Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The New Internet Economy

Like everyone, the release of Google+ has got me in a bit of a state. I don't use Facebook, because it's a nightmarish piece of social spyware. Instead of infecting your computer, it infects your life.

The lists comparing Google+ to Facebook are endless, and they always come out in Google's favor. This makes sense, Facebook is ancient and cobbled together out of random crap, while Google+ is a polished, modern, unified piece of code.

But in those lists somewhere is one "advantage to Google+" that really bothers me. It is this: "Google makes a better steward for your personal data than Facebook."

People are talking about "the attention economy" as if it's some far-distant future thing. But that economy is already here. Anyone who creates web content for a living already knows that. Google certainly knows it, better than anyone.

Google+ is a weapon in this economy. It is used to leverage attention: while it may not increase the amount of attention poured out by Google's userbase, it can deploy it far more effectively. Facebook could be said to be part of this "attention economy", but it wasn't weaponized. Google+ is weaponized Facebook.

This bothers me. The utter lack of privacy isn't really what bothers me, it's the utter lack of concern over it. Everyone's rushing to Google+ with glee. "What's the problem?" they say, "it's basically just Facebook, and I already used that!"

Google+ is weaponized. Google+ is not Facebook. It is a new layer of internet.

Google already tracks your searches, your youtube video views, your installed Chrome apps, your email buddies, the contents of your emails... it does this to better serve you. Ads.

While it is possible to block or ignore the resulting ads, you cannot block the monitoring. If you go out of your way, you can browse in privacy mode or such, but then you can't participate in the many kinds of content that rely on you having a valid (monitored) login. For example, YouTube won't allow you to view any videos with higher than G-rated content unless you let them (and Google) monitor you.

Google+ is simply the next step, helpfully allowing the users to build a context web. The contents of the internet as well as the individual Google users will be put into a vast and highly detailed web. Perfect for pushing ads, sure, and I think most people are thinking that. They go, "Okay, I don't really care, serve me some ads."

But the problem is the context web. This is an extremely valuable web of connections and preferences that can make your internet experience much more fluid and enjoyable. Unfortunately, the web of connections is wholly owned by Google.

Exporting your data won't help much, and Google knows it. It's not just about who your friends are, any more than your personality is about what genes you have. It's about the billions of links and cross-posts and retweets and conversations thrown about and followed.

That's the problem I have with Google+: it is an effort to build a new kind of social internet. I wouldn't mind if that internet were public - I think it's a fantastic idea. But they are aiming to build a Google-owned social internet.

Nobody seems to care.

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