Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review - The Circle by Dave Eggars

The Circle is a satirical novel that was initially published last year, and has recently appeared in paperback in the UK, published by Penguin.

In it Dave Eggars creates a credible world, a few years in the future, where there exists a company called The Circle, which is to most intents and purposes an amalgam of Google and Facebook.

It's a bit like Google because you have a single identity through which you conduct your online life, in the way that Google likes you to have a single identity over all its properties (including YouTube), and in that it is very actively involved in video and 'streetview' style projects, and 'moonshot' ideas like digitising the world's books; The Circle has a project to count all the grains of sand in the Sahara.

It's a bit like Facebook in that it's all about sharing, and over-sharing, people join groups and send each other endless messages... and the founder is a young genius who is well known for wearing a hoodie.

Eggars explores this world through his heroine Mae, who joins the company and explores different facets of it.  The first line is 'Oh my god, Mae thought. It's heaven', describing her initial reaction to the company's campus.

While Eggars claims to have no particular knowledge of the scene, and denies that its based on any specific companies, it's very good in its imagination of the world of the Internet of Things and the Quantified Self.

I particularly liked his corporate mantras, including:

All That Happens Must Be Known

Sharing is Caring (people want to experience things their friends do)

Privacy is Theft (being private denies friends these experiences)

Secrets are Lies (because openness is truth)

He's also very good at finding names for different concepts, including:

TruYou - Your single online identity

SeeChange - Live cameras recording everything, accessible by anyone

ChildTrack - A way of tracking all kids, to ensure their safety

PastPerfect - A system that identifies people in historic photos and videos so that your history can be traced back easily

Conversion Rate - The proportion of your friends who like products that you recommend

Retail Raw - The retail value of these likes - that is if a product you recommend costs £5 and 100 of your friends 'like' it, then the RR is £500.

I have friends who work at both Facebook and Google (& lots of other places), and I respect both those companies.  I would say that it's better in its imagination of social media in a few years time than it is as a novel about people, but I'd definitely recommend it as a thought provoking book.  It deserves to be far better known than it currently seems to be (very few people at a recent Google event I went to had even heard of it) - read it and see what you think.

Buy it - you'll increase my Retail Raw!

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