With news that Google’s new venture into the Social Media landscape in a product rumored to be called Google Cirlces, aided by internet concept designer Chris Messina, I thought I’d take a look back at the The Social Agent work he did for Mozilla
Late last fall, from late November through December 2009, I worked with Mozilla Labs on a concept series that envisions what the future of a more social browser might look like. Working with the Mozilla Labs team, I produced a series of mockups and written pieces that were designed to first layout a future scenario for what I call “pop computing” — an era when computing is cheap, facile, and a part of the everyday environment.
— Chris Messina
Here is his video summary of the main concept work he did.
As it turns out there is a rather explicit report that Chris is not part of any Google product team (quoting him), and that there is at least at this point amid Google denials not a Google Circles to present anytime soon. Though in thinking along with whatever Google Circles will eventually bring – and we read that it is meant to assess connections to others by an importance or trust factor so that it will not suffer the same clumsy issues of intimacy gradation that paralyzes Facebook growth – it seems worthwhile to note how much “trust” plays in Chris’s thinking. A Google social network, armed with its forays into universal login IDs and browser personalization, would be all about creating that seamless trust authority that a browser already possesses, and mobilizing it.
The one thing that is missing from this great calculation as I hear it being discussed and experimented on is the way that the web actually fractures identities, and that is what gives it its power to imagine and do. Much of the attempt to monetize the web has been about ways of corralling behaviors under one great personal ID, securing it, than freeing it up as much as possible under that umbrella. But there is at the heart of identification itself, as the web presents it, the ability to split off from oneself, to be other. The REAL social network innovation would be one that not only trades on invisible trust architectures like the user agent of the browser, but is able to fracture and facilitate one’s ID in a de-centralizing fashion.
…what do I mean by this? It is pretty well known that a primary drive of internet expansion is not just how it connects us with others, but also the varied and segmented ways in which it does so asymmetrically. Actual avatars are only one aspect of this, it is more how all of the social media forms not only have an inside and an outside (friends or not friends, followed or not followed), but also an anonymous vector by which we explore and engage the space. It can be something as simple as our Facebook profile pic, or as complex as a LinkedIn resume. But the proliferation of media and uses I suggest falls right upon this capacity, the ability to not be totalized.
There are very good reasons why commerce wants to totalize and universalize users. It is after all their supposedly consolidated finances and agentized behaviors that one wants most effectively to harness. And there have been some very productive consequences of these moves towards universalization, a transparency of communication in many of the media, an ethic of representation. The problem is that anonymity, or more importantly fractured or spectrum-identity, has to some degree come to be seen only an interference in this universalizing process, affiliated as it is with spam and crime. Really though, if there was to be a social network solution 2.0, it is one that will embrace this real and kerneled propensity of internet exchange itself. I believe the autonomies of identities have to become more soap-bubbled and linked in a more de-centered fashion. The key comes back to the notion of “trust” and the architectures it is buried in, and this requires asymmetry.