I joined Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2007. Over the years, I built up a lot of connections on those networks, and I get a lot of value out of at least one of them. But with all the friends and followers and followed comes noise. Much as I've tried to tame my network, it feels more like a hydra or the carnivorous plant from Little Shop of Horrors than the calm and orderly information drag net that I thought I was weaving.
Somehow, though, the idea of unfollowing or unfriending everyone and starting fresh seemed impossible to execute. It might take a long time, I told myself. I might hurt feelings, too. And my Twitter network, at least, is still pretty functional, more feral than wild. So I've been stuck, unable to restart my networks, but unable to manage the information coursing through them. I needed a greenfield in which to grow a different network.
This is one reason that I've loved Instagram, the iPhone-only photosharing app. I decided on a whim early on that I'd only connect with people I knew in real life, so the network that sprouted there is small and manageable. I keep up with my personal friends' travels and dinners and that all feels good. It's a niche of my life.
Yesterday on Google+ when a small group of friends were discussing the merits of the system, tech journalist Chris Mims pointed out this is a key advantage of Google's new social service. "Also it's a chance for a restart," he wrote. "I'm ignoring everyone whose name I don't recognize, simple as that. Some types of networks have a value in direct proportion to their selectivity."