OK, so my friends have a high proportion of early adopters, and this week I have received an increasing number of email requests to join Google’s new social network, Google Plus. In the past I played with MySpace, Facebook, and several others i have since largely forgotten — any future biographer is going to have to do quite a bit of data archeology to find my many web presences, assuming anyone ever wanted to write a biography of me, which is to put it frankly, unlikely.
So yes I do have a gmail account, and so I signed up to take a look. It’s quite interesting actually.
How does it compare to Facebook? Well it’s VERY quiet at the moment, as in beta test. The android app is pretty useless in many ways, but the full Google Plus web site is pretty simple and easily grasped, and I have now spent a couple of days exploring it’s potential. The biggest difference is you arrange your friends in circles – I think I have about 15, though the default setting has four I think — and people can be listed in more than one circle. You can target your status updates, photos etc to one of your circles or several; so this morning I wrote a little piece on city gates in medieval England and Wales that I targeted only to my friends in the Ars Magica circle, as they will find it interesting, but my friends in the SPR and Sceptic circles will not see it, as it would be at best irrelevant and at worst dull to them.
Now imagine you want to share a risqué joke, but don’t want your son or maiden aunt to see it? On Facebook there are ways of targeting specific groups, but I have always found it horribly complex to do. I just spam everyone with my blog posts: paranormal researchers see gaming stuff, and gamers get to hear about the latest controversies in psychical research. Google Circles makes this easy — want to post pictures of you drunkenly dancing in a hula skirt at last weeks Darts tournament, but not want your work mates or boss to see them? Google circles allows this. Want to hide your other partner from your boyfriend? Easy! Ideal for the easily embarrassed, bigamists, or those in sensitive jobs, Circles certainly makes data sharing easier. It ends the mass of easily available public information that is sent out un-targeted, and issues over whether you should add your colleagues to Facebook . I think it will be welcome, and is a major step forward in managing your private data.
I of course don’t care much about this — I have often joked that I grew up in public, and am a very open person, but nothing like the Facebook generation have had to learn to deal with in terms of how much of their lives is constantly on display. But I see the potential for humour at leats – hence my post this morning —
Now to see if Circles work, or if my prayer group and Sunday School class is outraged, horrified and starts to comment on my bizarre tastes in … oh dear, I set this to “public”!
I don’t actually belong to a prayer group or Sunday School class, but I can see some mistakenly shared posts now really messing up some people’s lives, because circles gives the illusion of privacy. But to be honest, it doesn’t.
If I post something to just one person in a circle, let’s say I create the circle “bestest buddy who would never betray my secrets” and add a mate, well THEY can still share my post with others, privately or publicly. Yes if you click to share a post a little warning thing comes up saying “this person posted this at limited; are you sure you want to continue, please be careful how you share their data” or similar, but hell you can still do it. Even if you could lock your posts to view only, someone could cut and paste them, or ultimately just take a screen grab and post that. So despite the illusion of privacy, anything you post on the network is ultimately down to the discretion of your friends, and while you might know who “leaked” it (in the example above, there was only one person in that circle), well it still is out in the public domain.
So my advice is as always, never post anything on the web you are not happy to share with the world and posterity, because once you send it, it is out there forever. What Google Plus Circles does is to give you a little bit more control, and a little bit more reassurance, but ultimately, you must still accept that once you click send it could one day come back to haunt you.
Still looks like a promising service, and think it’s well worth trying out. I’ll post more when I learn more about how it all works…
EDIT: The excellent Daniel Rivers tells me there is a way to make posts unendurable, preventing simple dissemination of your dark secrets, via the drop down options. Of course cut and paste and screen grab still works, but this is a major improvement on Facebook I think! Otherwise your bestest buddy could share your status update, and cunningly do so in a another circle you are not part of so you are not even aware they have passed it on.