Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor
Not even a year after Facebook became a pop culture institution with an Oscar-nominated film, The Social Network, a rival is making a move to try and topple the giant. Google+ is the new player on the scene, the latest entry in a series of attempts at social tools from Google (remember Buzz and Wave?) but with far brighter prospects for the future. Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network ultimately told a story of a lone genius—the rebel, a maverick start-up founder turned superpower. Regardless of how closely that tale clings to reality, it is not the type of narrative that fits the latest social network. Google has already made the transition to empire. This is no story with a corruptible Anakin Skywalker at its center—it is a battle between giants.
The story of The Social Network emphasized Mark Zuckerberg’s loner status and the irony of a social network that stemmed from his influence, reaching out to shape the friendships of the world. But now, that apparently isn’t a problem. Google Statistics has Mark Zuckerberg in more circles than anyone else on plus—with a substantial lead.
If Facebook made Zuckerberg everyone’s friend, it apparently transcends his social network. Of course, he doesn’t have “friends,” just followers. Google CEO Larry Page is next behind him, but it doesn’t look like the gap of interest will be closing anytime soon.
At first, Google+ looks a lot like Facebook: xkcd already ran a comic pointing out the similarities “What is it? / Not Facebook! / What’s it like? / Facebook!” with a mouseover reminder of the crucial differences “On one hand, you’ll never convince your parents to switch. On the other hand, you’ll never convince your parents to switch!”
Google+ is poised to tie Google’s already substantial influence on our entry-points to the web to the filtering power of social networks, and, if successful, it will provide Google with the ultimate platform for integrating all our online communications and searches into a more responsive environment. Of course, this functionality comes alongside a database and structure that is an advertiser’s dream. It isn’t quite so friendly to everyone, however—it’s likely a final nail in the coffin of content mills, which trade in producing search-ready headlines with uninspiring content to accompany them, and thus are some of the first to fall to the wayside as search algorithms improve and social networks play a stronger role in filtering quality.
The integrated concepts of sparks, which resembles a combination of RSS feeds and Twitter hashtag style topic searching, offers a space to filter incoming information through crowdsourcing. And the dynamic that gives “+” it name, the “+1” feature, extends the idea of Facebook like as a web-permeating way to indicate valuable or preferred content. Google’s integration of “+1” with the search engine promises to make it an ever-present way of following the interests of others and sorting through the wealth of available material with the trails of past explorers as a guide. If fully integrated with the rest of Google’s tools, books, and document systems, it could eventually resemble a less easily traversed echo of Vannevar Bush’s concept of the Memex Machine:
“Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”
Google+ is already announcing changes made possible by the sheer range of resources and development power beyond the project, and many of these changes are addressing the concerns of early adopters. The network is, at least for now, focusing on real identity—pseudonyms and anonymity are unwelcome in Google’s world of networks. It’s hard to imagine that Google+ and Facebook could happily coexist, as both rely on the presence of one’s friends to have any lasting appeal. It could become like the tale of Facebook and MySpace, a battle that became a slaughter.
The battle between Facebook and Google+ could itself become filmworthy, an ongoing struggle for supremacy akin to Mac and Windows. The rivalry between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates was already committed to film in the made for TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley:
There are more echoes of the Mac vs PC battle in the rivalry to come. As the early adopters are crowding in to Google+, comparing thoughts and debating organizational strategies for the new metaphor of circles, some lines are being drawn between user-bases. The xkcd comic and a recent PvP comic highlight the role of Google+ as a space for the tech-savvy rather than for the “uninformed” user. Google’s network seems to be for adults—there’s something forward-looking about the Google+ network, which makes suggestions based on your current email contacts and not, for instance, your high school alumni status. Facebook, on the other hand, has never shed its association with students. Even once the network opened to the rest of the world (a necessary step, given that most students do eventually move on from their terms), the importance of the university connection remained a point of emphasis.
So will the Google+ story make its way into cinema? Will social networks, with their defining influence, become so ubiquitous that love stories like the now-dated “You’ve Got Mail” simply rely upon them as a matter of course? Earlier this year, I noted that the choice of The Social Network as best drama by the Golden Globes marked the start of an uneasy relationship of pop culture institutions used to sorting out good from bad for the masses with the world of social networks, which are quite capable of building their own filters. Google+ could take that role even further, adding another layer to the crowdsourced moderation of what rises to the top of the pop culture pool. It’s no wonder that people on other social networks are watching, and talking about, Google+ — each one of these networks plays its part in reshaping the lens through which we view our world, and Google’s tale may be just beginning.