A few brief thoughts on Google +

As someone who has been on Google Plus for a little less than a week now, I too am a bona fide expert on this new social network– or at least as much of an expert as the people who haven’t really used it for anything yet but speculate on its usefulness.  For example, ProfHacker has a post here about it, and they point to an article in GradHacker here.

It is far FAR too early for anyone (certainly me, as an expert) to speculate too much about what G+ is for (or not); that said, let me speculate a bit on what G+ is for (or not):

  • Everyone seems most excited/interested in talking about hot G+ allows you to set up “circles” that sort out who you connect with and for what purposes.  For example, some of my circles are “comp rhet folk,” “EMU,” “Friends.”  So far, the vast majority of people I’m following are in the “comp rhet folk” circle and are fellow geeky-types who are mostly kicking the G+ tires.  Anyway, this is not that big a selling point over Facebook for me because I’ve been setting up groups for Facebook for a long time now.  I spent one afternoon a year or so ago putting all of my “friends” into lists, and I have a couple of lists (for example, “students”) which I regularly do not post updates to.  If that makes sense.  So while I agree that G+ makes it a lot easier to sort out friends, it is not as if this is completely impossible on Facebook.
  • One thing that is a lot easier with G+ is to “start over” in terms of the whole social networking thing.  If I were to do Facebook all over again, I wouldn’t have friended everyone I have; in fact, I might have even left FB to just the handful of “real friends” I have out there.
  • The most potentially useful part of this is the poorly named “Hangout,” which is group video chat, basically.  I haven’t used this yet and I am kind of dubious as to how well the group chat will work technically, but I can definitely see the point in trying to use this kind of tool for teaching, particularly for online teaching.
  • I’m a big fan of just about all things Google.  I love gmail and google reader– use them every day– and google docs and google sites are go-to places for me for teaching, working with collaborators, etc., etc.  Having said that, I have to wonder what is “in it for them” with G+.  Sure, Facebook is kinda evil, which is why it is useful to try to a) figure out how to set various privacy setting there, and b) remember that whatever you post on Facebook doesn’t just stay on Facebook between you and your friends.  But always remember that Google is primarily a media company, so how will they use this new service to sell ads and/or mine user data? (And BTW, literally as I am writing this, Jeff “Yellow Dog” Rice just posted about this very topic in some interesting ways.  And I also just came across this somewhat alarming discussion of the issues of privacy on ZDNet).
  • Right now, G+ feels a little to me like Ning.  As they describe it on their web site, Ning lets you “create your own social web site.”  This was at one point pretty popular with some of my MA students/colleagues interested in secondary education I think because it gave teachers the chance to “control” a social setting.  So you had some of the advantages of  a social network site but while closing out all the “nasty bits” of the internets and MySpace and such, those “real world” elements that secondary schools are always trying to make sure do not leak into the closed world of classrooms.  Well, the problem with creating your own social network is it isn’t really too “social” (and/or much of a party) if people aren’t showing up.  Which makes me wonder if G+ will go the route of Wave or Ning.  On the other hand….
  • … Who knows?  Before MySpace was “the place” to be, there was Friendster; and before Facebook was it, there was MySpace, which was sold off very recently for what is a relatively measly $35 million.  So who knows where we’ll be in a year?  Right now, G+ is mostly a curiosity and one that makes me think more about my relationship with Facebook more than anything else, but a year or so from now, maybe it’ll be the “go to” social network and Facebook will all but done.  And then my mom will join G+ and the “cool kids” will be on to the next thing.
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