Google Shoelace: Is the future of social media offline?

Google Shoelace

The last time the world’s biggest search company experimented with online communities things went badly. Less Facebook killer, more time filler for about a year. So can Google Shoelace do any better?

When it comes to Google+ thing got off to a weak start, despite early adopters singing the praises of functions like Hangouts and Circles. Then it all really went downhill. One of the main problems was the fact it didn’t differentiate itself from Facebook enough. So, you can understand the air of trepidation surrounding news the tech giant is again looking to launch a new network. 

Google Shoelace — the basics

Currently being trialled in New York City on an invite-only basis, Google’s great white hope is Shoelace. Pegged as a social network that cares less about global networking and more about building close-knit communities, here’s what we know so far. 

Google Shoelace is designed from the perspective of someone who has just moved into town. They don’t know anyone, but they know what they enjoy. Maybe it’s running, perhaps it’s rock gigs, it could be partaking in eating competitions. 

These activities— AKA Loops— link users together. After ‘meeting’ on the platform, they meet in real life and get involved in whatever it is that ties them together. Hence the name, Shoelace. 

Shoelace — the details 

Loops can either be created by an individual user, or Google’s boffins will ‘curate’ for account holders. For example, you love trying to devour 20 hotdogs in 10 minutes, the network will inform you of pork product gorging contests happening close by. 

In a similar vein to many dating apps, users create accounts by sharing details about themselves with the community. ‘Crews’ form, and these can either reach out to, or welcome in, people with the same mindset. 

Shoelace — the differences

The standout difference between Google Shoelace and pretty much any other network is the focus on offline. Whereas most platforms look to keep people locked in for as long as possible, here’s one that wants us to get out there and find each other, face-to-face. 

A social network that helps users? 

It’s no secret social media has been struggling with its reputation in recent years. This is thanks, at least in part, to the impact on mental health and wellbeing. 

Several psychological studies have found that what started as a hashtag is actually a hugely worrying phenomena. FOMO— Fear of Missing Out— often strikes through social media. We weren’t there and could have been, or we weren’t there and weren’t invited. Either way, the feelings of loneliness that can arise are significant. 

This Healthline article on social media and anxiety, depression and loneliness explains in greater detail. But to borrow from that, Amy Summerville, PhD, a professor of psychology at Miami University in Ohio, explains: 

“The FOMO experience specifically is this feeling that I personally could have been there and I wasn’t. I do think that part of the reason that’s really powerful is this cue that maybe we’re not being included by people we have important social relationships with.”

The idea that Google Shoelace would be physically bringing people together might, in theory, have the opposite effect. Rather than watching others living their best life through a digital lens, regular users of the network could be actively engaging with them in person. 

Don’t count your chickens 

One problem clearly jumps out. Google’s track record with social media is abysmal. We’ve already mentioned Google+, but what about Dodgeball— acquired by Google before disappearing into Latitude? That lasted four years. Then there was Google Buzz, another short-lived error of judgement, only just making it past its first anniversary before getting canned. So can Shoelace buck the trend? Will it get beyond its New York test?

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