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Google creates G+ as a "Game Preserve"

From formerly-inside and outside sources, and from my experience in the psychology of social games, I think what Google is trying to do is to create the perfect environment for maximizing profit on social games -- what I've started to think of as a "game preserve."

The thing is, that it's exactly the "real names" crowd who are the conservative literalist thinkers, what some marketing people call the "true believers," who are most responsive when a company like Zynga sends them the message that "Cousin Anna's farm is in trouble!" That email rings true to them -- they read it as having a high truth value, viscerally.

Then they buy game currency and unwither her crops. They'll even work a little overtime to do it because it gives them the same neurochemical reward as really doing a favor for Anna, and scooping her out of trouble. These are also the folks who have issues distinguishing urban legends or phishing attempts, and they also end up distrusting false names, relativism, ambiguous gender presentation, qualified presentation of political and diplomatic situations, risk assessments (vs. "what is safe" or "what is dangerous") and so on.

These are the same people who forward you every urban legend that they could have checked in Snopes, but they don't have the capacity to put an interrupt in that circuit. They accept a lot of marketing and political messages uncritically too -- as long as they have an affinity with the faction or brand that is presenting the message. As long as it smells like their tribe.

As long as it isn't funny looking. A nym. The wrong religion. The wrong color skin. Talks funny.

I'm not trying to be mean or perjorative. I'm talking about demographics. Marketing people make a lot of money off these generalizations. Politicians accrue a lot of power off of blocs of voters who think like this. They exist whether you like the idea that there are people who think like this or not.

So, the way I was brought up, you can make money off of people like this, or you can manipulate them for purposes of power -- or you can attempt to educate them. The first two purposes, when done cynically, are considered in my family to be of questionable ethics. Some might call it evil.

So if my sources are right, Google is setting up, cynically, a real names environment in order to create a profit center for social gaming. But because they can't say, "We're modern relativists, and you're cattle," they are saying "You're honest people, and these people are dishonest and won't use their real names -- so we won't let them bother you."

In my book, that's all kinds of evil. Because it sets a precedent -- Google having a bully pulpit for policy approximately equal to Hillary Clinton's US State Dept among governmental policy setters.

Now, I'm going to say something else, and this is even more unpleasant.

Those people can't empathize with us. If you take the average "true believer" type and show him or her "My Name is Me" (which I think is inspiring, myself!), the "true believer" is going to be all the more confirmed in his or her belief that these nym people are a bunch of freaks that are not fit for the company of real normal people, and are after our children, and need to be rounded up and sequestered away from where they might contaminate decent people.

Some of the younger cohort of the "true believer" families will peel off and join us, and that just reinforces their attitudes. We all know a friend who left the conservative family and went off to become the SCAdian or is gay or what have you.

The thing we rarely reflect on, is that we really do not empathize with them. We think that we just need to sit down and talk to them and rationally discuss the issues, and show them "My Name is Me" and they'll see how good and kind we are, and that we're trying to include all these nice harmless marginalized folks -- and when we make all these arguments, and they read them, they'll change their minds, because reading our words will change their understanding of their reality.

Nuh-uh. Never going to happen. If you think talking will change their minds, you are not empathizing with the other side. Talking, writing, rationalizing, will never do it. The only thing that will do it, will be for these people to know, work with, and accept people into their REAL LIFE tribes, circles of friends, workplaces, churches, clubs, and families, openly and out of the closet, people who are nym-like. And that's a process that will happen over decades, similar to the integration of race, which happened by the same mechanism.

"True believers" can not adapt through reading, self-modification, pondering, gedankenexperiment, and technological means. They have to adapt through experience and emotional cultural change on a generational basis, or very occasionally through the charismatic leadership of a community leader, during very stressful times. It's a very old style tribal way of thinking in a way, very group oriented, and you are not going to be able to penetrate it by arguing with individuals.

In this day and age, it's kind of taboo to talk about these things, which is why we have MS-NBC raging about the Tea Party, and Fox News raging about Liberals, and you'd think we had different species of humans.

But long ago, humans pretty much stopped evolving physically, and started evolving culturally and by psychological variance, and we don't talk about that as speciation, except perhaps in marketing -- and of course we marketing psychology people, and political people (it's all the same these days) and social engineering people (who don't really exist, shhhh) are all evil anyway.

We're supposed to pretend all people are the same, but when you get into an argument that nyms should be allowed and you find that people factionalize so sharply, you have to ask yourself, "are we all really wired to think the same?"

+Liz Fong talks about Internet natives vs digital natives (vs digital founders) as essentially seeing the world differently, and many of us have friends who are Aspies or have ADHD or various who see the world through very different lenses. Even gender is a lens -- we may say that a woman or a man or a person who identifies as whatever can do whatever in this world, but the neurochemistry we're bathed in from birth still makes a difference, and when it changes as we age or modify it, that changes us too. We are a product of culture, our wiring, the memetics we are exposed to, the chemistry we bathe our bodies with from our food and pharma, and the conventions we accept and reject.

What if Google has decided that G+ is a game preserve for "true believers?" Is there a place for the rest of us? Is it diaspora? It certainly isn't Facebook. What could we do to make Google money? What could we do to make money for a company that could give us a place for the meeting of our like minds. Because obviously, Google doesn't think there's money in it.

We are every wave of the future. We are the young, the technical, the adaptive, the makers, the innovators, the peacemakers, the articulate, the pronoid, the hopeful. We're also the people who want everything free both as in beer and free as in freedom. But we are the people who fund the Awesome Foundation and Kickstarter, and sweat in startups, and talk VCs out of millions to do amazing things.

If Google doesn't want our money, someone does. Maybe we should stop fighting, and go create our own amazing place to be.

Besides, Google's overlooked a fatal flaw. They'll never get the true believers to move off Facebook. Facebook's got them locked up. The Google execs don't empathize with the true believers either. They don't understand we were the only ones aching to move.
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Well said. Question is where to go from here? Google+ is quite promising except for the brain dead 'nym policy.
Well, everyone seems to admit it's a great idea, but G+ isn't taking the market that we represent. That means it's a fundable idea, right? How many VCs and people connected to VCs are on here? How many of the folks +Liz Fong calls "Internet Founders?" and how many disaffected Googlers?

We could fund a G+ clone nearly instantly and develop something very quickly. Anyone know what Google's non-compete policies are like? My ghod people, we are a huge market, and they are blowing us off. What have I been thinking? And why have we been fighting it?

This project is going the way of Buzz, and they'll prove our point by dying, and I'm sorry for it, because Google is supposed to be a good company.

But as my father and grandfather would have told me, "Don't mourn; organize."
All we have to do is fund a real security dev and project manager for Diaspora, and I think we can combine that with their bones and privacy desires and have a real product over there.
Gretchen, do you (or anyone else here) have a notion that diaspora would scale to millions of users?
I don't know if it would or not. Since it's federated arguably you could do good scaling by having pods of users with lots of cross-links -- but as someone who is not an expert in social media development I can still see a lot of ways a federated system can break down with scaling -- post propagation, authentication, etc. The risk of "rogue pods" is something you have to think very hard about in a federated system.

It might be possible to leverage some of the structures that worked pretty well for UUCP/Usenet, though.
USENET did not scale. I was one of three net admins for UNC in the early 90s. USENET did not scale at the time. We got into absolute crap with everyone because of having to make decisions about what .bin groups to not accept because of disk limitations and such, and being told we were f*ing censors (those of you who know me well can imagine my delight at this).

It's exactly this issue that makes me question if diaspora has thought through the scaling issues, but then, pipes and disk space are a very different issue today. But then again, the things one does on a social network (games, apps, filesharing,...) are also very different and more elaborate than USENET or g+'s beta.

Most P2P distrib systems are tolerant of high latency. You set up to copy a file and yawn and walk away. Conversations are not like that. So a combination of big files in a system aiming for low latency (as I know very painfully from Tor) in an overlay network (which is sort of what the pods map to) can really mess up scaling.

This is why I think something architecturally more like Google might work better as a solution than something like diaspora. But in these things, intuition is often dead wrong.

This might be getting too geeky for this thread...;)
My guess is that they have absolutely not thought through the scaling issues... but pipes and disk space are also very different so that could save a modern USENET no matter how clumsily built. A saving grace of social networking as a data set is that it's really a collection of lightweight text with links to heavier content, at its heart.

I feel that there's some benefit in federation but only if users with cross-links tend to cluster on nodes, so that there's less cross-node chatter and lots of intra-node chatter.

It's definitely easier technically to build a monolithic data store, especially if you want to lower latency of communication.
Well, also, I do believe there's something to Google's notion of games being a revenue source, and game servers -- any currency service -- needs centralization. There's nothing evil about making money IMNSHO. Just respect people. Do good work for what you get and treat people you serve and who work for you well. That's how Google started out, right? sigh
Thinking about it a little more, I don't see how the content side of social networking scales any worse than running a cluster of blog servers or photo stores. Authentication of user access to that content may run into scaling issues but auth is pretty lightweight compared to media content so that may have already been solved by Moore's law. I got to watch Moore's law solve my disk cost problem when I was putting together infrastructure for a heavy-data site, in between preliminary planning and 'okay now we're really doing it' planning. Suddenly HSM was an unnecessary complexity rather than a major cost-cutting measure.

But yes, I do agree that if you are monetizing any content then that is a ton easier to do if you do it centralized.
I'm a person who believes in appropriate tech.

Obviously Tor can't be monetized the same way -- no one who wants to be anonymous is going to leave a credit card with name and address to pay for the software, and it made total sense to fund the project on grants and be an NGO/nonprofit.

But I grew up as a minister's kid, which meant that I grew up in an environment where it was sort of simultaneously taboo to talk about how helping people and supporting community and infrastructure costs money, and asking for money was a part of the family business (Unitarian Universalist, so it was reasonably sub-fusc and nonprofit-y).

And there are lots of projects I've decided were just easier to do by charging people a fair price for a good product for the people who could afford to pay, and finding a good way for people who couldn't afford to have a way to get access way before the terms "fremium" or F2P came about, without necessarily going through all the overhead (and often considerably more chaos) of a grant/volunteer/donation supported organization.

But yeah, I can see a way to do something like a set of pods on diaspora where the games lived, and where the currency lived? But that would have to be so extensively different, maybe you might as well just have diaspora be able to plug into it...? Wonder what their license is, have to go look.
Found it! :)

I agree with you that there are people who are set in their ways in the way you describe. I think that this very trait is also what makes them not want to try new things, like, for instance, G+ as their new gaming platform, because, really, why would they move when they have what they want (or what they're used to) already right there? So, yeah, stupid policy by Google.

I also think that there are plenty of people who play games on FB who don't fall into this category. I think your comment on Sai's post made it seem like you were claiming those two groups (True Believers and FB Gaming People) are one and the same, which is part of what I was responding to over there.

As to us being ignored/excluded as a source of revenue, that's something that's been bothering me (and my female friends) for years, but we can't seem to make any headway on that front.
As far as I'm concerned, when there's a huge group of people basically saying "take our money, please!" and no one is listening, something is very wrong with marketing paradigms, and I'd very much like to hear your suggestions on what can be done about it, because we do have both numbers and cash, but that just doesn't seem to be enough.
Yes, what I'm trying to say is that this is the core gaming community from FB that G+ is trying to coax to G+ from FB, which is idiocy, because they are the least likely to move.

There are plenty who aren't in this category (I've been one) and of the ones who aren't in the "true believer" category, most of them couldn't give a rat's patootie about nyms (and don't yield nearly the predictable dollars as the true believers).

Our problem is that we make them WORK for our money.

Here's the marketing rough guide. You have a choice of aiming for demographic that "lives" in a basic motivation on "Maslow's pyramid" ( So, if one demographic is motivated by a basic need for sex, and another for self-esteem, which is going to be easier to market to? The one who is motivated by sex.

So, if you have a demographic who is more motivated by safety/security and love-of-family/tribe, and another who is motivated by all that stuff waaaaaay up at the top of the pyramid -- esteem and self-actualization, which are, to some extent, the highest functions of the nym although we often cite the safety factors -- then who do you think look like the low hanging fruit?

And, ponder this. Marketing is a field which in recent generations has been nearly considered to be dirty. Politics too. Many of the best and brightest people with the best attitudes at the top of that little pyramid, the most creative geeks, wouldn't be caught dead near the marketing department. I ended up in marketing because as project manager, my dev group used me as a buffer between them and marketing -- my unofficial title in this capacity was "Speaker to Animals."

Marketing people often do not have the enlightened self interest of the market in mind. They can. They just often don't. And what I saw as the liaison to marketing is that mostly they were Doing It Wrong(tm).

So later on in my career, I got the chance to be a marketing VP for a dotcom, and I did it right. And we got to be in the Inc500 and Inc Urban100, and 3rd Fastest Growing Private Companies in Oregon and 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon. Never took a marketing class in my life. But I'm damned good at it, because I'm a gamer, an engineer, and I look for ways that everyone wins and has the best possible time -- which somehow seems to work better than creating artificial needs... Wierd huh?

Generally my experience is, if you go for the best win, not the biggest win, you just do better. I think people like us could make for the best customer base. We'd self-police, we'd bring in money, we'd be invested in making the system work and be sustainable (doesn't have to be a nonprofit for people to feel like it's a "third place" and want to help it thrive). We could possibly, literally, solve some of the problems of the world, here and there. And maybe someone could make money from it. What's not to like?

Well, what's not to like is that we're contentious. The community management will be fussy -- every so often people will decide that some policy is screwy and something like this will erupt. It'll be work, it'll take diplomacy and transparency and late nights and PR and gray hair and agility and willingness to work things out and change course and leave some people unhappy because you can't have everyone happy, and make sure you spend the time to educate people on process.

Most companies hate that. But it should be part of most social media companies, and really most governments, schools, universities, whatever, into the future. Issue any institution with a population over the Dunbar number a cluetrain at birth (metaphorically speaking). This process has been a key example in what not to do.

Contention is part of society. It's part of life, on a friendly basis, at the top of the needs pyramid. The moment we say, "We are no longer killing each other for food or security" we move into engaged, happy arguments over coffee or beers, or by the light of a screen. Google on a smartphone lets me chuck the trivial friendly disagreements ("Who was that actor that...") so I can move on to the deep friendly debates ("What should modern education...") where opinions are supported by facts, and facts are only props.

We need a venue for that kind of friendly deep thought, and that's what the net is supposed to be for, and if it isn't, we failed. And if Google can't give us that, they failed. And if they failed, we have to attempt it ourselves, because we almost made it happen here, and they're cutting us off.

That's it, though. We can play, and we can foment revolutions. But we need a place to meet like minds, and go deep, whether it's play, or war, or transformation. We need a place to do it where we can draw our circles and reduce the noise, and go play silly games and exchange cat pictures when we want.

We need somewhere we can feel safe talking about things that aren't safe, and things that need to change or maybe we aren't sure should but maybe someone should talk us down? And things that happen to us, and things that we did that we're proud of, and things that we did that we need to be purged of, and know that it's ok. We need to talk to people about the politics we want to see happen, and the politics we don't understand how anyone could support and find the ones who support them and listen and debate and learn where both sides can do so with respect, because our circles overlap in the oddest ways, because we are flexible people.

If we can come together from all our geeky margins here to say, "We are all here, why are you trying to exclude us?" then why can't we make our own community -- and make that work?

Twenty million people here, early adopters, friends of friends of invitees of invitees, and how many of them are us? How easy would it be, really, to make this work?
I'll plead guilty to "esteem"; I was just looking at what kind of spoor my real name has on the web because of Facebook's habit of not marking public pages as public, people quoting me or referring to me without asking first, etc. And honestly there's nothing there that I wouldn't stand by, and a lot of it is pretty flattering. (Acknowledgments and author credits? Egoboo!)

The only thing that annoys me is how easy it is to find my physical address and phone number because some corporation out there decided they didn't have to keep that data private, and told me 'tough' when I complained, and now it is on the net 4ever and it is not actually practical for me to, you know, move. (Though changing my spam-infested phone number becomes more tempting as time goes on.)

So while I have in the past had real worries that some strange person would in fact show up on my doorstep as he was threatening to do, and I'd really like to never have to worry about that again, because it is troublesome... it's mostly that I'd like to be able to segment those identities a little. I'd rather a potential employee be able to see what I've done in my field, and people I game with to see my game writing. Etc. Two real world examples that I've used, though a potential employer could also look at my email address and deduce that I was a nerd who liked gaming. Neither of them really need to know how much I like cheese. (A lot.) None of them need to know where I live unless I've invited them over. My employer needs to know where to send the checks, but that's not necessarily where I live.

And as a more serious-than-Diaspora model -- Dreamwidth doesn't have the games, but most of us geeky folks don't want the games to be incorporated with our social network, and they've got solid privacy and security. People can even get free accounts there with invites. Why not Dreamwidth? Is it not amenable enough to short-form back and forth?
hmm... Having been on dreamwidth I'm not convinced they have will-to-scale although they are more reliable than LJ lately -- but they are an LJ clone last I checked basically, and they don' t have the flex this has.

Most folks don't find a LJ/DW like site as zipless as FB or G+ by a huge amount. The user experience has a big insurmountable hump involved.

And though I love mah geeks, I think that the games and apps are part of the fun for a good slice of geeks if my game experiences are indicators, especially as "real" games running on platforms like Unity3d make it to FB.

I like them, a lot of folks do, and they are a way (games or not) to allow for the site to support itself. With the ability to have multiple identities, gaming on one ID and saving the world and/or short form on another shouldn't be an issue for those who want to segment. I know a bunch of folks who do that on FB already. (Wish I had, honestly...)

Off thread we'll have to talk about writing about gaming...:)
They are basically a LJ fork, yes, and not as zipless. I wonder if they could be tuned so or if it's embedded? Facebook UI had to be learned too, and I still find parts of it opaque (particularly the privacy settings, no doubt by design.)

It's interesting to think of games/apps as being the driver, though -- I hadn't even thought of it until you pointed it out, because personally I hate the chain letter/pyramid scheme games so haven't devoted a lot of thought to them. I'd love to see social games that aren't based around pyramid schemes. I guess Words With Friends counts and it did hold my attention for a bit.

Maybe also look at models such as MMOs and Steam? Steam does social overlaid right on top of games, which is pretty nice. A lot of MMOs are now embedding voice chat right into games for those who can't be bothered with running Vent outside of them. That's definitely not the casual gamer crowd but I think they can learn from casual game companies and vice versa -- Three Rings is an excellent example of a casual MMO built around lightweight games. Some stuff is coming out on phone platforms that's very intriguing.

Totally off topic, but I don't do a lot of solo writing about games; I tend to be more an enabler, critic, line editor, and world builder. I end up getting credited a lot with my husband, though, because we have trouble figuring out where I end and he begins when we work on something together. He definitely does more work but I tend to give him 'Aha!' points to build around, all the way back from when we first met to the present. We can point at parts and say who did that, but there's a lot of synergy. He is better at structure, plot, and mechanics than I am. One of the takeaways we've gotten from all of the nym stuff is that it might be fun/worthwhile for us to have a name for our collaborative presence, since we do that so much and have a slow burn toy/project going on right now.
Remove the Maybe from this statement and you'll be one step closer to making this happen: "Maybe we should stop fighting, and go create our own amazing place to be."
For some reason I didn't come across this post until today. I've been sketching out some ideas for a distributed social network, starting with a feed aggregator as the core, details here -- if anyone wants to discuss further geekery in this direction, or if there's discussion going on somewhere else, I'd love to be part of it.
look for my post from earlier today about the "social stack"
It's been proposed internally and externally that a boolean be set in the profile such that some people can see nyms and names and some see only names, in preferences. No go.
Yeah, that would kind of defeat the whole purpose... they might as well add checkboxes in your profile:

Please check any of the following which apply:
[ ] I am a stalker
[ ] I am a government informant, or will be if I can find anyone to inform on
[ ] I am a jealous ex-spouse or other homicidal individual
[ ] I am homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise likely to feel justified in attacking someone (physically or by threatening their job) for personal information they might reveal online

Please remember that violent assaults, stalking, hate crimes, and going topless in restaurants are against Google's community standards.
Utter and complete bullshit, rich enough to fertilize half of Uganda.

You got cocksquattle evidence of anything you just bloviated about and I wasted way too much time trying to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Nice rebuttal. Good use of evidence and reasoning. </sarcasm>
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