Double Plus Good
So, for all my Facebook ranting, I’ve joined the much-vaunted, much-hyped, fastest-growing, social-network Google+. Hypocritical? Pointless? Short-lived? Maybe. But I think that there are valid reasons for adopting Google+, even aside from the fact that it gives you a viable alternative to Facebook.
Instead of reprinting the various press releases explaining just what Google+ does, it’s illustrative enough to look at what G+ does differently from Facebook. Specifically, the entire architecture has been designed with the possibility of privacy in mind. Using Circles as the sharing lens/filter constantly poses the question of who are you sharing this with, and lets you control your expression at the point of publication (not afterward through clumsy privacy settings that are frequently re-engineered and reset). Moreover, Circles allows you to automatically file someone out of sight and out of sharing-reach without the open discourtesy of denying their friend request (and the attendant real-world scorn that tends to go along with such things). Technologically speaking, Circles also makes the Stream you’re viewing much more intuitive and subject to clear and controlled customization, so that you can actually find the social information you are interested in faster without having to wade through posts by friends from decades ago. Or, if you prefer, you can easily block or report people with whom you’d rather not have to interact, and they’ll never know the difference.
Of course, there is the frequently observed benefit that people coming to G+ also have had years of mistakes made on Facebook to make them slightly savvier with how they cultivate their web personae this time around. The fact that people are careful about what they share and to whom adds the benefit of taking a lot of the stalker-allure out of the act of social networking (without being as dry and boring as something like LinkedIn).
To that end, the fact that G+ nestles itself neatly atop your regular Google-sponsored activities (e.g., Gmail, GDocs, etc.) means that you do not have to waste your time within the social network’s four walls, rejecting zombie invitations or tending virtual crops, in the hopes of a poke or a wall post. You just get a notification while you were doing whatever else you might have been doing.
Finally, one huge advantage that G+ offers right out of the box is the possibility of data liberation and true account deletion. This means that your data is your data, regardless of whether or not you decide to stay with G+ or go to some other social network (or none at all). You can instantly download all of your photo albums as a .zip file or export your contact information to formats usable in other software. Try that with Facebook.
Granted, I tend to view most of what G+ will continue to give up to Google as a sunk cost. I have already decided to give away any and all pretense to privacy with respect to Google by using Gmail and the Google search box. Whether or not you have an account, if you use Google, it knows plenty about you. After all, which is the more powerful sacrifice of privacy: that Google can read your mail or everything you put in a search box? Where do you put more of your curiosities, hopes, dreams, desires, fears, or anxieties? Take a look at what Google thinks you’re into (regardless of whether or not you have a Google Account, you do have a device/browser/user-specific Google-assigned cookie). Well, at least they claim “Don’t be evil” as a company motto, whatever that’s worth.
But that leads to the really nice thing about G+: it’s supported by a huge corporate behemoth that is increasingly risk-adverse. Maybe they’re worried about another Google Buzz fiasco, or maybe they’re just trying to fill a niche of consumers that actually has grown to care a bit about privacy. Maybe they’re afraid of the threat of legal liability that might arise from marketing itself in such a way that is false or misleading. What matters is that you can count on huge corporate entities caring about their bottom line, and therein lies the only avenue for the redress of privacy wrongs. For example, if G+ seems has actually marketed itself as being somewhat privacy-minded, the Federal Trade Commission could intervene on the grounds that Google has committed unfair trade practices. And because the FTC’s announcement that they are investigating Google can do enough to temper Google’s stock price as the actual imposition of a fine would, there may be hope in Google’s throwing itself onto the mercy of the public.
When setting out to enter an oligopoly such as the social networking world, it only makes sense that a new entrant would have to offer an extremely high-quality product and compete on that very differentiation in order to gain adherents. And if we’re not willing to demand a seat at the bargaining table to determine who gets the rights to our private lives, at least it’s nice that there are more firms in the market to compete on quality.