or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

On Google+ and the Role of Social Networks

   July 5th, 2011

Last week I received an invitation to join Google+ (Google's version of Facebook). I don't use Facebook and don't entirely trust Google so I won't be creating an account, but it did get me wondering: does the internet need another Facebook?

Usually when I'm online, I'm looking for an answer to a question or a solution to a problem. To visualize that process, and hopefully provide some context for a new social network, I came up with this Venn diagram that identifies the available various pools of people...

Venn Diagram for finding answers online

Based on this, it seems like Google+'s goal would be to make the green circle bigger - but I don't think that's what happens. Closed networks, like Facebook and (I presume) Google+, at best only make their portion of the green circle bigger, but often don't even make it into the green circle at all*. This can actually make it harder to find answers, as homopholy might keep us using the most convenient resource, instead of the most appropriate one.

The important thing to remember is not to rely on one tool for everything - closed-loop social networks are good for keeping in touch with friends, but open forums like Ask Metafilter, Ask Slashdot, or Quora are better for non-social answers (but okay for those, too).

So with that, the question is: is Google+ a better way to keep in touch with friends? It seems like the answer would be "no" if the critical mass of your friends are already on Facebook (and unlikely to switch, or unlikely to maintain both). But from initial reviews (also this), it sounds like Google+ has some cool ideas, so its real impact might be gauged by how quickly Facebook adopts the best features.

And the next question is: have any libraries started using Google+ to connect with their patrons?


*Note that one of the qualifiers is "people who know what they're talking about" - a social network might make it easier for me to get my question out to people I know, but it doesn't help if no one I know knows the answer to my question (which might just indicate that I socialize with the wrong people).

Tags: , , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “On Google+ and the Role of Social Networks”

  1. sharon Says:

    It hadn’t occurred to me that Google+ could be used to find information. It’s true that I have asked my Facebook friends for things like the best place to go see fireworks last weekend, or the best way to care for hardwood floors, but I probably wouldn’t ask them about a problem with Windows 7 and OverDrive Media Console. Instead, I’d go to a forum that was more focused on such issues.

    Would I use Google+ the way I use Facebook? If Google can handle the privacy issues that Facebook seems to keep fumbling, I will definitely use it. (I only just received an invite a couple of days ago, and haven’t done much with it yet.)

    Will my library use Google+? Well, we don’t even have a Facebook page yet, but once Google+ is open to the general public, I will certainly put the suggestion out.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Sharon: I guess it all depends on who is in your social network. But a multitude of resources is helpful – I might ask my friends for restaurant recommendations, but I’d probably also check Yelp reviews, too.

    As for privacy, I not really inclined to view that as a realistic expectation with this type of social network. Facebook has made rather spectacular missteps in that area, which Google+ will probably learn from. But with Facebook, and even more so with Google, the users are not the customers, they’re the product. There really won’t be any personal privacy with these tools, because selling your personal data (or access to you based on your data) is how they make money. In this way, Google has the edge, because they can combine your social networking with your activity on Gmail, Search, rss feeds, Docs, Maps/directions, Calendar, ad clicks, Books/Scholar activity – any Google tool you use while logged in is probably tracking your information to build as detailed a profile of you as possible. Google+ might do a better job of making users feel safer, but I do think the whole point of the tool is to collect private data, not protect it. As always, read the Terms of Service carefully.

    And my library doesn’t have a Facebook page either, although we should by the end of the month. The idea of maintaining that and a Google+ page is daunting – but I guess no more so that the libraries who had both Facebook and MySpace profiles. I suspect that different groups of patrons will use the different tools, so it might be true that libraries will need to be present in both places, but with slightly different focuses.

  3. Diana Moore Says:

    Facebook has been Google’s main competitor. Google+ is Google’s way of attempting to change the tide. In 2009, MySpace usage fell drastically, as Facebook became the social network of choice. I guess Google is hoping for the same thing now!

  4. Amber K Clooney Says:

    I think the question is not whether users will be willing to use both social networks, but whether users will migrate from Facebook to Google+. Most of those early adopters who were on Friendster and Myspace just use Facebook now because after a while, Facebook was where everyone else was.

    I have been on Google+ for about a week. I haven’t used it much or looked at all the features, but it is obviously still in beta. The number of users seems extremely low at this point because they are shutting off new users periodically even if they have invites. They are doing a very slow rollout.

    Until it becomes a public site, I’m not going to try to use it to communicate with my patrons because most of them aren’t on it (if any at all). Also, I don’t use my personal email or social network accounts to communicate with patrons, and Google+ doesn’t currently offer the ability to make pages for institutions or businesses like Facebook does. Until that feature is added, I probably won’t use it.

    One feature that is nice, though, is that you can create a circle of people (like a friend list), and you can have your posts go out over email if the people in your circle aren’t on Google+. So that might be a convenient way to manage an contact list because you can contact people who are using the network plus others who aren’t.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    More on Google+ and privacy: http://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/07/11/0510237/How-Google-Measures-Up-On-Privacy

  6. Carrie Says:

    I could be wrong on this, but it is my understanding that libraries will not be allowed to use Google +. Then again, now that I have said that someone will probably point out a library that has figured out how to do it.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Carrie: I haven’t really heard either, but that makes sense. It took Facebook a long time before they developed some kind of option for organizations, and with the slow rollout Google+ is doing, they might wait awhile until they offer an official option.