This is metaphorical, dancing, Kelli.

    Kirsten said:
    July 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    It is always time to make out under the bleachers.

    brittany said:
    July 4, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I was super early on Twitter and hated it. (I left four years ago and refuse to go back. I have to use it for work and am apathetic.) Mostly, it was for the same reasons you mention: Who’s here and why? I ran around with an early adopter crowd back then and thought I should be there, except I *didn’t* actually run around with them. I just knew them on the internets. And suddenly, the only people I Tweeted at weren’t real friends. I couldn’t have called a single one of them with a real life issue because not only were they not my friends; I didn’t even know, you know, their phone numbers. Ugh. And I have always and will continue to staunchly refuse to join Facebook. Every reason that ever applied still does, though privacy tops the list.

    So even though I seem like too much of a hater, I joined Google+ because I did end up marrying one of those early adopters (the only person who materialized IRL from that time, it turns out!) and he had an invite. Curiosity got the better of me. But I didn’t know the “join” feature had been disabled, which would explain why NOTHING has happened since I signed up. Well, that and the holiday. No one new, no new info, nothing.

    I do like the feature that allows folks to compartmentalize, but when it comes to social networking, I seem to categorically disagree with Manjoo because he believes, for example, that Facebook is inevitable and should be embraced. I expect more from tech writers. I expect a little introspection, a little skepticism. I wish more technology writers had studied ethics rather than journalism. I don’t know what Manjoo studied, but point is, I fundamentally disagree with him that we should all just hop on emerging, sparkly bandwagons and hope they don’t drive us back into some shady ass data mining tunnel from which they emerged. He also takes the liberty of assuming how people use Twitter and the like, which is partly his job but partly (to a reader like me) a self-satisfied, near-prescriptive way of telling people what ways of using tools are “correct,” the very attitude that made me run screaming from a new media grad program full of dudes (male professors, not just students) who wanted to tell me why their privacy norms were superior. “Twitter lets you share stuff with the public at large. Facebook lets you share stuff with your friends. And for private sharing, there’s e-mail, texting, IM, Google Docs, the phone, and, from what I’ve been told, something known as ‘face-to-face conversation.'” Also, it isn’t funny to joke that people can’t hold a face-to-face convo without checking their phones. I digress.

    I guess I end up wondering why people — myself obviously included here — spend so much time thinking about something that hardly exists yet, that may not exist in a few months or years. I suppose my own incredibly long-winded comment just reinforces how frustrated I am by this, even if I’m just as much a part of it as anyone else.

    princesscowboy responded:
    July 5, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Hi Britanny,
    Thanks for your comments! I didn’t realize that the folks at Google+ had shut things down for the time-being. Interesting. I wonder if that means they are retooling?
    Also, can you explain why you don’t do Twitter or FB but have joined Google+? Because right now it is really just a less interesting amalgam of those two platforms.
    I didn’t get the same tone from Manjoo’s article that you did. I think he was pretty skeptical of the whole thing, but offered some useful insight into what it is, at least at the current moment.
    Finally, most of the people I interact with on Twitter are people I don’t interact with in “real life” or at least have only met once or twice in real life. But that’s why I like it so much. Geography no longer limits who I talk to and learn from. It’s wonderful.
    On that note, looking forward to hearing more from you!

    Vik said:
    July 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Just wanted to point out an inaccuracy. Your friends on Google+ have no way of knowing what circle you added them into. All they know is that you added them in a circle and that’s it. So it really isn’t awkward as you highlighted.

      princesscowboy responded:
      July 10, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      Hi Vik
      I know! I realized that after being on Google+ for a few days! The Slate article implied that this was the case, but luckily it is not.
      I have amended this in my post.
      Thanks for reading and commenting

    Juan said:
    August 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Amanda

    I wish Google + were as much fun as reading your comments about it! I don’t know if one can be a lurcher in a social networking site, but that is how I feel about my involvement (or, rather, lack thereof) in G+. I have a profile and have added a few friends and acquaintances in my circles (not many at all, certainly compared to how many ‘friends’ I have on FB or the people I follow on Twitter) but I haven’t updated my status or commented on anything yet. Granted, I find my FB wall really tedious but, at least, it looks different everyday. My G+ stream (at least I’m down with the different terminology for what is, effectively, the same thing) remains unchanged for days on end!

    Thank you for writing the post.

    […] or at least awake and content, I would grab my laptop and compose my thoughts about The Hills or Google+ (LOL, Google+!). I found that, when the muse comes calling, you have to write then, not sooner […]

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