What are friends for

One of the interesting aspects of Google+ is the concept of Circles. The idea is that in real life you have different circles of friends to whom you communicate differently. There is no single you but there are several you’s that are a bit different depending on the context. Most people act a   different towards their boss, their old university friends and towards familiy.

There is however one aspect missing that I think will turn out to be crucial to it’s succes: uncertainty.

Friendship is by definition two sided. It does not have to be symmetrical (meaning you both feel the same towards eachother) but at least there is to be some level of reciprocity. Most group of friends consist of a small group of people that have a high level of reciprocity and close bonds in their relations to each other. Around that group there is a larger community where the level of reciprocity is not consistent for the whole core group. They are sort of in the group and out of the group at the same time, depending on who you ask.

This foggy definition of a circle of friends is something we as humans need since we deal badly with rejection. This lack of Transparancy makes it possible to create blurry edges for people to feel in while in fact they are only partly accepted. This blurry edge however does create a gradual path for people to move into the circle step by step. This is something we probably all recognise from our own experience, especially during school.

Because of this transparancy in Circles what you end up with is the relationships type in LinkedIn where everyone is a friend since it is too confronting to reject someone as a friend. And when everyone is you friend than no one is.

So unless Google is able to build in a combination of reciprocity and bit of vagueness in circles my prediction is that it will not succeed. If they (or Facebook) does succeed in modelling how friendships works in real life than that social network will win the battle. Because, aren’t we all looking for friends?


To the stars and back again

For a project in eHealth I have adopted the speech from Kennedy where he pledges to focus many efforts in order to put a man on the moon. Because, as he says, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard

Looking at this speech is still amazing after all those years. Not just because of the eloquence of Kennedy but because of the idealistic spirit of a society that sets a goal and is willing to make great sacrifices in order to achieve that goal. I think in our age and time we have lost some of that willingness to put society first and the individual second.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

And of course, as he promised, this was the result on July 1969.

Oh Notable Where Art Thou

A few weeks ago I read a book from Jaron Lanier: “You are not a Gadget“. I am a fan of Jaron Lanier, I think he is one of the few sillicon valley insiders that really tries to think hard about the effect technology has on our lives and societies.
There was one part of the book that really got me thinking and it was about the loss of the local notables.
If we look at the long tail from Chris Anderson we are now  seeing that the long tail does exist but also creates havoc in a lot of professions due to the price pressure of the (often quite capable) amateurs. This counts for filmmakers, photographers and many other professions where there are also a lot of amateurs craving for attention. There are of course some that are succeeding and even flourishing but as a profession they are hit hard
A second effect is that in some cases there are winners that really take it all. Examples like Google, Facebook, Amazon and (some) others. These have become highly profitable companies that have become un-beatable monopolies in markets they often created themselves (but we now can not do without..).
What we are now losing is the middle ground, the vanishing local notables. On the one hand we have highly profitable de-facto monopolies and at the other end of the scale we have hordes of amateurs whose business model consist of their 15 seconds of fame and a proverbial Apple. In the area in between in the past lots of people were able to get relatively rich on a local level. The doctor, the lawyer, the local care dealer, the supermarket owner. their numbers are going down due to the transfer of part of their business to the few (global) winners and part of their business to amateurs that work for an Apple.
With their disappearance we also see a disappearance of local culture since these often were the people and companies that supported local activities. We may gain some brilliant cultural  institutions like “The concertgebouw orkest” but we will lose many local orchestra’s, museums but also social activities that will not be sponsored anymore by the local notables.
In the digital realm this is probably an enhancement of our lives. After all, we only need one concertgebouworkest since we can listen to their breathtaking digital recordings for ever after. However, we also have a physical local presence that we should cherish.
What is the answer to this dilemma I do not know, neither does Jaron. But it is certainly something we will have to think about in the years ahead.