I left Facebook about a year ago and have been using Twitter as my primary social tool ever since. At the heart of this decision were my main gripes with Facebook:
- Facebook misrepresents relationships
It’s clear that Facebook was designed by a young person with borderline Aspergers. Relationships are black and white, you’re either a Friend or you’re not, and they’re symmetrical – information has to flow both ways. The real world doesn’t work like that, I have real friends, family, casual acquaintances, people I like to keep up to date on but who I’ve never met, and people who like to follow me but who I don’t know. I interact with every one of these groups of people differently, and very often in asymmetrical ways. The concept of a ‘Friend’ who I’d share private information with online is completely unrealistic. I know Facebook bolted on ‘lists’ but everything is totally hobbled by this misguided overarching ‘Friend’ concept.
- Facebook’s signal-to-noise ratio is unmanageable
Whether it’s automated posts from games & other poorly considered apps, or just people pouring every trivial little element of their life into it, I was drowning in trivia in a few months to the extent that it was a chore to keep up to date. This is a function of the people you’re connected with of course, but here’s the problem – because of the way Facebook simplifies relationships, you can’t really do anything about it without offending someome, because:
- Facebook creates social awkwardness
Because Facebook only recognises one type of connection as pointed out in 1, it makes managing your information stream impossible without offending someone. For example, I may very well have real friends / family who I want to connect with, but who I don’t necessarily want to listen to 24/7 because they have .. ahem.. ‘very poor communication filters’. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them, we just communicate very differently. Sure, I might want to dip into their updates every so often, but I don’t want to have to wade waist-deep through their posts every time I go online to find the gems from people who are better at filtering themselves.
On Twitter, I just unfollow people who I don’t feel like listening to every day, and trust others to RT things that are good (I can always re-follow later). They don’t get told, and generally it’s not considered offensive. Conversely unfriending someone on Facebook is equivalent to saying you never want to speak to them again – it was literally easier just to close my entire Facebook account than to deal with it any other way. Sure you can create a Facebook group, but since groups are visible to all, creating one called ‘People I like in person but who are kind of annoying online’ isn’t going to avoid the problem.
So I went with Twitter because it basically sidesteps all these issues by being public (lack of ‘pretend’ privacy leaves no-one under any illusions about appropriateness), asymmetrical (I can follow someone without them following me and vice versa), and easily managed / filtered without offence. I largely had given up on a ‘rich’ social network that worked the way I wanted, because everyone else seemed to swear by Facebook’s way, which I hated.
Then, last week Google came out with Google+, their latest answer to the problem. Invitations are hard to come by, they’re still in limited testing, but I managed to sneak in before they closed a loophole, ironically via friends on Twitter. I didn’t expect to like it – I expected another Facebook – but I was wrong. Key to what makes Google+ different is that it doesn’t use the concept of ‘Friend’, but instead uses a core concept of ‘Circles’. Google have done what Facebook have refused to do, and have recognised that relationships aren’t binary, aren’t always symmetrical, and are all different. Circles can be used to filter the things that you post into groups of people who can see it, but just as importantly to filter incoming posts too. Most importantly, the person can’t see what Circle you’ve put them in! So if you like the person in real life, but find their online posts a bit vapid, you can put them in a circle that you don’t have to read as often, and they don’t have to know. No-one has to get offended, and you get to keep your stream sane. Perfect.
So far, I like it – it’s taken the best bits of Twitter (control without offence) and Facebook (rich media platform) and slapped them together. Of course, there’s the question of whether people wedded to Facebook will switch or not, although for me that’s a moot point since I already ditched it, so any people on it that do come across to G+ are a bonus, but I lose nothing if they don’t. Twitter users seem to be quite eager to adopt it, probably because they’re natural early-adopters and appreciate the Twitter-like circle setup for the same reasons I do.
And it’s for that reason that I think Twitter has most to fear from Google+. Facebook will probably trundle on with all the people who don’t particularly care about managing their streams in an optimal way and don’t feel a need to switch. Twitter though is used by a lot of people (like me) who are a lot more picky about this sort of thing, and those are exactly the people for whom Google+ will resonate the most. Right now, the main limiting factor is that there are no native tools for Google+, and using it on a phone or iPad is still a bit clunky compared to the kind of optimised native tools you can use for Twitter. But that’s coming I’m sure.
I haven’t even talked about the group video chat, or the really nice photo viewer, how Google+ notifications appear when you’re on any Google site (search, GMail, Reader – a huge advantage for adoption), or how they’re iterating really fast on this. In all, I think it has great promise to be a social network that doesn’t annoy me – yet. One of the big challenges as they develop will be how they handle bot-posting from the inevitable games and other applications once the API is released (I hate it when people hook up everything under the sun to auto-post to social networks, and I unfollow them on Twitter even if they’re friends). We’ll see.