When you give techies a new plaything, it is always instructive to stand by, watch, and measure the degree of their fulmination.
This week's launch of Google+, the search conglomerate's vast, effortful attempt to finally show its human side, has managed to engender huge feelings--some of glistening hope, some of disdainful despair.
Everyone wants to predict the success or failure of this new, new social thing. However, when it comes to the potential success or failure of a gadget, the last people to ask are techies.
Techies are just too immersed in that world. "What trees? What wood?" they say, as they fight to work out who can be the first to animate 5,000 random people into their Circle of Love.
With Google+, though, some seem to realize it. They have come to admit that the real battleground on which Google+ will either slay the great Facebook dragon or shed its own blood is the subdivisions of America, where live real people.
Especially moms and dads.
Here is renowned techie person Robert Scoble offering his rejoice at Google's new network. He titles his post: "Why yo momma won't use Google+ (and why that thrills me to no end)."
His thesis is simple: The only people on Google+ right now are techies, media people, and the general rah-rah fraternity.
This means that real people--like yo proverbial momma--won't encounter Google+ for some time. This will leave time for Facebook--the place where parents are entrenched with their families, neighbors, and swingers-party organizers--to copy all the good bits of Google+ (in fact, with "Circle Hack," it looks like the process may already have started). Normal people, Scoble says, don't want to spend endless hours drawing up countless social graphs.
Ah, but then there's Fred Wilson. This is a VC who seems to know how to make money out of these techie inspirations. In his own, very personal blog post, he offers up not his momma, but his dadda.
He explains that Facebook (as well as Twitter or Tumblr) represent their own particular experiences and these are not necessarily ones his dad enjoys. Oddly, he describes Facebook as "default private," which doesn't seem to reflect many people's experience of the site. But still.
Wilson explains: "My dad, for example, doesn't want any of those experiences. He might like Google+. It's a lot like e-mail. He can curate groups of friends; his friends from school, his friends from the army, his friends from the community he lives in, and share information with them quickly and easily."
Wilson furthermore suggests that Google+ might be a very fine thing for, well, older people.
"Google+ fills a void between public and private, it serves what is likely to be an older demo[graphic] less interesting in hooking up or hipstering out and more interested in the social utility it provides. That's a good thing," he said.
But there seems to be such entertaining disagreement about what moms and dads really want. Farhad Manjoo of Slate declared that Google+ was the "online equivalent of arranging wedding seating charts." Which is surely something moms love and dads leave to moms.
Predictions of what will happen to Google+ seem to depend not merely on your view of your own parents but on your view of humanity as a whole.
If you believe that people are essentially lazy sheep, who want to make as little effort as possible for the maximum result, then you will believe that Facebook has nothing to worry about.
But if you think that there is a large enough subsection of humanity that is like Fred Wilson's dad, then you will believe that people will immerse themselves for hours on end--because that is truly what Google wants them to do--in order to segment every human being in their lives.
You'll believe they'll adore rearranging, into separate little online rooms, their friends, their lovers, their ex-lovers, their drinking buddies, their poker buddies, their fair-weather acquaintances, their business contacts, their clients, their families, their extended families, and the folks they met at AA meetings.
You will believe, in short, that they actively want their online lives to totally mirror their real, physical lives.
So will Google+ go viral? Will people be prepared to forsake Facebook for the pleasure of creating little animated scrapbooks of human groupings?
This weekend, why don't you show the Google+ video I have embedded (in which a lot of young people say "like" a lot) to your mom and dad and see what they say. See whether their eyes glaze over, see whether they mutter the word privacy, as they desperately try to fit a little more barbecue into their mouths.
Real people. They are such a nuisance. They like videos of dancing cats, dancing dogs, and people dancing in railway stations. How are the engineers of the future supposed to explain to them what's really good for them?