Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Google+ Gets a Lesson in People Skills

Google+ is having an identity crisis. It doesn't know whether it wants to be a social network or a datamining racket. Despite its having been around since the 90s it somehow fails to realize that there are many levels of personae on the Internet and that there is no simple black and white when categorizing them for inclusion.

Let's go over the key categories so Google has a point of reference. They obviously haven't been looking at their own search results (and they used to be the cool search engine)...

1. RL. That's it. Real name. Actual location. They're either posted for business networking or for staying in touch with family and friends. Fair game for knew-you-when types and people from Jr High you don't miss. Also fair game if you met someone on a dating site or went into RL Mode with a virtual relationship and they're stalking you and your friends list.

2. Real but Protected. This can take many forms, particularly initialled or using a false name known only by your "inner circle" for the purpose of convenient remote interaction with a specific group of people and no access to profile specifics from outsiders. Can be confused with 3.

3. Virtual identity. A combination of 1 & 2. It protects the offline identity but serves a genuine purpose for people who have forged relationships and contacts online. Even in some cases the virtual identity is used for business contacts on an overt level while individuals may know eachother offline. Virtual and real are not so different except that one gets the bills; online they take on the same nontangible form. I've been using them since 1996. I have more friends and acquaintances online, particularly since all my local friends moved away from the area. I've touched many lives and have been enriched by many lives. No corporate entity has a right to judge the quality of my life based on my onliine name or profile image, which says at least as much about me than someone who posts a picture of their cat or baby.

4. Role Play identity. This in itself is a grey area category, and unfortunately the Virtual identity is lumped together with them. While this may be important to the player and their gaming friends, a roleplay identity limits their interactions to them and other game contacts. Out of Character discussion involves rules strategies and story. All considerations aside of how much time gamers spend and the limitations of their networking, they almost always have a voice in a game-related forum and dont really need or rely on general social networking sites.

5. The Fa├žade - may be a blogger or reviewer who keeps their actual identity a secret, even may satirically take on the identity of a fictional character but obviously so. They are often witty but mostly of service to their genre community. For example "Dr Longscarf" compiles the best news links that come to him that day for Dr Who fans. He kids about being a timelord. We know he isn't one, and he's good for a debate or two when the situation calls for it.

6. The impersonator. Fake accounts for known fictional characters and celebrities. I'm following Queen Elizabeth II on Twitter. I know it's not her, but she's funny. So's Tony Stark. I can see where a social networking site such as Facebook and Google+ would object to them, and in many cases it's an act of griefing to pose as someone else. But to confuse these with types 1-3 or even 4 is ludicrous.

Google+ has to do right by the virtual community. It IS a community.  Unless the US$300,000 mark we're closing in on for Relay for Life doesn't count either?


  1. From my POV I feel very let down by Google - I thought they understood this. FB says you are 1 person and all the people you know are your friends. I did not expect Google to just change the last bit to "all the people you know can be separated".

    Ultimately it's no hardship for me - I don't use FB and never will, so if G+ is just a slightly more flexible FB I won't use it either, but I still feel very let down by them.

  2. I dont have a problem with FB. I like having the events consolidated (even though they cant get their act together and show them in local time), seeing likes, seeing articles and links, NOT seeing the games my friends are playing that I'm not, and yes FB does have lists you can categorize friends into and control each one's level of access (although I havent pursued this but friends have).