Rippling o’er the Wave

The inimitable Elijah Meeks recently shared his reasoning behind joining Google+ over Twitter or Facebook. “G+ seems to be self-consciously a network graph that happens to let one connect and keep in touch.” For those who haven’t made the jump, Google+ feels like a contact list on steroids; it lets you add contacts, organize them into different (often overlapping) “circles,” and ultimately you can share materials based on those circles, video chat, send messages, and so forth. By linking your pre-existing public Google profile (and rolling in old features like Buzz and Google Reader), Google has essentially socialized web presences rather than “web presencifying” the social space.

It’s a wishy-washy distinction, and not entirely true, but it feels true enough that many who never worried about social networking sites are going to Google+. This is also one of the big distinctions between the loved-but-lost Google Wave, which was ultrasocial but also ultraprivate; it was not an extended Twitter, but an extended AIM or gmail — really some Frankenstein of the two. It wasn’t about presences and extending contacts, but about chatting alone.

True to Google form, they’ve already realized the potential of sharing in this semi-public space. If Twitter weren’t so minimalistic, they too would have caught on early. Yesterday, via G+ itself, Ripples rippled through the social space. Google+ Ripples describes itself as “a way to visualize the impact of any public post.” This link 1 shows the “ripples” of Ripples itself 2, or the propagation of news of Ripples through the G+ space.

They do a great job invoking the very circles used to organize contacts. Nested circles show subsequent generations of the shared post, and in most cases nested circles also represent followers of the most recent root node. Below the graph, G+ displays the posting frequency over time and allows the user to rewind the clock, seeing how the network grew. Hidden at the bottom of the page, you can find the people with the most public reshares (“influencers”), basic network statistics (average path length, not terribly meaningful in this situation; longest chain; and shares-per-hour), and languages of reshared posts. You can also read the reshares themselves on the right side of the screen, which immediately moved this from my mental “toy” box to the “research tool” box.

Make no mistake, this is a research tool. Barring the lack of permanent links or the ability to export the data into some manipulable file 3, this is a perfect example of information propagation done well. When doing similar research on Twitter, one often requires API-programming prowess to get even this far; in G+, it’s as simple as copying a link. By making information-propagating-across-a-network something sexy, interesting, and easily accessible to everyone, Google is making diffusion processes part of the common vernacular. For this, I give Google +1.




  1. One feature I would like would be the ability to freeze Ripples links. The linked content will change as more people share the initial post – this is potentially problematic.
  2. Anything you can do I can do meta.
  3. which will be necessary for this to go from “research tool” to “actually used research tool”

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