Facebook Friends Lists vs. Google Circles

“After a series of failed attempts at social networking, Google may have nailed it with Google+. See why and how it could have a major impact on the future of the Web.”

So says Jason Hiner, Editor-in-Chief of Tech Republic in his recent article “Why Google Plus is about to change the Web as we know it.”  It’s a fairly lengthy post, but it can be summed up in a single word: “Circles.”

With Friends Like These…

To understand the value of Google’s Circles you first need to understand (if you haven’t already complained about it to someone) the deficiency of a portion of Facebook’s model. No, I’m not talking about it’s horribly non-intuitive administrative interface.  And no, I’m not talking about the rep that Facebook has that it plays fast and loose with your personal information.  What I’m talking about is the way it misuses the word “friend.”

OK, so I’m about to go on a rant here, I admit it.  Isn’t it bad enough that my kids call everyone whose first name they know a “friend”?  Isn’t it bad enough that when I do a search on the word “friend” I primarily get results for the old “Friends” sitcom or the newer “Friends with Benefits” franchise, both of which have far more to do with sexual tension than they do with friendship.  But I fear the success of Facebook placed the last nail in the coffin wherein we bury the real meaning of the word “friend” (wow, I just wrote a sentence with 4 prepositional phrases, but I don’t have time to correct that ugly sentence, merely to write this superfluous comment about it).

RIP “Friend”

Samuel Johnston, a man whose fame has almost perished from this earth, once observed “True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and choice.”
Samuel Johnston was obviously not on Facebook, where the average number of friends is about 170 at last count.  My real friend Dominic, for example, has 1700 Facebook friends.  I don’t think they would qualify in Johnston’s universe as friends, but hey, on Facebook, if you’re like me, half of your friends are people you can barely remember, or in many cases, have never met.

But beyond the rant, this is a stupid metaphor to operate even under from a 21st century social media perspective.  When you consider your acquaintances you always divide them, without usually much thought, into groups.  There are your friends, your close family (sometimes these groups overlap), your extended family, your business associates, people you don’t know but are interested in, etc.  Although you can create lists in Facebook to compartmentalize the people you know, Facebook insists on calling all of them “friends.”  Strangers are friends.  Enemies are friends.   And before you can say “bubble and squeak” the word friend is meaningless.

Additionally, Facebook lists are buried in their horrible interface (just how many of you have created lists for your various friends, for example?) and it’s tedious to manage them.  Lists play a bit part in Facebook’s world.

Google Circles, More Like Real Social Networks

Google circles logoI welcome the semantics of the Google+ approach. In case you haven’t got acquainted with Google+ yet, Circles are the way Google allows you to organize your acquaintances. It’s not so much that the concept is dramatically different from Facebook Lists, but the implementation is far more intuitive and just feels easier.  Well done, Google!

Now if only you wouldn’t force us to use Google+ as the name.  That plus sign at the end is a real mess.  Just try the possessive of it: Google+’s – I mean that’s just stupid.  I had to write in another prepositional phrase just to get away from it.

As we understand more about where Google is taking Plus (+?), I’ll write more about the relative advantages and disadvantages that we see.

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