The resemblance of this early enthusiasm to that of Vox is interesting. I wonder how much it has to do with suddenly liberating the same subset of people from their ties with the rest of the world, and allowing them a private playground once again. Although the circles control system is nice, I think the mental overhead of deciding which subgroup of people to share content with is something that will exist regardless of the smoothness of the tools used to carry out that decision.
The intentional selection of a highly connected group of educated internet users to launch the service with mitigates that overhead because the limited audience means that most of the stuff we’re currently posting probably has really strong appeal to the early users. FB suffers from that overhead pretty badly because of the extent to which we’re populated the social graph on it as a culture. For instance, I hesitate to post overly personal/technical things not because the tools to limit that to a subgroup are bad on FB, but just that the overhead of knowing that I have to make that decision as part of the sharing process is enough to stop me before I even begin to write. I expect that in the coming days/months, there will be a reduction in content sharing/engagement on G+ as the graph becomes more populated. It took my mom a few years to get on Facebook, but once she did (and through no fault of her own – Hi Mom!), it plugged up one potential outlet of personal expression for good.
It’s not a criticism of G+ per se, but instead a recognition of the fact that our old tools with a shiny layer on top are still subordinate to the relationship problems of social interactions, and these giant general-purpose social networks don’t want a subset of the people we know, but want the entire graph. Social software can help us communicate but social politics haven’t been modeled in a way that we can trust software to manage it… not that any of us would want that anyway. The general-purposeness of monolithic platforms are both valuable and gradually limiting, and maybe causes the population to hop from platform to platform (in engagement if not registration).
In real life, social links are temporal, fluid, and also vary in degrees and nature. When we add a friend on G+ or FB, we don’t do so with a time limit, but that’s implicitly what we used to do when we change jobs, schools, or locations. People grow, change, adapt, and to connect us all together again (at least, in my generation) makes for some awkward moments. The attempt to recapture all past social links and make them permanent sure seems like a great idea, but as the years go by, I can’t help but think that there are some natural flaws in this approach. However, it won’t stop further investment or growth because the temporary capture of our daily activity is too valuable to pass up.
I realize that Circles are intended to help us manage disparate, overlapping groups together, but I think it’s much more natural to have social context be at the granularity of physical location or metaphorical representation thereof. On the web, I’d say that the URL is at the proper granularity to associate with a social context, and Circles may just be buried too deeply. Operating on a purely adhoc basis is also interesting, and perhaps what makes Pool Party and similar photo-sharing apps appealing. Having adhoc groups expire would be an interesting interaction to play with, especially because it may manage to communicate an effective intention about these adhoc groups.
Anyway, Google+ is not a bad thing, as it will keep people working on big social networks, prevent any one from becoming “dominant”, and will keep the press employed writing about why X killed Y or why Z is dead now. It may be all tilting at windmills, but it sure keeps the money flowing! 😉 All kidding aside, there are many benefits from continuing to develop monolithic social networks, and I hope we don’t stop. I just feel heartened by the idea that by their nature, they won’t be able to completely replace more contextually narrow services that focus on just parts of the whole cultural graph. Long live social software!