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Saturday
Jul162011

Where's Our Google, Too?

I felt compelled to add my opinion to the billion-strong chorus of ill-baked and half-formed critiques and hagiographies of Google+ on the basis none of them seemed to catch on to some fundamental facets of media ecology. Media ecology put simply is the study of media as an environment and was pioneered by Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul and many others. In honor of ABC Radio National's week-long celebration of the life and work of Marshall McLuhan, I present my simple media ecological analysis of Google+ and why I don't feel it'll take off to Facebook proportions.

1. Because it's Google+, not Google 2: Electric Googleoo

The mantra of media ecology, especially that of the late great Neil Postman is that new media is not additive but transformative. You don't get a culture plus television, you get a completely new way of disseminating and interpreting information. 20 years ago, not everyone needed a computer. But in 2011 you go into someone's home, chances are you'll see a computer in residence with a connection to the internet. Computers hooked up to the internet are a material change to our culture that results in a behavioral change. Go to any restaurant and see the new table adornments: black rectangles that go "ping" when your date is talking about new boots or football or whatever.

Google+ only works on the premise that it will make a material or behavioral change to your life somehow. If you intend to own a Chromebook, then yes - Google+ makes total sense. Using Chromium OS, Google+ fits right in to the entire purpose of the operating system and the computer; making it a purely web-based machine and experience.

If you don't own one nor do you intend to own one, it has to offer something drastically new and something substantially more cooler than Facebook to kick the Facebook habit.

2. The people who give a shit about it give a shit already

I've noticed no one is pestering me for invites any more - partly because they don't like me and mostly because those who already want it, have it and those who don't give a shit...well, don't give a shit. Google+ has almost already hit a critical mass of people who give a shit about it and now that anyone can send an invite the give a shit factor has taken a nosedive. Those who do give a shit evangelize about it as the Facebook killer but inevitably hit the obvious roadblock:

"So what's it like?" asks the incredulous bystander. "It's like bringing all your friends together, but you can follow other people you think are cool and you put them into circles and it's AWESOME," replies the Google+ zealot.

"So it's like Facebook."

"Yes, but better."

But is it better? Faster? Harder? Stronger? In what way? Pick any one of the preceding and it's especially difficult to evaluate if that's even true or not. But there is one way, which I'll explain later.

3. Pitching something to everyone means you need to make a habit out of it

Facebook was revered by university students because it couched them in a sort of electronic elitism - don't go to uni? Well fuck you, you can't use Facebook. Before long it was available to high school students, technical colleges and eventually everyone. Then it opened itself up to the internet and segued into the background of the web experience, not as the go-to site of the minute. It became a habit.

G+ seems to work on the premise that it's ridiculously simple enough for the web-only Chromium set but also powerful and malleable enough for the media "gurus" and code monkeys. Where does it leave the people in the middle? Killing e-cows with their mafia goons on Facebook. It's difficult to change a habitual behavior and the reason has to be compelling for those to change. Facebook wasn't built on a new premise, but its advantage over MySpace? It successfully broke down an ingrained habit (for some) and facilitated other people to form new ones.

Your friend posts a photo of what they're eating, every day? It's the online equivalent of twirling one's hair or tapping one's foot, mostly unconsciously. (How can you spend 2 hours on that fucking thing without realizing, I mean, seriously.) Perhaps we all need an e-Gestalt therapist to ask us "Vat is the sik-niff-ee-kunss of zat what you are doing zere?"

Can Google+ achieve the same thing? I doubt it - at this stage. To get to Facebook or even Twitter status, it has to be come a lasting and integral part of our everyday experience. Right now it's like "Oh yeah, shit, I have Google+. I should post this blog post about Google+ on it, right now!"

Even those who signed up for Facebook and didn't make a habit out of it would probably log in and find their notifications area awash with red. If there's no sustained buzz, I suppose we can wave it away.

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