Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guest post: Your Facebook wall is the new Berlin Wall

My roommate wrote this about my last post, which was, in its way, about the many failures Google's new social networking service, Google+. His response is approximately ten times as interesting as anything contained in my post, but also way too long to fit in the comment section. And anyway, if it were in the comments, you probably wouldn't read it -- but you definitely should.

Will, I think you're confusing Google+ with Facebook because they look the same. Ive noticed that their information sharing is actually quite different both in theory and in practice.

The idea behind facebook is that everyone's status is the same in relation to you, they are all "Friends" with a capital "F". This means that they all have the same access to your information and everything you post (pictures, links hilarious comments etc.) is seen by everyone. A few exceptions exist for private messages (just basically facebook letting you email) and different security controls that let you limit what different people see but these are discouraged by facebook and kind of tricky to use. Generally, facebook is "you post something, everyone can see it, no exceptions.

Google+ is quite different. For Google+ you write something, post a picture, link to something etc. and then you CHOOSE who gets to see it. Your options are "public", "everyone in your circles" (basically equivalent to a facebook post), specific circles, individual friends or any combination of the above. This has a number of advantages over the facebook system. First, there is a level of an increased feeling of privacy generally, which a lot of people like (Will, this isnt the crux of my argument don't flip out). You dont really have to be worried about new friends creeping through your old wall post fights etc., the way you do with facebook. Second, lets say I am in a fantasy football league and I just beat the hell out of my opponent for the week and I decide I want to post a picture of said opponent photoshopped in a way that makes it look like he is being sodomized by a football. Obviously everyone in the league NEEDS to see this hilarious picture and maybe one or two other friends, but my Aunt does NOT need to see this picture, neither does my employer or even my friend from high school who isnt in the league and doesnt like football. For this I post the picture click on my "Fantasy Football" circle and maybe a few others who will think this is funny and voila the picture is shared with the people who would be interested. Similarly the people who see it can make crude comments like "He took it even harder this weekend" with the knowledge that only those in the league will see the comments. Obviously a silly example but I think it also makes sense for things like a NYT article on the SCOTUS decision on the first amendment that I know only my friends from law school will care about and so I can just share it with my "Law School" circle. Third, there is the other side of my second point where I dont have to waste my time seeing shit that wasnt intended for me. I dont care about your inside jokes with you high school friends and now I dont have to see them.

The thing is that I really respect Google+ for going a different route with their social networking. Just creating Googleface would have been stupid because I already have facebook, i dont need an exact clone of facebook. The Google+ system has a lot of advantages on the facebook system and the whole managing of circles thing actually seems quite intuitive and maybe even kind of fun. (Note: Facebook has tried this whole "putting people into different groups" thing and it never really caught on, so I think they do recognize the advantages I stated above)

The problem is, for all Google+'s advantages the Facebook system of information sharing is better.

First, the cool part about facebook is that everyone sees everything. So when I think of something funny that I know a bunch of people will like, I can just post it on one person's wall and a bunch of people will see it and perhaps comment. What's even cooler about this is I kind be kind of slick (read: douchey) about it and pretend that it is only aimed at one person, when in truth im kind of hoping everyone sees it and realizes how HI-LA-RIOUS I am. This is great because im kind of downplaying my own humor and pretending its just something silly I thought of that only one person would enjoy, whereas if I share something with a specific 45 people on Google+ then im kind of announcing "All 45 of you will think this is funny" which is obviously lame as fuck. Second, I kind of like seeing things that werent aimed at me. It's fun reading long facebook comment wars about the Minnesota Gov Shutdown between between people I dont know. It's entertaining and sometimes informative. Third, in many ways social networking has always been about creating an online version of yourself. Originally this was done through the creation of a profile and listing things like favorite movies, books etc. That became lame a year or two in. Then people started posting tons of pictures of them doing stuff and basically defined themselves online by the pictures they posted and the stuff they were doing in the pictures they were tagged in (usually drinking). In the last year or so pictures have kind of died off, now a persons online "profile" is made up of the comments they make, statuses and the links they post. I cant think of a single "favorite book" of any of my friends, I also cant remember looking through anyones entire albums recently, but I definitely know what types of articles they post and what their most recent statuses were. When I think of an acquaintance's facebook presence, i think of their comments not their pictures or the details of their profile. For whatever reason people define themselves online now by their facebook activity and not their facebook profiles.* You are what you "like". For this reason you want EVERYONE to see your comments and your statuses. Fourth, I like on facebook how I can see everything if I want to and just look at peoples posts that werent aimed at me. I imagine Google+ will feel a little more "walled-off".

In general Facebook is a free-market information sharing system. The "top news" feature makes it so the more I click on people's posts and the more people "like" those posts the more likely they will appear on my newsfeed. What I see is guided by my own and other peoples preferences. If you post funny, informative shit I will see it. I have to suffer through people posting stuff that isnt relevant to me but thats the price I pay for freedom. Google+ is a more bureaucratic system of organizing who sees things and how information is shared. Im not saying Facebook is America and Google+ is the USSR, fuck it, yeah, thats exactly what im saying. USA! USA!

"if you invented facebook, you would have invented facebook"


*Side note: I kind of want to create an online dating site that is more like facebook in this way. The biggest problem with online dating is the creation of a profile, because talking about yourself is stupid. What would be better is if there were a bunch of facebook-like discussion boards and people just posted their thoughts on different issues and then talked to each other through that. Anyone free this summer with a basic knowledge of website creation?

- Charles Sutton is an expert on social networking and a novice monetary policy enthusiast. He is currently unemployed.

1 comment:

  1. I like the USA/USSR analogy .... Esp. coming from a Canadian! Well said, Charles!