In my last post, I expressed my concern that Google+ has just too much to overcome to truly succeed as a newer social media. The two concerns I raised dealt with Facebook’s lock on the market due to Metcalfe’s law and the need for a flexible and malleable identity that moving to one social networking site might hamper. While I think the former argument is relatively unquestioned – and recognized as Google+’s biggest hurdle – the latter actually can speak to the largest benefit that Google+ offers: identity management.
While one way to maintain flexible identities is through diverse social networking sites with differing purposes, Google+’s circles may offer an even more ideal method. Specifically, as I note earlier, my tone, my style, and my content differs across my social networking presences, which allows my audiences to pick the information they are most interested in. However, in this iteration, content consumption is still driven by the audience. What Google+ offers if for information presentation to be determined by the content producer.
The importance of this change cannot be underestimated. For example, the benefits of social media for teaching have been enumerated – and I’m eager to begin testing this myself. Yet my Twitter feed, blog, and Facebook page often address political topics, including my personal (and sometimes partisan) opinion. So a question for me has been: how can we utilize these social media without making students uncomfortable with their professors’ views?
Google+ offers the perfect medium. By letting the producer rather than the audience choose who gets to see what, there is more opportunity for social media segregation. I can continue posting political stories and positions – but only share those links with friends or those interested. I can have a “students” circle which is entirely devoted to their class projects – and they can do the same for me and other professors – facilitating outside the classroom interaction without either side screaming “TMI”!
A few problems do remain with this idealistic view. The first, of course, being lock-in, as discussed extensively in the previous post. The second, however, is how to find people who share your interests. If I start posting all my political posts (or social media posts or even class-related posts) to a particular circle – one that isn’t publicly shared – how are new readers to find my content? If I post it to everyone – to the public – how is it any different from a blog or Twitter? Sharing circles or the new Ripples feature of sorting trending topics both seem like part of the answer – but limitations remain: Circles can let people know where you group them (when you may want that information private) and their content is often unclear (e.g., what is a “social media” circle?), and Ripples deal with public posts, not private. Deciding how people graduate into the semi-private circles in a way that benefits both the producer and the audience remains problematic.
So the mechanisms of finding people while taking advantage of the huge benefits that circles offer is one yet to be navigated. However, the potential power of the site – especially for teachers – may make it worth the effort to overcome, both in terms of escaping the social media lock-in and in terms of navigating circles wisely.