Saturday, July 16, 2011

Google Circles will Breed a New Type of Vanity

Google+ is rapidly gaining users at an unprecedented swiftness. But as so many make the mass exodus to the newest social network, they know the routine: Pick a profile picture, write some snappy commentary about yourself, and then hunt down everyone you know. Google+ makes this even easier by using your Facebook connections (if you're signed in to Facebook) to suggest people you know, and by raiding your Gmail account (if you have one.) But making connections on GP is slightly different than FB.

With the previous social network kings—Facebook, Myspace, and Friendster—users would make friend requests. These connections amounted to a mutual acknowledgement which resulted in a public announcement of the friendship. If a user had a person in their friends list, you could definitely find the opposite to be true as well. Any unanswered friend requests remained private, invisible to everyone but the requester and the requestee. Furthermore, friend requests could be denied, killing off the attempted connection entirely.

Facebook altered this process a little bit by allowing the originator of a pending friend request to see (but not comment on) the status updates of the target. The result of this was the potential for hundreds of people to "follow" one person without the favor being returned.

Things are a little different with Google+. "Friend requests" don't even exist; rather, people add each other to their "circles." This means that anyone can follow anyone else, and the person being followed will be notified of this. Our instinct, when we get these notifications, is to "accept the request," but the action button that is provided leads the user to follow them as well. We're not actually required to return the favor.

In this way, Facebook's model of allowing the requester to see updates from the target exists, but in a much more public way. GP's equivalent of "friend requests" is entirely public. There's no way to stop them.You can't remove yourself from their circles. You can block them from seeing your content, which allows you a little bit of control over who sees your content, but you have no control over that number.

What you end up with is a pair of categories that shows up on your profile:
  • People in your circles
  • People who've added you to their circles

However, these categories translate into:
  • People you think are cool
  • People who think you're cool

Here comes a new type of popularity contest! On other social networks, the first category would be a number that would symbolize mutual friendship; the second number would indicate unrequited friend requests, but would never be visible to anyone but yourself. Ideally, this number should be roughly equal. Most of us would like to think that we're interested in approximately the same number of people that are interested in us.

But for the vain, this will become an indicator of popularity. The ratio of one to the other will be a quick way for people to show how sought-after they are. For example, check out the ratio of Ben Parr, editor of Mashable:

Obviously, there's a lot of people that know who he is, because nearly 13,000 people want to follow him. But Ben just can't keep up with 13,000 people, so he's only added a more intimate tally of 1,018. His ratio is roughly 1:13. Clearly, he's a popular guy.

More depressing is when the ratio goes the other way, which is where my account is sitting as I write this. Well, it's not so bad: It's 11:9, and that's mostly because I've invited a few people who haven't signed up yet. But if you're following 1,000 people and only 100 people want to follow you, your ratio is 10:1, and you begin to look desperate. At least, that's the way egomaniacs will view it.

Fortunately, Google's thought ahead to help you avoid embarassment. You can choose to not display these categories on your profile page, thus returning the unreciprocated circle-add to the shadows. Clearly though, there will be a lot of people who will be proud of their high ratio, especially since GP doesn't limit followers to 5,000 like Facebook does. I suspect we'll see a new form of vanity take shape in the coming months, with users bragging about their "Google+ ratio."

1 comment:

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