I’ve had an enjoyable time playing around on Google+ for the past few days, and I think I’m ready to talk about my impressions. First, here’s a little recap of my social(networking) life so far: I never got in on Myspace. I’ve only ever tweeted for work. My Linked-In profile is still only halfway filled out, I think. I don’t do anything more social than watching science videos with my kids on Youtube. Mysterious concepts like Orkut, Foursquare, Hi5, and all the rest, just haven’t even hit my radar. And as you know, I have a “like”-hate relationship with Facebook.
Although I’ve been a loyal Gmail user since early in the Gmail beta days, I only dinked around for about five minutes total with Google Buzz. And I don’t even remember Google Wave coming out. But when I heard about Google+ being invite-only, I had that same mysterious, exciting feeling as when I heard about Gmail. I had to get an invite. I guess “scarcity” marketing really works on me. Since I wasn’t one of the privileged awesome people who got invites from google itself, I eventually swallowed my pride and begged one off a friend (thanks, Dorothy!).
After about three minutes in Google+, I realized that I really pretty much do completely hate Facebook. I just never was able to admit it to myself, because I didn’t feel like I had an alternative. I hate the games, I hate the apps, I hate the polls, I hate the annoying interface that’s always changing, I hate the ever-secretly-evolving “privacy” policy, I hate the ads, the “Sponsored Stories,” and all the other clutter, and I especially hate the annoying proprietary algorithm that has the audacity to decide for me what is important enough to appear in my news feed.
I feel so much better having finally said that. But hating Facebook doesn’t mean I’m anti-social(networking). Because I like Google+. (And not in the Facebook sense of “like,” either.) Why? Let me count the ways.
1. Google+ admits the existence of acquaintances, something roundly denied by Facebook’s homogenous classification of everyone from your mother to your doctor’s cousin’s mailman as a “friend.” Sure, there was the whole “Top Friend” debacle, but do I really want my other 300 friends to know which 20 are my “top” friends? No. Google+ allows you to organize your friends into as many “circles” as you like. It comes ready-made with four circles (“friends,” “family,” “acquaintances,” and something else, which I still am not able to decipher, since the whole thing showed up in Arabic because I’m in Tunisia). You can rename the circles, and add more. And people can be in more than one circle (kind of like gmail’s label system). Since we move way too often, I’ve chosen to organize my people by where I met them. I’d be interested to know what other people’s organizational systems look like.
2. Google lets me choose what ends up in my news feed. Facebook obviously doesn’t know (or care) what’s really important to me. I have no interest in a lot of the stuff that ends up in my feed, and I’m always going to friends’ walls instead, to see what I’ve missed. On Google+, you decide what ends up in your “stream.” Google+ also makes people more accountable for what they post, by giving you a chance to decide whether a given status update would interest your family and friends, just people who knew you in second grade, or everyone in the whole wide world.
3. All the little things. My blog address shows up right on my profile. There’s this cool thing called “sparks,” so my google news feed on Tunisia, Syria and Libya shows up at the click of a button. I haven’t tried it yet, but you can do group video chat via the (somewhat lamely named) “hangout” feature. Also, that annoying powder blue color is noticeably absent. And did I mention that there are no ads either? It’s not that I miss the ads or anything, it just seems a little weird, considering that Google even puts ads in my email.
You probably all got invited before I did, but if not, I’d be happy to oblige. Try it. You’ll like it! Everyone seems to.
Well, almost everyone. After being kicked off of Google+ for a community standards violation, the hacker group Anonymous started its own social networking site, Anonplus.
I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Anonymous ever since they hacked several Tunisian government websites in solidarity with the Tunisian revolution, as well as providing crucial WikiLeaks documents to Tunisians, back when the internet was still heavily censored here. Anonymous went on to perform similar hacks in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Jordan, and Morocco. Considering the fact that all I’ve been able to contribute personally to the Arab Spring is a few blog posts, I admire Anonymous’ talent, ingenuity, and willingness to fling themselves into a cause that means freedom for millions of people, at considerable personal risk to themselves.
Over a dozen Anonymous members were arrested this week, although whether this will have any effect on the group at large remains to be seen. Although I don’t share all of Anonymous’ (admittedly rather nebulous) opinions, I think they are to be commended for much of their work. Even if, like many historic non-violent dissident movements, theirs does involve some illegal activities. Thoreau’s words spring to mind: “A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.” Harlequin would be proud.
So what’s your take on Anonymous? Important dissident movement? Or menace to society? Will you be joining Anonplus, Google+, or just sticking to good old Facebook?