Google+ the Next Big Thing? Or Just Another Social Network?

The article I read for class was definitely an interesting one. Starting with the title, “Social Networks are Dead: The Business of Google+ As a Service” absolutely caught my eye. The article was on Forbes’ website, a highly reputable publication dealing with business. The actual article was originally on SiliconAngle.com, and author Kristen Nicole definitely had an interesting viewpoint on social media networking websites and the future of Google+ as a service.

To summarize the article a bit, the author supposes that Google+ is in fact not a social network, but what she dubs “an anti network”, or a “service” and citing it as a “religious experience”, though I do not necessarily agree with these assertions, I will speak about them more later and try to flesh out some of the ideas Nicole is throwing around.  The main thrust behind Nicole’s argument is that with Google+, “The integration with search and the personalization of search is crucial” to its success, unlike other competing, but undoubtedly popular, social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Another reason that the author believes Google+ is so great is that Google has is “an existing business, firmly rooted in advertising”, again, something that Facebook has seemingly failed at.  This “individual based filtering”, and using data to predict individual behavior is what makes Google+ more than a social network to the author. In short, our pre reliance on Google for other things such as mail, a search engine, weather, etc. will allow the overall experience of Google+ as something more than a social network to prevail. This is definitely something to think about for the future, and to track if Google+ actually becomes the ultimate “service” the author predicts it to be.

Using some of the concepts talked about by Nancy Baym in her book Personal Connections In the Digital Age”, like the four social discourses of new media, the overall stance that Kristen Nicole takes in the article can be further fleshed out and  analyzed to some extent. In particular, I will look at the “social shaping of technology”, and how I believe the author uses this particular discourse within the article. Essentially, social shaping of technology is a middle-ground between technological determinism and social construction of technology. It takes into account the “affordances” of a technology as well as the expected (and unexpected) ways that people make use of these affordances (Baym 14). In the article, the author talks about Google+ being more than a social network, given the various uses we have for Google, and the potential for these various uses to draw us in to Google+ as a service. In ways, these “uses” for Google (like using the search engine, looking up directions, weather, pictures, using Gmail) as affordances of the technology. Cognizant of this, the ways that we utilize these affordances, the “data” that the author talks about, would be the ways that we socially shape this technology. I myself am not a member of Google+, but I have heard many peers and friends of mine praising it for its ultimate integration various aspects of the internet that we use on a daily basis. According to the author, the merging of the social networking facet of Google+ and the affordances it already has given us will in turn cause the service to become bigger, more popular, and more successful. This is not only from a casual user’s viewpoint either; the author suggests that business will soon look to Google as a “collective whole”, given that “Google+ is the axis of your public and personal lives.  Attached to your email, web search, location, photo gallery, calendar and surfing behavior, Google+ can compare you to millions of other users, to understand us all a little better.” (Nicole 3). Ultimately, I believe the author is asserting that both Google+ and the services it provides, as well as the users shape the way we use this technology, and will continue to well in the future.

Now, to tackle the main “issue” that I had with the author’s assertions in the article. Right off the bat, she labels Google+ as the “anti social network”, pretty firmly. Now, this may just be an exaggeration or maybe the term went over my head, but Google+ is definitely a social networking site in my eyes. And I am not the only one who would believe this- boyd and ellison define a social networking site with quite specific parameters that Google+ meets, and more. According to them, a social networking site is defined as,  “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.” (Boyd & Ellison 2). Now, to outright say that Google+ is not a social networking site is silly, and I don’t think the author is doing that here. What I DO think she is saying is that Google+ is a service that is “on another level” than Facebook or Twitter, due in part to the plethora of privacy settings, lack of “status updates”, and integral ability for users to “control their social experiences online” (Nicole 1). So, Google+ probably is a social networking website, but may be one of a different breed, with big potential, according to the author.

I am very interested to see where Google+ goes in the future, in terms of advertising, integration, and overall popularity. Though I am not a user now, if the flame of Facebook burns out (like many predict it will), will Google+ be the only place to turn?

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One comment

  1. When this article was mentioned in class, I was really intrigued. One of my good friends is an avid supporter of Google+, but I just can’t seem to jump on the bandwagon, even though he made me a profile. The thought that this is less a social networking tool and more a service seemed interesting, but after reading your post, I think I can see why it hasn’t picked up–it doesn’t fill any voids in the social media experience.

    Other social network sites have situated themselves nicely–where one site lacks, another makes up. For example, I first got into twitter when I felt super annoying for wanting to update my facebook status all the time. But more generally, Facebook is for keeping in touch, Linkedin is for professionals, Pinterest is for inspiration, Twitter is for sharing your thoughts, even MySpace is still relevant for music fans…I’m not sure what tumblr is for, but people seem to like it. Facebook and twitter both offer the options of organizing your friends/the people you follow into lists to keep your interactions organized–so it seems like the only truly new feature Google+ offers is to combine your social media experience with the rest of your internet use.

    Of course, it would require some ethnographic participation to understand what is really going on on Google+, and perhaps some surveys of both users and non-users to understand the issues with Google+, but based on your post, it appears to be too heavy handed in combining business with pleasure. Google first gained popularity when it offered a simple, streamlined search engine on a homepage not cluttered with ads and features like the other top search engines were (think about how cluttered Yahoo!’s homepage is)–I would recommend they take a look at their original business model, and not overwhelm users with features we are already used to finding elsewhere.

    In addition, brand loyalties can be very strong and probably don’t help them attract users to the services Google+ provides. To prove this would most likely require interviews, but I can’t imagine trusting weather reports from anywhere but weather.com, or storing my pictures anywhere but snapfish. Google+ either has to pray for facebook’s demise, or actually come up with something innovative to expand its usership.

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