The Web Is Alive With The Sound Of Google
For the past four years, Facebook and Twitter have dominated my personal home entertainment time, when not reading a good book or comic, or watching a movie of course.
This was time I used to allot to television, until broadcasters found new efficiencies with their production budgets by creating an endless sea of inexpensive, “reality-based” entertainment spectacles for a reconditioned mass audience to consume. I didn’t buy into the new era of television programming. I prefer the level of engagement I enjoy interacting online. Paraphrasing a term borrowed from Chris Hedges, I have chosen to explore and hermetically seal myself into the many “online intellectual ghetto” bubbles which can be found on social networks. In this time we’ve witnessed Facebook evolve into the gated community of sharing it has become (an oxymoron?), with its excessively circuitous and continually changing security and privacy settings. We’ve also watched Twitter grow to become the “grand leveler” of information networks, with sharing unfiltered and accessible to all, but perhaps without it having been fully able to shake its undeserved reputation as a nerd hangout.
Now there is Google+, which draws the best from both networks, while housing some new features exclusive to this fresh, new environment. One of these new features—already dubbed as the new killer app—is the “hangout.” I recently enjoyed my first “hangout” with a bunch of artists, techies, and even a Google employee friend of a friend. We were all able to chat via webcam in realtime, distribute links, and share YouTube videos simultaneously. I can’t help but think that the developers at Google learned a thing or two from the immediacy that webcam environments like Chat Roulette brought internet users at the beginning of 2010. But where Skype and Chat Roulette are peer to peer, one on one experiences, Hangouts provide a multi-user video chat “cloud” architecture, working natively within your browser, without the need to download add-ons or plug-ins for it to work. Hangouts not only provide a robust and “realtime” interactive concurrent audio/visual/text communications forum for users. I see a potential down the road for businesses to capitalize on the power such an environment might provide, from a customer service perspective. These kind of “alive web” environments, as some are now calling them, is the kind of immersive engagement people will quickly come to expect online. Hangouts is a huge, innovative leap forward in global communication, perhaps even a game changer.
Similar to Twiiter, you can follow anyone on Google+ by adding them into your “circle,” regardless of whether or not they choose to follow you back. This removes the awkwardness of having to mutually friend someone to see their content (although there are security features already available on Google+ if you choose to restrict access to your shared content.)
The migration over to Google+ has been fast and furious, even in its infancy, with already a staggering 20 million users already registered, and increasing rapidly. Google+ is still limiting membership, but not for long. I am assuming they are building excitement and curiosity while they prepare to scale up this network. What is fascinating to see is how users have not only assimilated into the new interface, but how they are actually posting user suggestions and feedback on their profile pages for everyone to see. Google staff are listening to these user feedback and tips. Google+ software engineers like Kelly Ellis are posting about changes and adaptations to the interface almost daily, right on her profile page which you can freely follow by including Ellis in one of your circles.
Even retired MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson is now on Google+ as a “voice” to follow, with an interesting, experienced perspective on the birth, growth, maturation, decline and (let’s face it, sorry Rupert) death of a major social network.
Google+ hasn’t rolled out vanity URLs yet, something Facebook did a couple of years ago, which is helpful from a personal branding, self-promotional standpoint, but I assume this is imminent.
What is especially fascinating to see is how quickly some people are willing to join this new social networking mechanism, and how willing people are to embrace it. Five years ago, you would have seen great trepidation from a company on whether or not to engage. How the world has changed. Now we see media companies like the Huffington Post, post a staff list of who is already on Google+.
Conversely, the question will be how sharing fatique will play a role in the migration process over to Google+, and what the result will be with the inevitable segmentation of audience which will undoubtably occur. Will Google+ ultimately devalue Facebook, like Facebook devalued MySpace? As well, there are casual social network users who will choose not to leave their comfort zone on Facebook and/or Twitter.
Of note: one thing that I did not notice immediately, that was pointed out to me by gay civil rights activist, #canqueer hashtag creator and tweet machine Justin Stayshyn: as part of the registration process, in addition to male and female gender options, Google+ is providing a third “other” option, something Facebook has refused to do. This is another step forward in acknowledging gender diversity by a powerful, progressive corporation.
Lastly, my “sparks”—another Google+ feature that lists subjects of interest aggregated by specific groupings—are movies and comics. Illusory entertainment bubbles die hard I find. Bam! Pow! Zap!
Michael Thorner tweets at @michaelthorner
This column originally appeared in IN Toronto Magazine, August 2011 issue.
Editor: Gordon Bowness