Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Google Circles on Twitter

I think I get Facebook.  It took a while and I'm more of a voyeur than a doer, but it makes a kind of sense.  For me, the thing that makes the most sense is that in the main you are swapping information, whether that is personal, generic, family, humorous, pithy, witty or sad with people you know, if only tangentially.  Of course it allows you to share such moments with perfect strangers too, but unless you are a famous media star or struggling author you probably wouldn't, would you?

But Twitter is a different beast altogether.  Perhaps if we just allowed ourselves to form a tidy Twitter group, a collection of like minded people who we could share 140 character gems with several times a day, it would be a bit more like Facebook.  But we don't stop at friends and family - partly because Facebook is already seen by our nearest and dearest as the main portal for sharing this kind of information.  I very much doubt is anyone has a Twitter list of followers composed mainly of family, friends and work colleagues, whereas most FB accounts are made up mainly of those people.

And of course Twitter has this counting thing, or maybe collecting thing, where it becomes imperative to collect followers, like we're all destined to be a Svengali like character.  Some people have thousands of followers - I know because I'm one of them.  One of the thousands of followers, that is.  My list of followers is a lot more modest.  Some of us are very selective who we follow, because the person involved is famous, or shows promise, or looks capable of writing interesting or funny tweets.  Most of us demonstrate the above selection skills and do follow people because of all those reasons and maybe more, but to be fair most of the people we follow we do so because they followed us or we took an arbitrary chance.  And there's the collecting thing to account for, too.

Nothing with any of these ways of using Twitter are wrong - if we stick only with who we know, who we can recognise and who we agree with then we may as well stick with Facebook.  In fact, I'd like to retract the bit about agreeing with, but all the rest I stand by.  The Twitter way allows us to expose ourselves to the thoughts and memes of strangers, to peek into the minds of people in lands far away and sometimes beyond our experience.  My Twitter account includes red neck gun toting right wingers and liberal minded Democrats, folk that believe in God, UFOs and fairies, not necessarily all at the same time.  Me, I'm a floating voter and believe in hardly anything I can't see, touch and smell, and sometimes some of these people say things I absolutely disagree with, but sometimes they touch my consciousness.  Of course I don't actually read the vast majority of the posts at all, only the ones I see when I dip in.  I'm fairly certain that's true of many Twitter folk, especially those allegedly following 50,000+.

This, of course, is the strength and weakness of Twitter.  If you follow enough people, because they interest you or because they followed you and you want to try and keep it that way, then it becomes difficult to wade your way through the various jokes, bible verses, UFO sightings, fairy folklore, political rants, homilies, promotional plugs, links to blogs (yeah, they're out there too, would you believe it?) and myriad other 140 characters or less wisdom filling up your Twitter stream.  Surely there's a better way.

I think Google might have achieved that, and that's using Google Circles.  With Circles you group the people you connect with into logical groups.  Like one huge Venn diagram intersecting your virtual life.  I've looked at Circles and in many ways it makes absolute sense - you allocate individuals to specific circles and you manage how you interact with each circle, including who you post to within that circle or even across all circles.  It can be as private or public as you want it.

So why isn't it as big as Twitter?  Good question.  I guess the real reason is that it arrived about four years after Twitter did, arriving even after I started social networking - I was a proponent of anti-social networking for quite some time so I've got an excuse, what's Google's? - and I feel that most of us have done the initial investment work in Twitter already.  Specifically, millions upon millions have done the spade work and aren't up for doing it all over again without a good reason.  So for any one of us to abandon Twitter - surely we haven't got enough spare time to play with two similar social networks? - means we have to start building a new set of followers and people we want to follow.  It's a bit of a Catch 22 situation, I reckon.  But it may yet happen unless Twitter gives us tools to partition our followers and those we follow in some way.  There will be many a time we will want to send a message out to everyone who has decided to follow but there are other times when we might want to reach out only to people who follow a certain profile.  And there will be times when we just want to listen to what the UFO community are saying.  It may not be often, but where else is a sci fi writer to get his inspiration from?

So perhaps it's time for Twitter to provide a few more tools to help us partition our lists, otherwise maybe Google will start to eat into Twitter's space.  At the moment I think it is unlikely, but Google can be very persistent about these kinds of things.  Now would be a good time for Twitter to extend the scope of the network.  And to explain what it's there for, while they're at it.


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