I thought I had all kinds of answers to that. My kneejerk reaction to just about any new social networking service is “because it’s annoying.” Possibly, it is still totally annoying and I may come to neglect it as much as my Facebook account (which I largely have because “librarians are doing it” and I’d rather have a visible page that I control speak for me on the internet, rather than let others do it).
Here are some reasons why – and why I haven’t found it that annoying (yet).
It’s largely based on the fundamental difference I feel between Google+ and Facebook. Facebook is for personal stuff, even when it’s at work. I have a busy job pruning my account if I even allow people to be able to post on my wall. I use it to broadcast that I have a new blog post, and to broadcast my Twitter feed to people who don’t use Twitter. But the majority of my “friends” on it largely use it as a social space to socialize in inappropriate ways with people who aren’t really their friends. If I’m presenting my Facebook identity to the world, under my real name, I’m going to be very careful about how I present myself – and being careful means very, very limited information. I have enough on there to look legitimate, but I see it as a way to market myself, not a platform for socializing.*
Why do I see Google+ as different? I think it’s the general feel of it. It feels to me like Twitter, and that’s a very positive thing. I love the Twitter model. No reciprocal friending expected; follow people whose posts you think will be interesting (like a blog), who you probably don’t know in real life and don’t have any expectation of contact with. (I have to say an @ message from someone I was following, or from someone following me (one way), is exciting and flattering. So that’s good too.) There’s no need to grow an insane network of people you don’t keep track of and don’t really know. They can follow you, but you don’t have to follow them. Prune as needed.
The second thing I love about Twitter is the sharing, and Google+ has integrated that with both +1 likes and the ability to post to your feed. It’s like Twitter on crack, only if Twitter were a tired old wrestler rather than a nimble little bird. There’s a lot to be said for the 140 character model. I personally think it’s the force that drives the insane level of communication that goes on there every day. It’s so easy to post, so quick, and so easy and quick to send an @ reply. But even quicker to hit “retweet.” It’s a magical system for dynamically generating temporary networks that ebb and flow, that come together out of nowhere and then just as quickly disappear.
Someone referred to Twitter as “ephemeral in nature” when talking about its downsides. I think rather that this is a strength. Twitter moves at the speed of the little events of everyday life, no matter if they had to do with what you’re eating for lunch, the conference session you’re sitting in on, or trying to avoid the cops at a demonstration.
And its the quickness of Twitter that I would argue leads to its power in briefly but powerfully harnessing the masses. As I type, several #anonymous tweeters are calling for a boycott of PayPal. These retweets are traveling faster than I can type. This is a far cry from setting up a web site petition, or even a facebook group petition. I can’t think of a way for information to spread faster, and I think it’s tied directly to the often-derided 140 character format.
What does this all have to do with Google+? I am on Twitter (under my real name) to keep connected with my profession (DHers are big tweeters), communicate my ideas to a big community, retweet stuff from groups that interest me, and generally keep tabs on my spread-out intellectual and personal networks. Mini-updates. And they’re from people I want to communicate with in a largely professional way. Under my real name.
Google+ has me under my real name. If this were a network like Facebook, I’d have already freaked out and registered under a dummy gmail account with a pseudonym. I am very private about my private life. But I see this as more of an opportunity to start turning my Twitter activities into longer-form posts. The huge advantage is that people outside of the wall of Facebook could come across them easily; people who follow other people in DH that I don’t know might find them and comment; and it’s a perfect platform for marketing myself now that I’m going to be searching for a job in the upcoming months. It’s the platform I’ve been waiting for: professional Twitter+.
Of course, Google+ is still in the early stages but I don’t see it as a Facebook-killer at all. Facebook will continue to do what it does best: allow people to friend each other and waste each others’ time as effectively as possible. Facebook stays within Facebook. Google+ feels so much more connected with the rest of my Internet life, just as Twitter does. (e.g., the fact that I have it feeding my Facebook status updates.) I’m interested to see where Google+ goes, and hope that the invites keep coming out so I can collect more of the people I know and, just as importantly, the people I want to know.
* There’s a time and a place for that; you can find such places on LiveJournal and by using Facebook and Twitter with pseudonyms.