Google+ Should Let Me Disable the +

I’m not a social person. I have a very small circle of real friends, and generally decline opportunities that would grow it.

That’s just the way I’ve always been.

Perhaps it’s the result of growing up poor. While I grew up in a small, working-class town, where the standards weren’t particularly high, we were especially poor.

My dog died of malnutrition poor. Wearing the same faded yellow corduroy pants for weeks on end poor. Dreading the new school year and supplies I wouldn’t have poor. Having a bath in a 55 gallon drum, cooking in the sun, because we had no hot water poor (seriously!).

Compared to much of the world it was a very privileged childhood, but of course we
evaluate relative to our surroundings
.

So I’ve always had a small circle, and it’s a habit that I continue today. It is right for me.

Which is why Facebook and services like it have never particularly appealed to me. They solve a problem I just don’t have. Coordinating my social circle isn’t a difficult task.

Regardless, I tried using the service for sharing with that small group of friends and my family.

The problem, however, is that services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Steam, and even subscription services like Rdio and Xbox Live, use social to motivate you to pitch for them. I just can’t ignore the omnipresent invisible hand guiding social interactions on those sites, where the biggest beneficiary isn’t
you.

I signed up for a Flickr Pro account many years ago as a mechanism of sharing pictures with family. I occasionally send out links and family members can, if they’re ever interested, take a look. If they aren’t they just move on. It beats sending out those 40MB emails of baby pictures that people feigned interest in.

Yet Flickr has social functionality that I do not want. You can leave digital graffiti on my photos by favouriting them, for instance. The absence of favourites, on the other hand, is an indictment of my photos: Why haven’t people favourited them if it’s an available option?

Every photo has the number of views prominently displayed. It isn’t a mystery why: It’s to induce you to evangelize your photos lest your counter sits, embarrassingly, at 0. You are being judged. I can’t turn these off.

Remember web counters from the 90s It’s web counters all over again. Sit hitting F5 so it isn’t obvious that no one cares about your page.

Facebook, Steam, Google+, Rdio, Twitter, they’re all about highlighting how many people you are friended/circled/followed etc. You need to work to build those numbers for them, and it is structured around making you care about those counts (and you do). Right now a million people are hawking Google+, not
because they like the service or its features, but because they’re desperate to increase their embarrassingly low friend count.

When you do post anything, your actions are judged by the number of likes, favourites, +’s you receive. The invisible hand again.

It’s also a social obligation tactic. If someone likes or +’s your post on one of these services, social obligation and reciprocity rears its head.

How do you get favourites and comments on Flickr Go out and dole out the favourites and comments. Aside from a couple of famous-because-they’re-famous iCelebrities, the #1 way of getting followers on twitter is to follow other people and get followed back (the tricky then delete their followers, yielding a respectful positive ratio that hides the tactic).

These things are public for a reason, and you’re being used.

Outside of the endless cycle of reciprocity, the other way of getting likes and +’s is to already be famous, which is a cadre overwhelmingly dominated by early movers who made social land claims over a decade ago and have been coasting since. Much like the earlier days of the web with trackbacks, where every popular
blog entry was spammed with thousands of trackbacks by people desperately hoping to carve off a piece of that linkjuice, likes and comments are being used the same way.

How is Robert Scoble internet famous Because he’s internet famous. Whatever service he uses, thousands of followers will, predictably and transparently, drop business cards on the bottom of every one of his superficial thoughts. “Notice us too!” their tiny voice cries out in desperation.

Scoble is, I think, the greatest indictment of most major social platforms.

I don’t like the + button on Google+. It adds noise, and is a tool of social obligation (or a siren of social failure). If the results were hidden to just the liker, and used for algorithm purposes, it serves a noble purpose. When it’s public the utility, honesty and intention is perverted.