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Categorisation angst, the monoamorous and Google+

Yes, we're all playing with Google+, and I suspect blogging reactions to it, but this is not one of those posts (quick verdict: it's immediately better than Buzz/Wave, and Circles combined with Hangout could be very useful for research teams, institutions). No, what this post is about is the categorisation dilemmas that tools such as Google+ generate, and our relationship with technology.

In terms of categorisation my first dilemma was whether work colleagues count as 'friends'. I chatted to George Siemens about this and he concluded he didn't have friends, just colleagues (or colleagues who are also friends). I'm in a similar position, or at least my online self is. I do have some friends (some of whom are not imaginary), but they tend not to be the sort of people who'll be in Google+. And there are plenty of people I work with who I would also count as friends (such as George). And then there are people who I've never even met who I think of as friends (Jim Groom and Alan Levine for example). But friends is a very laden term, so do I want to recreate the Facebook definition, or reclaim it for 'special' people? Dunno.

And on this subject of this I am unsure which approach to take to adding people into Google+. When I started in Facebook I befriended anyone, but after a while I stripped this back to people I knew reasonably well. In Twitter I have a more open approach, although once I was following about 1000 people I stopped following back automatically. So do I want the wide or narrow network in Google+. Dunno yet.

Lastly, looking at Google+ brought to mind a post I did a few years ago, in which I argued that we are largely irrational in our choice of software, but often dress this up in terms of rational decision making around features. We have an emotional connection to software and tend to be loyal to one type. We are essentially monoamorous for categories of software, you're either a Facebook or Twitter person, a Blackboard or Moodle advocate, Flickr or Picassa freak, etc (you may have accounts in both, but you're loyalty will be with one or the other). As I argued then, it's like the team you support (in football or whatever) – the whole point of the attachment is to have only one (although it is acceptable to have more than one loyalty at different levels eg local team, main team, national team).

If you are launching a new software service then this monoamorous behaviour is significant – either the service needs to be better enough to lure people away or it has to be distinctive enough to constitute a different category. You can't rely on people wanting more than one service that does the same thing.

Which brings me back to Google+, sooner or later those of us who use these things intensively will have to go with one or the other. There will be cross-streaming so you can feed one from the other, but our attention and loyalty will be with one or the other. And in these kinds of businesses, it's attention that counts. 

Which leaves me with the big question – which one will win my affections? Definitely dunno.


  • Alan

    Facebook has certainly tainted the “friend” term, where it is built by one click, but not really for my own personal sense of it. I am glad you consider me a never met friend (as I feel the same way), and it is my continued pleasure to develop online friendships that never surprise me once I get to meet those people. In fact, I am getting more than my share of closing those real circles on my current trip around the US and Canada.
    Frankly I am wary of a social space where I selectively communicate with people via such channels, it is the thing about twitter that I can say things I mean for a certain group of people, but it really is said in public. I worry that circles may become a bit silo-ish, but also realize it is too freaking new to be drawing the conclusions that people are doing in such wave-like fashion.
    But I get what you are implying, we may have presences on many of these services, but invariably we put our effort in one camp.

  • Grainne Conole

    Hi I agree with you and George – have colleagues who are also friends, but my ‘real; friends don’t tend to be in these social networking spaces. Also agree that the circles + hangout feature could be useful for both research groups and learners. Dipped into a hangout last night that Stephen Downes set up was very good I must say.

  • Spacemonki

    Hello, you don’t know me, but I like the cut of your jib.
    So, I’ve been thinking about where Google+ fits in and why it currently fragments.
    For quite some time, I’ve felt slight unease with term ‘friend’ when drawing boundaries within online relationships. I used to only have work colleagues who I’d drink with in the pub as my FB friends; then I got an email from one work colleague asking me why I hadn’t accepted their friend request? An awkward email exchange ensued.
    I changed my policy sometime later, with the main reason being that I would consider anyone a friend and control access via the privileges. Then, a work colleague raised an issue regarding content I published as being inappropriate for work colleagues. I’ve had the same issue with Twitter – I might tweet a thought regarding an issue within the workplace and suddenly I’m being politely asked to refrain. Ultimately, I decided that I would block all work colleagues from both Twitter and Facebook with the exception of four or five work colleagues who are genuinely friends outside of the office and whom I’ve said that I may tweet or post a status update that expresses an opinion that might be considered inappropriate for the workplace. Its a Follower/Friend beware policy.
    So along comes Google+ and suddenly, I have exactly what I felt SNS lacked – circles; an easy way for me to define and manage the social boundary lines. The drawback of course, is that I now have Twitter, FB and Google+ to maintain … and three is a crowd. I don’t want to close my FB account as this is the preferred choice of SNS for many people I’d lost contact with and am delighted to remain in touch with. Twitter, great to follow many people I enjoy feeling contected with (Stephen Fry for example). Google+ … after the initial joy of having SNS done smart, the reality is simply that I’m using it less because its additional time to spend on less reach than either Twitter or FB.

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