I hate Facebook. I don’t care about your lives. If I cared, I would be part of your life and I would talk to you, I would interact with you and I would get involved with you. I could go on for why I hate Facebook and all the problems with privacy and how you are giving your life over to a company whose sole purpose in life is to make money from your rants, your photos, and your connections.
So you can understand the surprise some of my friends and colleagues had when I popped up as a supporter of Google+. I’ll admit, I didn’t go running towards it and was somewhat forced into creating a Google+ account to be able to do a few things within YouTube. I was angry at the time for being forced to do it.
So I stepped slowly into the pond of Google+ and discovered it wasn’t really a social network. It is a lot less than Facebook. Google+ is basically a beautiful interface to the good old fashioned mailing lists.
Remember in the old ascii days of the Internet, back when you would get scorned for simply sending an HTML formatted email (sending such an email could polarize a community quicker than any other issue) you had mailing lists.
A mailing list was a collection of like minded people focused on a particular subject area. The interface was simple, email. You jumped in and joined in. I met some wonderful people in those heady days that mailing list traffic would account for 80% of my email traffic.
They started to go out of fashion when the blogging revolution was heralded in and conversations started to splinter into the various comment forums on the individual sites. Then when blogging died off with the advent of social networks, this was the final nail in the mailing list coffin. Conversations went to pithy 140 characters, with the odd link to an interesting link. The heart and community of the mailing list was lost and diluted to social media.
Google+ comes with powerful communities. Which in a nutshell are mailing lists. They have all the ingredients of what a mailing list was, complete with Nazi moderators that will happily nuke an off-topic post.
Anyone that was a fan of the mailing list of yore will know some of the more subtle codes we would use to signal our support. For example, to add your weight to a debate, you would simply reply to a thread, with the “+1” at the top of the reply. So you can appreciate how sentimental it was to see the [+1] link to signal your weight for either a post or a even a comment within the Google+ community.
You can post pretty much anything to a community (assuming you on topic and get past the moderators). If some you dislike keeps trolling (making an annoyance of themselves) then you can mute and remove them from your life completely. This is a wonderful feature making reading the community beautifully devoid of idiots (as the moderator can ban them completely if enough people find their views constantly unhelpful).
Google+ Community can even be private. This is a powerful feature that we use as part of our internal projects to monitor useful links. This again, very akin to a private mailing list, with all the usual controls and benefits.
I like how I can either engage with the list via email or keep it on the web/app. I like how Google+ tracks how much I have missed since the last time I visited the group, with beautiful interfaces both on the web and the mobile/tablet apps all adding to the experience.
Here are some examples of the communities I follow:
Now someone will say that Google+ is still a social network. Maybe, but if that is the case then the mailing list was the original online social network.
For me, I treat it as a beautiful mailing list alternative, allowing me to engage with a community to learn and participate. Getting back to the spirit of the good old fashion mailing list.
I have enjoyed getting back to the spirit.