Ever increasing circles: Is G+ gaining traction?

I’m being circled. Or at least I’m being added to circles. On G+. You know, Circles…Google Plus…what do you mean you don’t use it?

Yes, I know, G+ almost universally gets a, “Huh? What? Oh yeah, I heard about that this one time but I’m not *on* it” reaction when you mention it. The sort of dismissive derision usually reserved for veteran networks MySpace, Friends Reunited and Bebo. But I’m sensing a quiet, gentle changing of the tide for the network.

Just recently I’ve been getting a lot more notifications that I’m being added to people’s circles or that a post I make (I know, I’m not just on it I actually *use* the thing. Crazy times) has been +1’d. Where I might have gone a week with nothing very much happening apart from updates from the same handful of people passing through my feed now I’m part of a couple of pretty active and useful Communities and those notifications are coming in (sometimes in double figures) every day.

I think…and let’s whisper it so as not to frighten them off…but I think the early majority are coming.

That’s right, G+ is still very near the start of the curve for adoption – we use Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation Curve to illustrate that. Here’s a video discussing where G+ was on this curve back in 2012.

So, from what I see G+ is – at the moment – mainly innovators (Google engineers) and early adopters. The network may just be about to bridge the chasm and welcome aboard that early majority.

I can’t be bothered with another social network…

Quite frankly, who can? But G+ isn’t really a social network. There’s a great article here about what it is – and, fair warning, it will probably fascinate and terrify you in equal measure.

For while on the surface G+ has all the elements of a social network (although there aren’t many baby photos or ‘like this post if you hate haters’ posts…yet) underneath Google has it working another purpose: search.

Which is sort of obvious when you think about it. Google has the market on search, they are hungry for data to get even further ahead and pursue the holy grail of ‘Perfect Search’.

John Battelle describes this evolution of search in his book, The Search:

“Search is our mechanism for how we understand ourselves, our world, and our place within it. It’s how we navigate the one infinite resource that drives human culture: knowledge. Perfect search – every single possible bit of information at our fingertips, perfectly contextualised, perfectly personalised – may never be realized. But the journey to find out if it just might be is certainly going to be fun.”

Is G+ one step on the journey toward this highly intuitive, pre-emptive, personalised search? Maybe. When you look under the hood it certainly seems closer to that than it does the established social network model.

For like Johnny 5, it would seem G+ wants input. It wants to know what you’re doing online, where you’re doing it, who you’re doing it with. Sure, this will be unsavoury to some but like other less-than-ideal online operating models (*cough* Facebook privacy *cough*) it’s going to be balanced by the lure of convenience, to you, the user.

You probably don’t even realise you’re giving Google so much of this information already. You’ve probably got Gmail, you may upload stuff to YouTube or be logged in while you watch stuff (hell, you might even be a YouTube commenter but I’m not here to judge). Or you might have a Local Business account, or use any one of the many many Google Apps. Or you might just have a friend that has sent you an email from their Gmail account and they’re now being gently nudged to invite you over to the email client or add you to their G+ Circles. When they do that might be enough to make you investigate, and possibly to sign up, and circle some other people.

And with Authorship Google is getting you to explicitly make the links between what you say and where you say it. This model may very well lead to a change in power between employers and employees. as this article puts it.

It’s all input, all of the time, that is letting G+ learn more about you so it can deliver you things before you even know you want them, simply from what it knows of your digital behaviour and interactions.

And with wearable internet like Google Glass, getting input about your real world location, behaviour and interactions is just round the corner.

Of course, that’s the way all great sci-fi starts so there’s as much chance of this ending with machines over-powering puny, convenience-driven humans as there is of it leading to a utopia of perfect search.

I’ll take those odds…now, how do you switch this thing on?

So, you’re going to give the network a chance. You sign up, or in, and then what? It’s all unfamiliar. How do you find people? What do you do once you’ve found them? What the hell does that dohickey do? Before you put all of your frustration into dramatically closing the browser tab, remember this is how it felt the first time with all those other networks too.

The first time I looked at MySpace I felt like the internet had vomited into my face. When I created a profile on Facebook I had a momentary feeling of weightlessness as my grasp on digital communication shifted on its axis. With Twitter there was a good period of ‘I don’t get it, whatever’. Now social media is ingrained deeply in my daily routines and probably yours too.

I’ve found the best way to get to grips with G+ (and I admit I still don’t really know what I’m doing, even poor ill-fated Wave was more intuitive than this despite its primary buffer panel flying off every few minutes) is to join a Community. For me it’s the LocalGov Digital Community which has a handful of regular posters and the beginnings of some interesting discussion.

It’s quiet for sure, but it’s growing. And you know what, quiet is nice right now. After the clammer of the mainstream networks it’s great to have a place that lets you curate, create, share and discuss content without distraction from invitations to join Candy Crush Saga or play a hashtag game.

So, stop thinking of it as a wannabe Facebook slayer and start seeing G+ as something different – as social search curation, not just a really small social network. And if you don’t want to give so much of your online persona to one corporation – even one that’s motto is ‘Don’t Be Evil’ – my guess is you’re going to have to start working harder than ever in the coming years to really stay off their radar.

It seems only right that I encourage you to circle me on G+, join the LocalGov Digital G+ Community or a Hangout (LocalGov Digital Hangouts – video chats – are the third Thursday of the month between 2 and 3pm).

But if you’re still deliberating between the red and blue pills then you can take the path better known and leave me a comment or tweet me.

And, as ever, if you’re read through all of this and are thinking it’s all well and good but it could do with more rock and roll you can find my words about music on Louder Than War.

 

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