Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Matters in the Social Media Fabric

...at last we're starting to have some credible choices in the realm of Social Media. Prior to the release of Google Plus, there were three platforms that merit time and attention. (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn)

Google's attempt at a well-integrated alternative to Twitter (Google Buzz) didn't really catch hold. To put that in perspective, consider that I follow about 2000 accounts on Twitter, and I get new updates roughly every few seconds concerning what's on their mind.  (This leads me to a great deal of my valuable reading each day.)  Probably about 250 of the Twitter accounts I follow generate regular content.

On Facebook, I have about 700 friends and again I get news from that population every minute or so -- probably about 75-100 of those accounts generate content regularly.

On Google Buzz in contrast, I believe that the same three people show up in most of the updates -- and each of those is actually updating Twitter and I'm seeing it in Buzz.

So what's different about Google Plus, and why is it likely to change the game?

Google Plus is doing what Facebook does, with integration for the dynamics that make Twitter work, and bundled together with the things that have people use Skype and YouTube.

So why do we need that? We already have those other platforms. (Someone actually posted on Google Plus this week, "why do I need this?) The answer is, you don't need this. But you may find that you like it better.

The main distinction I've seen so far is this: Facebook knows what's best for you and does that.  Google Plus is going to let you choose what's best for you.

Evidence? Well, Facebook doesn't tell you when something was posted with a timestamp (the way that two entire decades of preceding social networking platforms have done,) they give you a relative time.  Facebook doesn't give you an interface that allows you to use your own tools to manage messaging (abandoning over 4 decades of best-practices grooming that email has undergone). Facebook doesn't provide the controls that would allow you to readily and definitively manage your groups of friends and the visibility of your communications. (Facebook lists are cumbersome and difficult to use effectively, and I have no idea what Mark Zuckerberg thinks we'll see in "Facebook Mail.")

The philosophy of Facebook seems to be rooted in "being hip." In it's early days there were those that were in and those who weren't. And of course they didn't want to do what others before have done -- everything had to be new and different.  That works of course, it's been a formula that Google put to good use as well when Gmail changed the way we handle our communications. It was a formula that worked for them to distinguish them among a field of nearly a dozen web search sites at the beginning of Google's run to become the first choice for web search.

But for that to work, abandoning the past needs to be done only for things where you can in fact, introduce something that actually constitutes an improvement.  Facebook Mail simply piles all of your FB communications into one pot and leaves you without the tools you need to curate the communications.

By contrast, Google Plus is going to leverage the things that work for us in the social media fabric, but introduces improvements where they will really make a difference.  Messaging will go to email when you want it, and you can choose the tools you find effective for your style of managing that. (Many savvy players will find that Gmail is the tool that works best for them -- in fact a lot of them already have made that decision.)

For sharing information more broadly (Facebook's main benefit), the news stream will contain actual time information, the ability to edit typos after the posting is already in the timeline, and most importantly, with the use of "Circles," the ability to specify on the author's side -- where the posting should be seen.

Now that I've had a chance to think about it, I despise the way that Facebook has always imposed a formula for where my information will be seen.

WHAT I WANT is the ability to say where I want the post to go, and for my friends and colleagues to say what they want to see. Algorithms be damned -- let us drive!