Skip to main content

Google+ offers chance for a social reboot

John D. Sutter
Google+ lets users organize their friends into "circles." Some see the network as a chance to start anew.
Google+ lets users organize their friends into "circles." Some see the network as a chance to start anew.
  • Google+ gives users a chance for a social reboot online
  • Starting anew may be easier than dumping friends on Facebook or Twitter
  • New philosophies for online networking are developing

(CNN) -- Almost immediately after Google launched its new, not-Facebook social network in late June, a hilarious and much-shared comic strip about the service popped up online.

"You should I join Google+!" one stick figure urges another.

"What is it?"

"Not Facebook!"

"What's it like?"


"Oh, what the hell. I guess that's all I really wanted."

Google hosts giant science fair

The comic strip, posted by Randall Munroe on, struck a nerve with an audience in social media overload. If nothing else, many early Google+ users figured, this new social network would give them a chance to start over -- to build a new online network without all the distant ex-classmates, boring business associates, and kooky cousins that have made Facebook, like MySpace and Friendster before it, more of a carnival than a comfy living room.

"Much as I've tried to tame my network, it feels more like a hydra or the carnivorous plant from 'Little Shop of Horrors' than the calm and orderly information drag net that I thought I was weaving," wrote Alexis Madrigal, an editor at The Atlantic, in a post titled "Google+: In praise of starting over."

"I needed a greenfield in which to grow a different network."

Sure, some of the chatter about Google+ has focused on features:

The site's 10-person video chat, called Hangouts, is generally considered to be superior to Facebook's recently announced integration with Skype for video calls. On Google+, you don't have to submit friend requests, which some users like because it means you don't have to actively reject anyone.

Instead, you add friends to "circles" and then, when you're writing a new post or uploading a photo, you choose which circles to share with. (You can add anyone to your circles, but they don't have to add you in return.) And some users find Google+'s design to be easier on the eyes than Facebook's.

But, when it comes down to it, those features seem to be the sideshow to a more primal yearning -- a need to reboot our online lives.

"Google has created the opportunity for Facebook-weary people to perform what one called 'a reset on Facebook,' allowing them to escape from Facebook members they've friended over the years but don't really want to interact with -- and can't quite bring themselves to defriend," Paul Boutin writes on the website for the MIT Technology Review.

The idea of the social reboot, however, isn't that comforting in and of itself. It's perhaps not advisable to hit the road and leave behind a former life -- digital or real -- without some kind of plan. That's why new users to Google+ are devoting hours, even days, to going all feng shui on their new digital homes.

"I need to set aside a weekend," a co-worker wrote on my page.

Google+ fans are meticulously arranging friends into virtual circles; coming up with new philosophies of digital identity; and, overall, trying to avoid the ghosts of social media's past: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Friendster. Even if Google+ looks a lot like Facebook, power users aren't treating it that way.

Some users are getting reboot inspiration from the photo-sharing apps Path and Instagram, where people tend to be "friends" only with people they know in real life. Path actually limits your friend set to 50.

At The Atlantic, Madrigal writes:

"Yesterday on Google+ when a small group of friends were discussing the merits of the system, tech journalist Chris Mims pointed out this is a key advantage of Google's new social service. 'Also it's a chance for a restart,' he wrote. 'I'm ignoring everyone whose name I don't recognize, simple as that. Some types of networks have a value in direct proportion to their selectivity.'"

New methods of friend cataloguing are in the works, too.

In a post called "Tame your Google+ circle madness in 3 easy steps," Vincent Mo, a Google software engineer, offers some useful advice on how to arrange your friends on the new social network. He suggests creating circles of friend you'd like to share with -- this is kind of like Facebook -- and other "inbox" circles that you want to read from only -- which is more like Twitter.

His No. 1 tip, though: Face reality.

"Come to grips with the fact that you will never read EVERYTHING on Google+," he writes, seeming to acknowledge that some Internet users are looking for a network that is less stressful and consuming than Facebook and Twitter, which are known to pull users in several hours per month, according to online traffic reports from companies like Nielsen.

When Google integrates its e-mail system into this network, which reportedly is in the works, more possibilities are sure to arise.

Only two weeks old, the new network already has a reported 10 million users, according to one statistical projection.

Maybe that means the reboot feel of the network won't last forever.

But one can hope.

From Boutin, at the Technology Review: "Eventually, Google will open up Google+ to everyone, which means former coworkers I've forgotten, people I went to school with 30 years ago, and an army of public relations professionals trying to network with me will show up. But unlike Facebook, I won't have to approve 984 friend requests. And unlike Facebook, on Google+ I won't feel rude when I block their updates from my feed.

"It's time for a reset."


Most popular Tech stories right now