Wednesday, September 21, 2011

But G+ Doesn't Support Titles

This is cross posted from a status I posted on G+. Yes, this whole thing is one status post over there, and this is rather long even for my blog posts, because putting blog length comments out in the stream for public consumption is apparently something which one can do now. This is sort of the topic of this post, that we now have a site that behaves like a social network but offers the opportunity to blog within it's structure. Don't worry, I'm not planning on abandoning my own personal parcel of the internet to do all my blogging there, but it is an interesting thing to try. That said, if this is the sort of thing about which you worry, you may want to talk to a professional about your anxiety.

There is a saying, "form follows functionality." Apparently it means that what something, originally a building, looks like should reflect what it is supposed to do. I think it can also be interpreted as meaning that what shape something takes reflects what it is able to do. For example, there is a reason Twitter is a morass of twits, with messages limited to 140 characters and all communication broadcast to the entire community this shapes the dialogue that occurs on Twitter. Another interesting, although too detailed for me to go into here, example is Facebook. As the user base and available tools have changed there have been fundamental changes to the type of community that exists within the "Facebook" structure.

By implementing statuses unbound by pathetically small 140 or 420 (500?) character limits, Google is implicitly making a statement about the community it desires to grow in G+. Of course, how exactly this functionality will play out in the community built on top of it remains to be seen, but one interesting G+ phenomenon is Tom Anderson. Yes, this is MySpace Tom, and yes, he is a one man phenomenon.

I have mentioned before that following Tom is a quite worthwhile thing to do, because he tends to say interesting, thought provoking things. Due to the Twitter-esque asymmetric subscription mechanism (recently implemented on another large social networking site I believe), it is possible for large masses of people to follow what essentially become social networking celebrities. On twitter these people are usually meat space celebrities and we get to hear about their new sunglasses or how trashed their hotel room is. On G+ these people are Tom Anderson and, because the different functionality, we get to hear insightful thoughts (rather than one-liners) about social networking, computing, and perspective.

Unfortunately, I think that some of the same functionality that enables Tom to reach such a large audience hinders the appreciation of his posts. Inevitably Tom's posts become inundated with hundreds of comments. Although a post might provide an interesting lead in to the idea that all "reality" insofar as we can perceive it, is necessarily subjective rather than an objective presentation of some external truth. However, if such a conversation actually took off, I couldn't find it due to the low signal-to-noise ratio within the comment stream. It is wonderful that Tom has so many well wishers, but the culture of a G+ comment stream is quite different than that of a blog where, even on the more popular blogs, comments, for the most part, are a continuation of the discussion began in the original post. To borrow a nautical metaphor suggested by G+'s own nomenclature, what we have here is a stream; toss something in and it pretty quickly moves on, lost in the bustle. A blog is more of a lake, or in my case maybe a pond (puddle?), if you chuck something into it, you can still come back and revisit it a couple of times before it eventually sinks.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with G+ as it is. A fun community is taking form, and if more people from my circle of friends become active on it, I'm sure I shall enjoy whatever it becomes. However, if the fine folks over at Google want to provide a platform for discussions that are simultaneously public and substantive, I would recommend providing authors some way to organize comments into multiple threads. This way substantial responses can be organized into a separate discussion, or even multiple discussions, and other encouragement could be stored separately and perused by those who find it to be of interest. That said, what extent public, substantial discourse is possible is something of an important and unresolved question among philosophers of democracy, so that's something about which we could talk ;)

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