Google’s new social network Plus released a suggested users list today and I’m on it. Here is Alex Howard’s post detailing all the people listed. We will all now get tens of thousands if not millions of new subscribers to our updates on the network. We will have all the more incentive to keep posting to Plus and to say nice things about it. Those of us who make money doing these sorts of things, as I do when people click my links and view the ads on ReadWriteWeb or consider my consulting services through this site, will probably see a windfall of thousands of dollars. At least. For some new media brands, if Google Plus gets as big as Twitter, it could mean millions of dollars.
Is this a case of the rich getting richer, of the new media ecosystem being concentrated into the arms of a small number of voices, contrary to the interests of consumers? If this was the only way to discover new people to follow, that would be bad. It isn’t and it won’t be though. Like all things, this arrangement is part meritocracy, part democracy, part privilege and some other parts other stuff. It’s complex and there’s more to discuss about it than I can here while I’m riding down the highway on an Amtrak bus and blogging on my phone.
Is this ethically wrong? I don’t think so, but it is sticky that’s for sure. Networks of self-published content are the hot currency of the era and the ecosystem around those networks includes some of us interesting enough, culturally safe enough and commercially viable enough that we make our living publishing on the web, through RSS, to subscribers on Twitter, Facebook and Plus. It’s a beautiful thing, but the challenge will be to not get so cozy with the networks that we both cover and that deliver us this flow that we no longer serve our audiences (or whatever you people reading should be called) with an eye for critique of the network providers themselves.
I’m not on Twitter’s suggested user list but my employer is. I’ll rip into that company at a moment’s notice, publish its secrets when I discover them and just generally maintain a respectful antagonism with them despite their role in the supply chain that turns my thought into bits into (delicious Oregon microbrewed) beer in my belly.
Hopefully Plus didn’t just buy a bunch of unconditionally supportive new friends in the media. Clearly they don’t hold a grudge about my scoop of the details about how the new network would work at SXSW, despite the red-faced shouting at me at the time. I’ve also been very critical of Plus regarding the Real Names policy.
There’s room in my head though to be glad to have been picked for the pickup basketball team while also feeling like the captain of the team sometimes acts like a frat-boy a-hole. It’s a complicated situation and no one is pure and good in it. It’s the future: messy like the present and the past but hopefully a little more just and democratically empowering.
One thing’s for sure: I’ll be disclosing that I’m on the Plus suggested user list in every article I post about the network in the future. Because these days, a free pile of social network connections equal free discourse at scale, free access to answers to many of my questions and other resources that eventually translate to free money and power. And I intend to keep it free because I’m going to work hard to not pay the price of my integrity.