Google+ Anthropology3

The Anthropology of Google+ Part 3 The Unintended Audience

One of the things that has particularly struck me about Google+ is the anthropologicial idea of the unintended audience. Just as exposure to ‘primitive’ art has profoundly influenced ‘modern’ art, there are millions of cultural intersections when the producer has no idea who will be influenced by their work.

Even as I write this, I have no idea who will be exposed to it, what ideas it may spark or ultimately what the reaction could be. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the web to me and Google+ has created a venue where this sort of unintended audience can be multiplied exponentially.

As an example, I will publish this to public, circles, and extended circles (because I think it has relevance to all Google+ users). So, you might say that I have an idea of who will see it. Those who have circled me and those whom I have circled. Fair enough. About 1500 people. Let’s assume that just 200 of them actually see it and read it. And out of those 200 just five of them decide to reshare it with their networks of about 1500. 5 in 1500 becomes 25 in 7500 becomes 625 in 56 million becomes much much more very quickly. But then, we’ve already exceeded Google+ user base. Simply at the click of a ‘share’ button.

Certainly, I can’t expect (and don’t) those kinds of statistics, but the potential for sharing is massive. When a user like +Robert Scoble +Kevin Rose +Tom Anderson +Wil Wheaton or +Guy Kawasaki writes something…you can be certain that a high percentage of the 20+ million users on Google+ will see it because of these sorts of reshares. Now, keep in mind, at the moment we are a large community of geeks.

What happens when +Rush Limbaugh or +Adolf Hitler or +Newt Gingrich starts to spout right wing propaganda and that is read by an audience they didn’t necessarily intend?

It’s interesting to note that the incorporation of the unintended audience is a prime subject of anthropology especially in terms of reflexivity and the legitimation of place. Much work has been done with the study of visual texts (films) and the reaction of the unintended audience. In particular Edward Micheals in Australia and Walter Martinez in California studied the effect on aboriginal and immigrant audiences who viewed films made for first world resident populations. The studies were interesting in that the unintended audience often took a very different message from the films because they were coming from a very different set of cultural tropes.

There will be more of this sort of thing here at and you can be sure that I am the one saying it because Google+ has made sure that I am me and for that I feel at ease.