Sunday, August 14, 2011

Google+ killed the Social Networking Star

When Google+ emerged I admit I was sold almost immediately.  I trust Google technically.  I long solved the problem of trusting them to mine my data by simply not sharing anything online (not even in e-mail) that I really need to keep private.  I have friends in my physical surroundings to turn to for support about such sensitive topics, plus I have a 11 year relationship with a therapist with whom I share one of the richest relationships of my life.

So, when I've got something come up that is so sensitive that it's not appropriate for this space I simply don't mention it online.  Yes, I have had such things happen recently.  I have a number of wise, loving, understanding friends in my geophysical vicinity who are generous with their hearts and with their time when I need a true, exclusive confidant.

Further, zen practice has helped me move beyond the notion that the self is something that exists, much less something that needs to be protected.  So I really don't care if people use information like the fact that I have a therapist, or have had bariatric surgery, or have a thing for Asian women, or any number of other potentially embarrassing factoids against this entity called rdewald (or Richard DeWald) that you all mistakenly believe really exists.  

It doesn't.

it seems to, I know.  It appears to, I will grant you that fully, it really does seem to be something individually-existing and separately-identifiable.  But after looking at it carefully, I see that it's not real.  There's no there there.  Really.

So, Google+'s real-name policy doesn't bother me.  They simply need to make an adjustment to associate handles with real names, and then enforce the one user instance per human being policy using the real name.  This will accomplish their ends and it will be over with.  

There is a social engineering aspect to this they are also acting to exploit.  People are much better behaved when they can be held accountable for their behavior.  Almost everyone I know uses online anonymity to enable something they otherwise hide.  I don't.  I've found that there's a good reason why I'm ashamed.  Shame is very wise.  

It seems fun to be sexy, or sadistic, or outrageous anonymously, but the truth is just like overeating is not an effective way to manage anxiety, or binge drinking to manage shyness, or indulgence in sadism to manage powerlessness, shameful behavior is unwise not because it is wrong, but because it doesn't work.  There's no tranquility in a Big Mac, no confidence at the bottom of a bottle, no power in hurting people.  These are all dead ends.  They don't work, they just fool us.

Google has decided that their online community will be a nicer place if people have the accountability of their real names, since these are so widely identifiable.  They're wrong.  This is an adolescent notion and I expect they will abandon it.  Humans are not so simple.

People already have a non-anonymous handle via e-mail addresses.  There's a mature model already in place.  We all have several e-mail addresses, but we typically use one of them as our primary account.  That's the address we use to conduct online commerce, mostly stay in touch with people, and operate as an online citizen.  That's what Google is interested in, they should keep their eye on the ball and give up social engineering.  It doesn't work.

I can't believe that so many otherwise rational and seemingly intelligent people are getting wrapped up in this as if they, as users, have a stake in Google+.  The users aren't the customers.  The users are the product.  Advertisers are the customers.  They charge (or will charge) the advertisers.  They are the true stakeholders.

The users don't pay the bills, the advertisers do.  Get over it.

So, as a user, I have this contract with Google+:  you enable my social networking, I allow you to analyze what I post here, both text and media, examine and track my relationships so that you can tell your customers, the advertisers, what I am likely to buy.

Agreed.  Thanks for all the fish.

But, we are in an in-between time here.  Google is following their long-successful model of development.  They put something usable out there, let people use it, and find out from the users what is broken and what needs to be fixed.  Once something is working, they are very conservative with deployment.  It takes them a long time to roll out enhancements.

Meanwhile, Google+ kicks Multiply (my primary social networking platform) out of the park because of the user base.  I had solved this problem personally because I belong to a very robust and cohesive online community that moved to Multiply.  As a platform, Multiply is okay for social networking, more than okay actually.  They have a few niggling problems to work out technically, but it works well for the most part.  The problem is people have to sign up for a separate account.  That's a high hurdle.  It will be their undoing.

Multiply also faces a business problem.  They have two customer groups to please with directly conflicting, mutually unresolvable needs.  They regard both their group of users and their advertisers as customers.  They can't do anything but piss one or both of them off in some way.  Television dealt with this for many years by scarcity, they were the only game in town, now that industry has turned to unscrupulous pandering to the basest instincts, the lowest common denominator, and has all but killed off creativity in the medium, which completely loses people like me.  I don't have TV service in my home.  Their advertisers have completely lost access to me.

I just let my Multiply premium account expire because I don't see my social networking future on Multiply any longer, so I am seeing the banner ads and the pimping to my inbox that they must do to sell advertising.  That makes this a MUCH less desirable social networking platform.  If it weren't already circling the drain in my life this would have done it by itself.  I can certainly see now why they don't attract new users.  Facebook does this a lot better.

But Google+ didn't release their API in time, they missed that bus.  There's not a large enough Android user base to sustain the model's reliance on third party app integration.  They need to be fed by twitter, IOS, and Facebook.  They need to be fed by third party apps.  They needed to take a lesson from Twitter that they missed.

They'll get it.  They're Google.  But it sucks to wait.

Meanwhile, Google+ has sucked the air out of the room at Multiply, yet it's not ready to it's replacement.  Sigh.  My online social life is suffering because of it.

That sucks.