The question everyone is asking is whether Google+ presents a challenge to the hegemony of Facebook. I think this is certainly the case, because the clever people at Google have cottoned on to some deep cultural inflections that have taken place since Facebook declared veni, vidi, vici.
Having received some emails inviting me to join friends already in on the party just two weeks since it started, and always on the look out for a new haven of procrastination, I am now on Google+ . The site is currently in a “limited field trial” where it is testing itself out with a “small number of people.” That small number, by the way, is over ten million users. This strikes me as a slight understatement.
…some eager trend-followers may find that Google+’s trial period leaves them clicking at the door…
On my first attempt to sign up trial run was full-house. The ‘early adopters,’ that wonderful demographic who are busy getting on trend before the mainstream, got there first. So for now, some eager trend-followers may find that Google+’s trial period leaves them clicking at the door, unable to get in on this shiny new social network. If you are particularly keen, you can ask to be kept posted.
To be fair, it gives Google+ a chance to get everything tidy with the small gathering present, before the house party starts. Mouth’s readers grew up watching MySpace get thrashed by the ever-evolving and occasionally flawed Facebook, that won, I think, because it just felt more mature. Lately, through a quagmire of upgrades and tweaks, Facebook has assassinated the paragraph and mutated its chat feature. If we are to relocate our online social activities to Google+, then we’re hoping it’ll come fully furnished and in immaculate condition.
…concerning the difference between friendship and acquaintanceship.
According the BBC, Google+ has sparked a debate, specifically concerning the difference between friendship and acquaintanceship. Now, debate’s a strong word, but taking a look at some of the features that Google+ prioritizes, it certainly makes one think. In my opinion, Google+ has taken account of some developments in users’ desires which are culturally pertinent. The ideological wave that Facebook rode most successfully was a celebration of transparency, universal sociality and constant, instaneous communication. This wave has now washed back, leaving behind changed wishes from our social media.
Firstly, Google+ encourages you to organize the people in your life into “Circles.” The basic labels are Friends, Acquaintances and Family. I just added Work as one. Any content that you upload can then be limited to a certain group or person, with one click. This can be done in a fiddlier fashion on Facebook using the lists function.
…as one self we actively take on different modes of presentation.
For me, a more intuitive process of monitoring who- sees- what is a key selling point. It’s not that Google+ are implying that we maintain separate identities for work and play. It’s that, true to life, as one self we actively take on different modes of presentation. The friend/ acquaintance distinction recognises the sea change taking place concerning the role of privacy in the zeitgeist.
The recent phone hacking scandal has shown how much having an inviolable private space is considered a moral fact. We’ve started to think, hang on, I don’t want to expose every corner of my life to people I’ve barely shook hands with. Though Facebook is improving its privacy settings, I think it will be remembered as the trailblazer of online personal transparency and the original purveyor of our personal information.
…we spend a lot of our day facing the screen rather than encountering our fellows…
Then, I think a similar evolution in the zeitgeist supports Google+’s “hangout” feature. Basically this is videocalling repackaged to do what it says on the tin, catching your friends online for a face-to-face chat. Google have recognised that people are now yearning for the quality of experience in their online sociality, as we spend a lot of our day facing the screen rather than encountering our fellows in the flesh.
The wallpost is dying out beyond perfunctory “happy birthday” messages- which closer friends will say in person. At least in my case, I rarely use facebook chat except to say “want to log on to Skype?” Though Facebook will soon be offering something similar as a result of their partnership with Skype, for Google+ this is a core feature rather than an add-on.
…Google is offering one point of departure for all ones internet activities.
Aside from these key functions, what I think differentiates Google+ from Facebook is its position in the web. Basically, it means Google is offering one point of departure for all ones internet activities. That is, from a single neat platform you are always a click away from a search engine or social media, your inbox or a street map.
I believe there is a cultural drive for simplification and unification going on within the zeitgeist. Our omnipresent online identity and social media has become soul-like; we don’t want to do a Voldemort and split it up into horcruxes. Certainly, I don’t think people will want to maintain two accounts, with the same general purposes, for too long. In the long run this concept of a unified online presence, along with a movement towards privacy and quality time online, will be crucial if the mainstream is to move out of Facebook and accommodate its online identities in the ubiquitous search engine’s new network.
Image courtesy of Google