Archive - Jul 2, 2011

Additional Random Thoughts on Google+

Yesterday morning, I finally managed to get into Google+ (although I still cannot run the Google+ android app). With that, I can now call myself an expert and pontificate with the best of them. There are several different topics that people are talking about in Google+. The biggest is how to use it. Some of the more experienced technology writers look down on this topic. They appear to have distain for self-reflection. Personally, I think these are the most important discussions.

First, I’ll draw an analogy. I remember when I got my first hybrid car. I had fun driving it around, just for the sake of getting to know what it could and couldn’t do. I would talk with friends about the pros and cons of the little display on the dashboard that showed how the hybrid system was working. I kept glancing at the display, and modifying my driving behavior to get the best benefit out of the car. I shared my ideas with others, and they gave me valuable insights as well.

That’s what is happening right now. To me, and it appears as if it is the case for others as well, the big idea is ‘circles’. Instead of adding friends or following people, until you get to an unmanageable mess, like has happened for many on Facebook and Twitter, you can add people to ‘circles’ and then interact with circles, instead of with everyone in the world.

This begs the question, how best to organize your circles. This gets to the limited field test of Google+. I’m going to guess that the people at Google don’t really understand what these circles might mean, so they are allowing people to play with them, so that we can all see what emerges as the best way of organizing circles.

My suggestion that Google might not really understand circles is based on a few different things. First, they suggest four circles, Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following. Other than family, which I only have one person in right now, who is waiting for an invite, I have not used these circles. They seem to me to be too old school. They show up at the top of the lists and cannot be removed. I have created a new circle called, Misc., as a nod to David Weinberger’s book Everything is Miscellaneous. I put everyone in Misc. Yeah, perhaps Misc and Following are the same. If I could rename Following to Misc, I might have stayed with it, but to me Misc, is more than just Following. There are people who are miscellaneous contacts that I may not especially be interested in ‘following’, at least in the way I follow people on Twitter. Instead, I want to keep them in my Misc. category as leads to people I might want to revisit at some point.

With that, I’ve started creating categories based on contexts that make sense to me. I’ve created categories for locations. New Haven, Connecticut, Texas, California, etc. These might not be where the people are from or currently reside. They are simply where I associate them as being from. This illustrates one of the things I wish Google+ circles had, which a lot of other people have talked about as well, circles of circles. If I add someone to the New Haven category, they should be part of the Connecticut category. Likewise, I have a Progressives category and a Politics category. For me, I’d like to have everyone I put in my progressives category in my politics category.

I’ve also created a Technology category, a Virtual Worlds category, and a Nonprofits category. I’d like to be able to do Boolean logic on this and see what my friends in nonprofit technology are saying. I also had the idea for some sort of ‘rules’ processing of circles, but I’ve forgotten how I thought that should work, so I’ll just leave that hanging for right now.

Others have written about how they think Google Plus' Circles System May Not be Sustainable. The illustration they use is of what happens when people change jobs. Like with the idea of putting people in a Friends circle, putting people in a Work circle may not make sense. However, I may set up a CHC circle when some of my current coworkers get invites. I may set up circles for other companies I’ve worked with in the past. I might even set up a meta-circle of people that I’ve worked with at some point. To use circles effectively, I believe you need to think out your relationships over time, and how they change. Yes, that will require updating information about some contacts at some points. Of course that reflects life as well. It is important to reflect changes in relationships.

All of that said, I want to think about some of the underlying concepts about circles for me. The first is Dunbar’s number. The idea of Dunbar’s number is that we can only really keep track of around 150 people within a given context. It is the way the mind is wired, Dunbar suggests, and is backed up by all kinds of research from the size of early tribes to even online behavior today. As a general rule, I want to keep my circles, which might be thought of as the tribes I belong to, as having less than 150 members. My Misc circle is already well above that, as would other circles that might be circles of circles. When a circle gets to have 150 members, it probably should be broken into subgroups.

This gets to another idea I’ve been interested in. While I am not well read on System Center Therapy and the work Yvonne Agazarian, she has written a lot about subgroups, and it would seem interesting to take her theories about subgroups and think about how they might apply to circles and circles of circles.

One thing you may notice. I really haven’t touched on the issue of privacy. For me, I like to share everything I write with everyone. I figure that once it is online, no matter what people say about privacy, it is really public. I do worry about spamming my friends and might find times when I want to share what I’m writing with a subset of people, but as a general rule, everything I write, I consider public.

However, this isn’t the case for others, particularly doctors and therapists. Some people I know set up different accounts, work accounts and personal accounts, or they use different systems different ways, i.e. Twitter for everything public, Facebook for everything personal, and LinkedIn for everything work related. Through the use of Circles, Google+ may be a good solution to various of these issues.

With that, let me return to the key part. Google+ is still in a ‘field test’. To me, that means that it should only really be used by people interested in exploring new ways to use it and how it could be used as a disruptive technology. I remember back in about 2007 going to advertising conferences where people dismissed Second Life and Twitter as having no potential. While I still believe there are interesting opportunities for virtual worlds, I question whether Linden Labs will allow that potential to be reached, so to me, the jury is still out on Second Life. However, Twitter seems to have established itself pretty well now.

I suspect anyone prognosticating about the future of Google+ is, hmm, I can’t think of a polite way to put it. Think about smoky orifices. If you are going to look at it as a replacement for Facebook or Twitter, there isn’t a lot there right now. However, it is still an evolving field test. The thing that will make it interesting, or not, to me seems to be if people can find new things to do with it. Like the cellphone or the copying machine, if you look at what they were expected to replace, they didn’t have great prospects. When you look at the new things people could do, it became a different story.

A side thought about this, I have to wonder how Google+ relates to The Google Grid in EPIC

Will people find something interesting, new and disruptive to do with Google+? We’ll see. To flatly say no, simply reflects the inability to think innovatively, and as an early field test, it is really only the innovators that ought to be in there.

My two cents for now.