Why Google plus will fail

Before I began my first degree in Psychology, I read a book about how friendships work. It goes like this:

“The development of friendship occurs through the skills of partners in revealing or disclosing their attitudes first and later their personalities, inner characters and true selves. This must be done in a reciprocal manner, turn-by-turn, in a way that keeps pace with revelations and disclosures made by the partner” (Duck S. 1983 pg67)

When the first big social network (Facebook) began it was based on the idea of a college yearbook (Name, Photo, Personal information). That’s fine for a yearbook, because everybody who reads it will likely be part of the same social network. In the real world even this “basic” information can vary radically according to who we interact with.

For example, I have no single photo suitable for everyone I know. Work colleagues expect a professional photo (at a desk with Second Life running); personal friends want something more about me (Capsule hotel, Tokyo, 2001); Second Life friends expect, well, an avatar…

Then there’s my name. Surely that’s consistent? Well, again, the same three groups probably expect, respectively, Dr Rudman, Paul, PD Alchemi. Think about it. What does your boss call you? Your mother? Your partner at 1am?

Revealing one’s full name and work identity could be way too much of a leap for a new social acquaintance. A photo that somehow reveals religious or political views could be a shock for work colleagues who may have assumed something completely different. It’s not that these things are “secret”, just that they need to be shared appropriately.

We are all at some stage in the friendship forming process with each of our “friends”. For some it will be a temporary stage as we move forward. For others it will be a stage from which we prefer not to move further forward. But whatever the stage, we need to be careful not to jump too far ahead, not to reveal something which that particular friendship is not yet ready for.

Google plus – Google’s foray into the world of social networking – allows people to be allocated to “circles”, i.e. groups for filtering information. It’s a significant step forward, but alas, I suspect it will not be enough. Not all friends are equal. Some can be told about the club last night, some can’t; some can know about holiday exploits, others cannot. There needs to be some form of categorisation system that matches up individuals and information, so people can slowly move from strangers to “inner circle” – or not, as desired.

Google plus’s twitter-esque ability of one-sided friendships, also known as “following” people, or putting strangers in one’s circle, is another good move, but without a new system for controlling who sees what it’s just Twitter@Google.

One complaint about Google plus is that it won’t let people create an account for their avatar. An avatar is a mechanism for social relationships, whether Google like it or not. We recently saw the beginnings of a social network for avatars in Second Life. It’s pretty rudimentary at present, but it will probably survive, maybe even thrive, because it partly fills this gap.

The fundamental problem is one of revealing personal information appropriate to the depth of each social relationship. *Everything* needs to be tailored to the people who will receive it. Everything you post, your name, your photo, the other people in your network – who they are, what they represent and what they post – all say a lot more than most people realise. All can damage the delicate sequence and balance of a social relationship.

Circles were a great idea, but they just don’t go far enough. There needs a finer grained definition of who should know what. Like a leaking bucket, it’s not the bucket that needs fixing, it’s the leak.

And that’s why Google plus fails to improve on Facebook and Twitter, and ultimately will fail to become the new dominant social network.

Comments please…

Paul Rudman, BDRA

Duck, Steve. 1983. Friends, for life: the psychology of close relationships. Harvester Press, Brighton, Sussex

Global society: creating learning foresight?

A start to developing and sustaining learning foresight.

Of course , we now know that we now all live in a global society – some say a global ‘village’ – that distances have much less meaning and impact than even a decade or so ago, and emphasis is shifting towards the power for good of global communities on the huge challenges of the world in 21st century. What’s more some say that the 21st Century is a ‘make or break’ time for humanity (Slaughter 2006).

In the academic world, meaningful dialogue has always crossed the world, but perhaps we still have to understand and then exploit the full impact.  Perhaps the true power is only just now being recognised and is moving into the direction of preparation and policy.  The challenge of communicating and collaborating on a vast scale is at the heart of the success of releasing the enormous human  potential …freedom, justice and not the least education.

What we now know is that the world is NOT controllable, predictable and rationale (Ormerod 2010). Communities of practice, networks, and their enablers are slipping to the fore…let’s whisper…Web 2.0

Big corporations are already tapping into two way communications with their customers – a wave of corporate ‘friendship’ is coming our way  via Twitter, Facebook and like.  Education should also be THERE!

Working with others on a global scale is nothing less than creating new viable and desirable pathways to the future for learning.  Sharing and constructing knowledge in this way influences, both directly and subliminally, thoughts and feelings and ultimately life chances, attitudes and actions.  Working on a huge scale relies ultimately on viral communications (the ‘wow-wee’ so often heard about  when fairly non-descript lectures  on YouTube or I TunesU log a   million downloads!) .  In short social networks have the power to create a big impact for little input! Even though their power is a little unpredictable and more complex than old style transmissive approaches.

Professor Wellman and his colleague Keith Hampton at the University of Toronto have explored the relationship between online networks and civic participation (Krotoski 2010). Where is the understanding how networks within education are creating (rather than standing by and watching) productive and viable futures?  We already know that a conceptual sense of belonging drives community more than a tangible location (e.g. Goffman and Oldenburg’s work).

In practice, the Internet’s potential is to raise awareness; in the ‘weak ties’ between infrequent contacts or acquaintances, which, let’s face it, masquerade as ‘friends’ online.   Once a connection is made it requires proactive action to remove it (have you tried to ‘defriend’ people on Facebook?).  So essentially information – of whatever probity and quality – is broadcast to a much much wider network than ever before.

So…how can our community- education and technology combined in new and amazing ways – tap into these new networks to develop preferred and viable new insights and create positive social capital and directions for the learning of the future?

I say we need to work with new others on a global basis.  Not just by publishing a paper on it, not just by developing some better software, not just by monetising something we’ve found that ‘works’. No, we need to work together, learn from each other on a global scale and build quite new alliances.

So about ‘Follow the Sun’ – on   the basis that it’s much better to light a candle than curse the darkness – with the University I am leaving in December 2010, and the University I am joining in January 2011. We are running an across-the-world conference on the future for learning to test out full global networks in the service of learning futures …

Gilly Salmon


Ormerod, P. (2010) ‘Nudge plus networks’. RSA Journal Autumn

Slaughter, R. (2006) Pathways and Impediments to Social Foresight Swinburne Institute of Technology

Learning Futures Festival Online 2011, “Follow the Sun”, 13-15 April 2011, three countries, three time zones, a non-stop global conference http://tinyurl.com/followthesun

Getting a bad name? Social networking and Micro-blogging

I’m a big fan of social networking and I’m slowly becoming hooked on micro-blogging as an essential mechanism of staying in touch with people and finding out what they are researching or challenges they face in their daily lives. If you were to look at my old technologies, i.e. my bookshelf, you will see a massive collection of autobiographies, so you can no doubt see my fascination with the new way of telling the world all about yourself!

But are these technologies getting a bad name, and if so is it fair or just a result of some miss-informed individual’s?

In the last 48 hours there have been two major stories breaking here in the UK. The first being personal details about the life of the next head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, having to be removed from Facebook amid security concerns after his wife had posted details about their children and the location of their flat on the site. Maybe not a good idea at the best of times but are you seriously telling me that special forces from the around world do not have other mechanisms to find this information out?

The second case actually stems from Australia, where Twitter users who lack an audience for their messages can now buy followers. A social media marketing company is offering a service that finds followers for users of the micro-blogging service. Followers are available in blocks of 1,000 starting at £53. Why?

OK, so I have some people on my Facebook account I do not know really well and maybe should not have linked but then I do not put anything on my Facebook that I would not share in other ways. There are many people who follow me on Twitter that I do not know but that is the idea – you have followers who are interested in what you are writing about and you can share resources and ideas.


Keeper of the Media Zoo

Social Notworking

Before you all jump in with comments about my spelling, don’t worry I have not misspelt the title of this posting, it is simply a play on words, for today trusted readers, I’m talking about a new phenomena known as ‘Social Notworking’ which is a term I suspect will be included in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary!

It appears that students at Bournemouth University have been complaining that access to computers has been reduced because fellow students are hogging the machines to check their Facebook and Twitter accounts. There is a call for certain computers at Bournemouth to be specifically marked for academic use only. Interestingly the debate has rumbled on with some university sources defending social networks as they are also being used for legitimate academic reasons.

I find this scenario particularly interesting with the growing support for Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and Cloud Computing – is this another ‘greying’ of the boundaries which technologies always appear to cause? Or is it that the growth of technology adoption is out-pacing our understanding of it potential and therefore is easily frowned upon?

I personally find Facebook and LinkedIn excellent ways of keeping in touch with large numbers and various cohorts of people from all aspects of my live; I also enjoy reading people’s statuses and the kind of things that are happening in others lives, where they are in the world and the issues they are reflecting on.

Perhaps you can share your experience of social networking and we can discuss the positive and negative aspects to help us clarify the situation for the future?

Matthew Wheeler
Keeper of the Media Zoo

Academics in the public sphere: A gentle wake-up call

This post will look at two key and current issues to do with online social networks, assess what impacts such developments have on the academic community, and question why such developments are increasingly met with resounding silence from academics.

Let’s start off with the issues. First, the recently emerging trends of changing demographics of social networks; and second, the UK government’s proposal to monitor social networks for possible terrorist or ‘anti-social’ activities.

Recent research into Facebook’s membership reveals that the number of Americans over the ages of 35, 45, and 55 is rapidly growing. Over the last 2 months alone, the number of people over 35 joining Facebook has nearly doubled. It would not be extrapolating too far to suggest that as a result, more academic practitioners (in the age-group 35 to 55, and over) are also increasingly participating in social networks.

Though this data-set looks only at American users, the changing demographics on any established social network presents a challenge for developers and marketers to think about how to best serve/target such groups of new users, wherever in the world they might be.

In the same vein, such shifting demographics presents renewed possibilities too – for academic institutions and employers providing lifelong or work-based learning opportunities – to tap into this trend and perhaps enhance what they offer and how they offer it.

Yet a naysayer would suggest that learners do really want to keep their work and social lives separate and that they do not want to be always available to their lecturers or bombarded with academic information on their social networks. Employers, on the other hand, are so aghast at the so called ‘wastage’ of £130 million per day that they are rushing to ban staff from logging on to social networks.

Considering that social networks are here to stay and that learner-preference for technology is rapidly changing, does a middle ground exist – which could benefit both sides? As well as it might, most academics do not seem prepared to venture an informed opinion on such matters without resorting to the clichés of ‘it needs further investigation’ or ‘we need more funding to look into it’.

Have we stopped seeing what is staring us in the face? Or are we too caught up in the ivory towers of our disciplinary specifics to take cognizance of changing technological times and react to it? The silence of informed voices from members of the academic community on issues of current import is indeed deafening. Have academics and public intellectuals ceded the forum for ideas and debate to the state and to those willing to campaign for/against the state?  

Most of us watched, heard, read and surfed in silence while the media was abuzz with alarm earlier this week, over the UK Government’s plans to monitor all conversations on social networking sites – including Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter as well as internet calls on Skype – in an attempt to crackdown on terror.

The government argues that in view of a clear and present terrorist threat, there is a need to monitor all manner of communication technologies, which terrorists – like the rest of us – have easy and unbridled access too.

But when the justification for this is provided by organizations like the Federation of American Scientists on the lines of – “Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences” – it begins to infringe on freedoms as we know it.

Campaigners like Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, claim that the widespread use of social networking websites “highlights the enormity of government ambitions for the surveillance of the entire population … Technological development is used as an excuse for centralized snooping of a kind that ought never to be acceptable in the oldest unbroken democracy on earth.”

The academic community is still considered a part of the public sphere where opinions, however contrarian and in opposition to the mainstream, can be freely aired in the spirit of debate, and dissention is not frowned upon. Yet within it there is hesitancy and inertia in embracing the tools of online communication that facilitate such debate and dissention in ways that have not been tried before.

There very few academics ready to raise voices against such proposals anymore – not only via formal and distilled communication channels like the mass media, but not even on the more informal and opinionated routes like the ‘blogsphere’. 

If academia is to remain the custodian and nurturer of ideas, we need to make our voices heard, not just on the matters that impact us directly but also on issues that affect the wider community. And we need to do this by stepping beyond our usual routes of dissemination, by embracing the technologies that give us newer audiences and platforms, which are perhaps more questioning and resistant, but also in need of informed opinion that enriches the debate.

This is not a call to arms.

It is a lament for what we are missing out on and a wake up call that we might just want to heed before the opportunity passes us by.

Over to you!


– Jaideep Mukherjee, 27 March 2009

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