"All I Really Wanted"

(credit: XKCD)
Despite being aware of Google’s plans to make a Not-Facebook alternative, yesterday’s launch of Google Plus snuck up on me. Aside from trying out different ways of referencing the service (Google+, Plus, GPlus, G+, +), I’ve spent a bit of time dinking around this morning.

I find myself happy to explore it, but I can see right off that it really is a Facebook clone. What’s the difference? Where my Facebook account has sat largely dormant for well over a year, I find myself as interested in Plus as I was back when I first joined Facebook in 2007. If the functionality is largely identical, then it must be something harder to define. Naturally, I’ll try to define it.

Facebook, and perhaps now Google Plus, are concepts. Facebook was about connecting with various people in a unified space, sharing what you found interesting, and casually socializing without the premeditated substance of emailing or calling someone. It was a trimmed down, more mature, calmer version of MySpace, someplace I’d deigned to join due to its embrace of the dramatic and spastic. It was simple enough, and perhaps most importantly, it was social. Being social was the concept, removed from clutter and complication.

Now shove the names around. Facebook, despite its better aesthetic, has become MySpace, and GooglePlus offers what Facebook once did – in spirit. It’s no longer about what Facebook is, it’s about what Facebook isn’t. I know some reasons I don’t use Facebook now: it encourages self-agrandizing, self-loathing, and self-pity; it has become almost compulsory to be there, thereby making me push away more; businesses have seized upon it as the thing they must do, vainly hoping that appearing current and connected shows the worth of their product/service.

I think the most significant change in my opinion about Facebook came when I noticed my attitude shift about friend requests. After seeking out the core of friends I actually wanted to see and interact with, the secondary friends began to trickle in. I added them because, after all, the point was to be social, and maybe I’d get to know them better through Facebook. Then the tertiary friends – pretty much the acquaintances – arrived. I made the first concession: I didn’t dislike them, so why begrudge adding them. Then the people who truly complicated things arrived: family with whom you conduct yourself differently; professional contacts who you had to worry would be a risk to oversharing, but who you wanted to have connected for the off chance of a professional benefit. Friend requests became fraught events; do I add this person and possibly add more drama to my wall? Do I do so to be diplomatic, or because I like them? What do I risk by declining?

Then you start seeing the effects of such a mixing of peoples without restraint: a constant tide of drama, with people taking offense at another’s sharing, the shaking of fists across ideological divides, and factioning into groups based on what we are/aren’t and like/dislike. It became a chore to log onto Facebook. All of this had a chilling effect on my willingness to share. I’d waffle back and forth between “I’m a whole person here, and if they don’t like the whole person, they can unfriend me” and “Hmmph. Without context, this could seem odd/stupid/offensive.” I’d always try to move back to the “screw it – take me as I am” side, but thinking of what to share became a process of rationalizing. I’d more often then not end up saying “screw it – it’s not important” instead, and not post/participate. At the same time, I was introduced to and began to increase my use of Twitter, where brief and topical socialization was (and still is, largely) all there was to do. In the end, I’ve come to realize it’s that Facebook made me feel asocial. Not a good thing for a social networking site to inspire.

As I wrote this post, Alan Benson mentioned (on Google Plus) something that lead one of his respondents to what I hope will be the key difference: Circles will be key to avoiding this asocial behavior. Facebook added friend groups, and the ability restrict content sharing by groups, but after a couple of years of letting the melting pot of the “everybody into the (one) pool” approach roil and scorch, the damage had been done for people like me. I’d become disinterested in Facebook and its concomitant drama/angst. So from the outset, I’ll make use of these Circles. As Plus gets moving, I’ll keep this up and make use of sharing settings. I’d like to have Facebook back in the way I once liked it, where socialization was the key component.

Oh, and Google? Keep accounts to individuals only to preserve the social nature. When I see businesses advertise their Facebook profile, I can only think of AOL keywords. You don’t want that.


4 thoughts on “"All I Really Wanted"”

  1. Well said. I rolled my eyes at Google's latest attempt at first (recalling the whole Wave thing). Then I started thinking about what "Circles" means. I thought I read nobody ever sees what you name your circles … which of course gave me evil thoughts. "Jackasses" and "Whiners" come to mind as solid categories of people.Imagine the scandal if a bug or security hole ever ends up revealing your labels for people, though. 🙂

  2. "Imagine the scandal if a bug or security hole ever ends up revealing your labels for people, though. :-)" Hey, the paranoia has to be shunted somewhere. I'll keep it to abstract, non-inflammatory labels just in case. Except for you, Josh. You get to sit in the special circle labeled "Both Jackass AND Whiner."

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