Google fanboys and anti-Facebook dissidents have recently been scrambling to become one of the chosen few allowed in to the hallowed inner circle of Googleplussers, following the launch of yet another “social network.” Apparently Google Chat is not as popular as texting and Twitter, Google Buzz is little more than a barely audible hum, and Google Wave was more of a “goodbye” salute that ending in its formal closure back in August 2010. Add to that the much-hyped but soon dumped excursion into virtual worlds, Lively, and the track record for Google ventures into the social sphere appears to be as shaky as a one-legged flamingo standing on ice during a hurricane.
Of course, these encomia to failure may be why the nascent Google+ is officially a project and not a product. Semantics matter, after all. And by the way, which marketing genius came up with that idea of sticking a plus sign on the end of Google rather than use real words like… well… “Plus” might have been a good start! We’re only a few days in and one blogger has already used the 2011 Cliché of the Year, game changer, in a sentence – for which he should be soundly flogged and made to eat his monitor and a large thesaurus.
Tossing out words like Circles, Huddles, Sparks, and Hangouts, is clearly an attempt to make the new network sound hip, trendy, and cool – and, of course, snag some copyrights by using upper case letters at the beginning. The “soft launch,” as the media likes to call it, has been very much skewed to the geeks, nerds, tekkies, journalists, and bloggers, all of whom gravitate to anything that is new and exclusive. There’s no doubt that the Googleteers planned this ahead, keeping out the common riff-raff until later. After all, who wants to be on yet another network with people who appear to think we are all interested in (a) their kids, (b) their eating habits, (c) how many trips they have taken, and (d) how exciting their lives are. No, the Googleteers wanted to snare the Technorati first, and making it exclusive makes it desirable.
What Google, and any other potential player in the social network arena, has to really come to grips with is simply this number: 24/7. That’s it.
We all have to live in a world that has 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, and time is the one commodity of which no-one can buy extra portions. ALl you can do is shuffle things around. So, by the time you’ve Facebooked your friends, Plurked your timeline, tweeted you current status (several times), texted your family, MySpaced some music, YouTubed your clip of last night’s party, WordPressed a blog post, LinkedIn with a new colleague, Flickred some pics you took on your smartphone, and washed all this down with a generous helping of ordering a book from Amazon, an album from iTunes, a strait-jacket from eBay, and a month’s supply of dubiously sourced Prozac to help you cope… how much time do you have for you Google+ account?
Sherry Turkle is a Clinical Psychologist at MIT and the author of the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (Basic Books, 2011). Feel free to skip the first part of the book about robots but make sure you read the second half and its critique of the pseudo-social culture that social networking can create. The growing tendency to use a multiplicity of web-based networks as a substitute for real, human interaction ends up in our knowing more people but actually socially isolated! This is wonderfully parodied in a recent TV commercial for the Toyota Venza, where a teenager bemoans how anti-social her parents are.
Turkle says that,
Networked, we are together, but so lessened are our expectations of each other that we can feel utterly alone. And there is the risk that we come to see others as objects to be accessed—and only for the parts we find useful, comforting, or amusing.
So we wish Google all the best with their current venture, and no doubt there will be some people out there who find that there are features of Plus that they like and will be happy to try out. But unless Google are also working on a new device to bend the laws of Physics and add a few extra hours to our days, there will need to do much more than add pretty graphics, use fancy terminology, and hide behind the word project just in case it all goes belly up.
So what’s your social network status? Take the quiz.