This is a great line of argument and boils the Google+ relevancy discussion down.
Why the Guardian’s ‘Matrix’ analogy fails.
Nothing much happens in the UK and the country has very little impact on the outside world.
At least, that’s the false belief you could come to if you never went to the UK and never learned anything about how the world works.
Likewise, if you never visited Google+ and didn’t learn how it really works, you could conclude that the network has “little visible engagement, pretty much no impact on the outside world,” as Guardian writer +Charles Arthur has done in a misleading column recently.
There are two kinds of writers who comment on Google+’s “impact”: Those who use it and learn how massive its impact is and those who don’t use it and ignorantly conclude from their own non-use that nothing is going on.
Arthur, who hasn’t posted anything on Google+ for two years, makes the classic Arthur Spooner error, which I described here.
But that’s an old error hardly anyone is clueless enough to make anymore and it's not that interesting.
The second problem I have with Arthur’s post is the whole ‘Matrix’ analogy, which doesn't work.
His point is that Google+ isn’t a place you go, but rather like the Matrix is everywhere you go, it’s the synthetic world around us that exists not for our benefit but for the benefit of the machines, a.k.a. Google.
He’s referring, of course, to the fact that Google uses Google+ and the Google+ Sign-In to harvest signals from users, and that’s the whole point of the ubiquitous Google social layer.
Arthur’s is a colorful analogy, but a false and misleading one. Not only is Google+ unlike the Matrix, it’s the opposite of the Matrix.
The Matrix was created in order to pacify humans so their energy could be harvested to power the machine world. Every human was given a virtual reality life in exchange for being exploited by the machines.
The artificial world of the Matrix was stuck in the past. The world of Google is doing the opposite — driving forward at a rapid clip. Instead of giving humans a fake version of the old world, Google makes its living by giving humans a better world, one that didn’t exist before.
We can pay for and have this advancing technology, or we can not pay for it and not have it.
If we pay for it, there are three basic models: 1) payment for service; 2) tax and spend; and 3) advertiser supported service.
Advertiser-support for cloud services is morally superior to other means of monetization. The reason is that payment is voluntary and unevenly applied.
The vast majority of Google users don’t pay for it in any way. They are simply the beneficiaries of empowering free services that are paid for by other people.
A minority of wealthier users are paying for everything because we buy stuff and therefore advertisers pay Google to reach us.
This represents a massive transfer of wealth from rich to poor, whereby a small number of people — by simply being served with ads that hawk things we want to buy — pay for services that are completely free to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.
If Google charged, say, $20 per month to use all its services, the world’s poor would be left behind. No Google Search. No voice-based search for the blind or illiterate. No Google Books. No Google nothing.
That’s the alternative to advertising.
All those harvesting of signals simply drive better relevance in advertising — to show me ads for clothes and gadgets and services that I really want to know about, rather than advertising to me weight loss pills and tampons.
All that harvesting of signals has no other purpose than to do a better job of helping me get what I want, both in better services and better advertising. And in the getting, I pay for Google to empower a billion people with free services.
Does that sound like the Matrix to you?
By slamming the concept of the signal-enhanced contextual advertising model, Arthur is implying that there’s a better way. So I would like to ask Arthur directly which is the better model:
1. No improvements in cloud services because nobody pays for it.
2. Government taxation and bureaucracy creating cloud services that would be as bleeding edge as the post office.
3. Paid services, which would put the world's most powerful tools beyond the reach of the world's poor majority.
4. Irrelevant advertising that shows people random products and services they don’t want.
Arthur’s Matrix analogy is simply a bad one because it doesn't fit the facts.
And besides, unlike the Matrix, Google+ is optional.
You decide that ignorance is bliss, opt out and remain completely ignorant about it — like Arthur has done.