This month’s Carnival of Journalism asked us to reflect on what the new social network Google+ means for journalists.
I think that as journalists and journalism professors we all have the responsibility to experiment with Google+ and try to learn as much as we can about its potential as a source, distribution channel, and engagement network for news. If Web 2.0 has taught us nothing else, it is that we have to go where our audience is, and we can’t wait until after these sites become behemoths – better to get in early and start building credibility now. But I think the jury is still out on how important Google+ will be and how active journalists need to be there. A social network is only as good as its users make it, and I’m not convinced that it offers enough that is better than or different from Facebook and/or Twitter to make it an essential space, although I’ll concede it is possible it could become one.
As of right now, most of the activity of my feed is dominated by the super-techies like Scoble, and I’ve seen little meaningful use by regular folks. That may change. But sometimes I worry that sometimes the tech-journalism crowd becomes a might bit self-referential and myopic by preaching too often to the same choir of like-minded folks- at least when Google+first launched, it seemed like most of this tribe were downright giddy and calling it a full-on game-changer. I wholeheartedly wish that everybody out there would love new technology and care passionately about journalism, but assuming that others think like we do is one of the things that hindered innovation in the print domain. We need to be a little careful about projecting our enthusiasm onto others.
In fact, even I, early adopter and huge social media nerd that I am, have found myself personally to be oddly curmudgeonly about Google+. Maybe it’s because Google+ was launched right in the middle of my vacation, when I had the exceedingly rare luxury of concerning myself more with lakeside cocktails than what was happening on my omnipresent screens. But my first reaction was a sense of powerful fatigue at having yet another space to monitor and contribute to. When people whine to me about how social media is too time intensive, I usually tell them too bad and suck it up – it’s too important not to make time for. But for once I too was overwhelmed, and I think journalists who feel utterly exhausted by it have a legitimate beef, especially in this time where they are being asked to do so much with so much less. To make a new network worth the time, it’s really got to offer something exciting. And for me, I didn’t quite get that from Google+.
Hangouts are great, and they will be an incredibly useful classroom tool I’ll employ in the fall. And the rest of the Google+ features are all perfectly fine. In many ways, Google+ adroitly combines elements of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. But maybe the second reason I’m less enamored with it than many in my peer group is my status as a privacy outlier, as I’ve written about before.
I have little to no interest in segmenting my personal life from my professional one. I am more offended at people who presume their right to judge me than I am at their ability to access information about me. Having to add people to different circles is, for me, a pain that I derive little benefit from. Yes, even I occasionally do have things I want to share with small groups of people and not the public at large, but that is a need I already meet with existing tools like email, the phone, and face-to-face conversations. It’s not what I do on social networks. I’m not stupid enough to think that everybody wants to listen to my nerdy rantings, but the majority of my social media posts are about topics I’m deeply passionate about, and therefore I’m generally seeking the largest audience possible for them. I know it’s largely a lost cause, but I want even non-journalists to care about the state of our media today and its implications for democracy, and I often also share links to news stories about public issues I find important or enraging. Google+ allows for public sharing of course, so this isn’t a direct knock on it, it’s just that circles aren’t especially exciting to me.
I think our knowledge of this may develop, but I also don’t have a sense of what content it makes the most sense to share on Google+, other than longer posts that won’t fit in the length limits allowed elsewhere. I already post similar stuff on both Facebook and Twitter – should I add one more repetition? Hard to say. Feels like overkill.
However, when all is said and done, if people move en masse to Google+, I’ll find a way to spend more time there, and even with this pessimism, I still am using and experimenting with the site.