It seems that Google+ will turn out to be the fastest growing social network ever. Using an invite only policy, it managed to drum up significant buzz among the geek and internet elites. It borrowed several features from the once heir apparent Diaspora (Diaspa-what? remember the six figures worth of funding they generated on Kickstarter just last May?). But in light of all of this, I postulate that it is doomed to failure. Precisely because of what many see as its strongest asset: the ability to share what you want to share with only who you want to share it with.
On Social Networking:
Firstly, let’s talk about Facebook’s flat hierarchy. All of your friends are pretty much at equal weight. When you friend someone, from the acquaintance at the party, to your husband and your mom, they’re inherently equal. You can create friends “lists” but the fact that they are something you have to dig for- and not a feature that is pushed from the outset means a majority of users choose not to do this (This is key in the argument later on).
In a person’s Facebook friends list they may have 500 friends, but of those how many are their real friends? There’s even Facebook groups devoted to this phenomenon. When I say real friends, I mean how many people that you meet at a party* will add you to their “friends” group the next morning on Google+, and how many will add you to the innovative “acquaintances” group?
On Facebook, your best friend and party acquaintances would see the same updates (remember, most users use the defaults); whereas on Google+ you are forced to make a decision from the outset. Since the acquaintances/friend distinction is a choice you are forced to make from the outset, as they are defaults, one would expect that the division is created from the outset.
On what is seen and what is unseen:
If you are in a group such as acquaintances, you may see nothing that the person you met is sharing with their friends by default. You only see what others consciously choose to select with you. This is great for privacy. But this eliminates what some have called the “Facebook effect.”
It is common to hear people who use Facebook on a daily basis refer to it as “addictive” because of a seemingly compulsive need to check the page for updates, or update their own status several times a day. Because Facebook is so accessible now that it is available on most mobile phones in addition to computers, status messages become a sort of a running diary of events in a person’s life, and many users will post the kind of information that would normally be reserved for a close friend or confidant on their pages. (article source)
If everyone shares primarily with close friends and confidants- or selectively choose who to share with: that Football update goes to my sports-loving friends; the music update goes the guy I jam with; the personal one goes my friends and I’ll let that article I shared get shared with everyone I’ve ever met.
On Facebook I would have seen four updates whether or not I was close to that person. I would have reason to come back and check it compulsively. And perhaps I see those updates from among 100 or 200 people (I’m generalizing, not everyone is a prolific Facebook friender….). On Google+, it wouldn’t be shocking to maybe only see one update from this person depending on how close I am to them.
On the future of Social Networking:
Facebook recently registered 1 trillion pageviews in a month. At the risk of overgeneralizing, this seems to say something about human nature. The reason we friend more people than we’re close to, the reason we compulsively refresh/check Facebook several times a day is that we like the constant activity. Facebook has tapped into that.
Google+ has consciously decided not to tap into that- and that’s fine. But I think that the notion that it will replace all of Facebook, Twitter, Business newsletters and e-mail is a bit premature. I’m not even sure if it can even begin to replace what Facebook has become. Sure, people say they want privacy but as William H. Whyte so beautifully illustrated in his work “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” people tend to gravitate to where the people and the activity are. And I wouldn’t be surprised if a good deal of people would rather hear a hundred updates from people they half know and never see than just three or four updates from their closest friends that they were going to talk to anyway.
*Yes, I use the classic “person you met at a party” as it is one of the tropes of the “friend everyone on Facebook” phenomenon. Substitute accordingly based on your old experience. If Party Friend doesn’t resonate with you, Gawker has a whole list of people you can substitute.