I’ve been playing around with Google+. As others have stated, it’s Google’s best foray into social networking. It’s an impressive product, defined by Google’s typical clean interface. The idea of “circles” is somewhat related to Twitter Lists and is helpful for organizing friends/colleagues and tracking different activity streams. Within our research on social network software at Athabasca University (the Elgg-based The Landing), we (mainly Jon Dron, actually) have been looking at ways to create different representations of activity streams to meet the needs of different contexts. Elgg – with its varied activity feed – is an early implementation of Circles. In fact, Elgg was far enough ahead of both Facebook and Google that only this year – with Facebook’s Groups and Google’s Circles – have popular SNS offerings caught up with what has been central to ELgg for several years.
In spite of the promising state of G+, I have a few concerns. Some are small – such as “what kind of a goofy URL have you foisted upon us Google” – mine is: https://plus.google.com/112869117429645144444/. Yes, I’ll remember that. “I’m gsiemens on Facebook and Twitter. If you want to connect with me on G+, I’m 11286911….”
Other concerns are significant and may represent a misunderstanding on Google’s part about how people structure themselves in personal networks. Most evident is Google’s power law making network ways in G+. While power laws (Pareto’s Principle) may exist in many areas of our lives – banking, TV watching habits, book purchases – they are surprisingly absent at a personal level. Yes, I likely respond to a small cluster of blogs and tweets that I encounter. But my personal networks – family and friends – don’t seem to have the power law structure of my public identity. For example, I move fairly fluidly between my personal networks. Facebook gets this. I’ve had very few “way out there” friend suggestions on Facebook.
G+, on the other hand, has been busy trying to make kings of a few: Robert Scoble, Mike Arrington, Loic Le Muer, Mark Zuckerberg, and so on. (Techcrunch addresses this issue as well.) I have precisely zero interest in those people. Nothing in my email history indicates that I would like to connect with them. Google’s algorithm is whacked on how it recommends friends: it is recommending them based on power laws (who is most popular) not on my personal interests. This is a fundamental and significant misunderstanding of social networks. Network properties are different at a personal and social level than they are in public spaces. Worse, G+ is, with this friending approach, altering the influence of individuals in networks. Personal networks don’t need Lady Gaga’s. Public networks do. Google doesn’t get that.
For some reason that I’m not fully clear on, I’m concerned that Google is more in the mode of gaming networks than in helping people connect to people that matter or are personally interesting. Is the intent to get early tech geek adopters to fall in love with G+ and feel invested because they have tremendous follower counts? If so, then there is some hope for G+. They just have to recommending by generic network/power law algorithms and start recommending by MY personal interest and existing network. If G+ isn’t recommending based on driving geek adoption, then I’m afraid Google doesn’t understand the distinction between networks as a mathematical entity and networks as a personal, lived, experience.