Anyone who reads this blog has probably figured out that I have a great deal of respect and admiration (as well as a bit of envy) for the Oldbies of Second Life. It’s a prime reason why I jumped into InWorldz with both pixel feet, too: to be a pioneer in a new world, and leave my mark on it… and yes, to sit back in my rocker a few years from now, boring the young’ns with stories of byegone days and basking in the senescent glow of Oldbiedom.
The history I’ve uncovered, however, isn’t all about pioneers in a new land… it’s also about first users/customers of a service that’s — often painfully — in beta. Second Life made a lot of blunders down blind alleys in its earliest days, mostly while trying to “monetize”… and each time they said “Oops, that didn’t work, let’s try this instead,” someone was trying to hang them for being social engineers as well as money-grubbers.
So, while I envy the Oldbies for blazing the social trails and building the first “layer” of cultural artifacts on the Grid, at the same time I’m content to have not lived through the upheaval of Linden Lab’s early experiments in overseeing the world. You might also recall that I tried out another closed-beta virtual world scheme with the unfortunate handle of “Project X”… compared to that bunch, the first crop of Lindens were social and marketing geniuses.
What I’m getting to is this: if a service of any kind (not just a virtual world) tells you it’s in beta, take them at their word. Expect stumbles and false starts; expect one hand not necessarily to know what the other is doing; expect policy development to lag behind features; expect more bugs in the administration than the code.
Google+ Beta has been live for… what, a week now? And already, there’s a problem. With apologies to Opensource Obscure, the problem is superficially about his account being suspended because Google says it violates their community standards, without clearly saying how (perhaps it’s the use of “Opensource”?). Peel back a layer, and the problem seems to stem from a certain (intentional?) ambiguity in those standards, as they apply to account names. In my opinion, the problem’s true taproot is in unrealistic expectations in the minds of the early adopters.
“Here, finally,” it was widely said a mere few days ago, “is the Facebook killer! Surely they will respect our chosen identities, which hundreds of us have used within, and integrated through, other Google services (Gmail, Blogger, Picasa, Reader, etc.) for years!” And, without paying much heed to the failures of both Wave and Buzz, they — including me — jumped into Google+ with both pixel feet.
Who promised us that Google would be any more indulgent of avatarian identity than Facebook has been? Or, did we delude ourselves with our own early adopter enthusiasm? Who expected a beta product to work — and be administered — right out of the box like a final rollout? Or, did we only see the good half of Google’s reputation for product development, and rely on what has been reported as a full year of in-house alpha testing — while forgetting that the in-house environment had no conception whatsoever of the kind of alternate identity we avatars live by?
No one should need to be reminded of this, but, for the record: Google is a business. It makes money selling advertising space crammed into the “free” services we sign up for. Advertisers want the biggest bang for their buck, which they get with narrowly-targeted placement matched to the aggregated online behaviors of individual users: what they search for, and where from (using Google); which blogs and webpages they read regularly (using Google Analytics, Reader, and Friend Connect); what geolocation and names are tagged in photographs (uploaded to Picasa)…
Get the picture? We all railed loud and long about Facebook’s data-mining, and how since avatarian identities foil their plans to aggregate users with purchasing information, they want nothing to do with us. Google is the 800-kiloton gorilla, the originator of the practice, the main reason it’s what everyone does now… why did we early adopters of Google+ expect anything different from them?
Meanwhile… from inside Google+, it’s beginning to look a little like the spamathon when SL bought Avatars United. I’m being added to circles by genuine friends and acquaintances, of course, but also by complete strangers, and at least one who I deliberately ignore… and there are 500 people in the “suggested” category! Some of them I know by name and reputation alone, most I’ve never heard of, and many aren’t even avatars!
While I’ve been slogging through the draft of this post, Honour McMillan has already trumped me, in her usual brilliant tongue-in-cheek style. Go read this, right now: Don’t Panic! Avatars do not carry the Plague, Cooties or even the Swine Flu.