Google Plus and the Long Conversation
How a Social Network “Diaspora” Builds Culture
One cannot, I think, understand a social network without understanding culture. With Facebook, one must understand a two-way road that began with culture being “exported” from the real world to the online world (via the connections to real world friends, family, acquaintances, and colleagues), and then “feeding back” into the real world (e.g. “Like Us on Facebook”).
However, Facebook isn’t a culture in its own right. It attaches itself to culture, but for the most part is not a culture in itself. Google+, on the other hand, has since it earliest days been a place where a true social network culture of its own has been born, aspect by aspect.
In trying to understand and explain the multi-faceted culture of Google+, I’ve discovered a source of insight in a most unexpected place: the book Invisible Powers: Vodou in Haitian Life and Culture edited by Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith (http://goo.gl/zuhA9) and published under the auspices of The Congress of Santa Barbarba (KOSANBA) and the Center for Black Studies.
In Chapter 10, “How Houngans Use the Light from Distant Stars”, LeGrace Benson speaks of a “Long Conversation” or “Long Theater”. This refers to the process of cultural exchange and assimilation, whereby every cultural/religious influence disseminated through contact with and between the slave Diaspora groups of Haiti (different tribes; Christian, Islamic, and indigenous African traditions; Britain and France; etc…) become syncretized into the expression of the new emerging culture.
It’s possible to see how this “Long Conversation” also plays into the “culture” of Google+, which rather than experiencing the “mass migration” from Facebook that some Google marketers might have liked it to, has instead also experienced a “Diaspora” of those either self-exiled from other social networks, or seeking to fill some “void” in their social networking space unfulfilled by other networks.
This “Diaspora” has also bred a culture with its own etiquette, norms, terminology, “representatives”, “ambassadors”, “apologists”, “anthropologists”, etc…