The false choice

Google+ may be the youngest social network, but it’s already more mature than other social networks in one important sense.  It doesn’t make us choose between a bullhorn, a private note, or a bit tongue, and it’s made for the way we actually communicate without asking us to change the fundamentals. Contrast that with this Mark Zuckerberg quote, from an interview in David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect:

You have one identity. The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.

Or maybe they aren’t. The reality is that we portray an image of ourselves, which may or may not reflect our real personality, that we want others to see on our social networks. On Facebook, we may exude a funny, active, introspective personality, while on LinkedIn we may try to project a personal brand of professional aptitude and industry thought leadership. Google+ does not try to defy this ground truth as it’s only natural that we interact with our social circles in this way. Instead Google+ makes it easier for us to manage these social circles and how we communicate with them more effectively than ever.

In less than a month after launch, Google+ had hit over 25 million unique visits and 20 million users, the swiftest social adoption ever. While these numbers make the initial adoption rates of every other social network look like snails in molasses by comparison, let’s remember that they started out in dorm rooms and shabby offices—Google+ started out at the Plex.  But so did Buzz and Orkut.

The difference is that Google+ is designed to solve real problems we have with social networking, around the core principle of having complete and explicit control over how, on what basis and with whom we choose to network – we could call this social self-curation, and it’s a skillset we use every day as adults. Interestingly, Hitwise found that “middle-aged, suburban parents are more prolific and stable long-term users of Google+ than their college student kids.”

Part of growing up is establishing checkpoints between our brain and our mouth. Not everything we think needs to be said out loud, to every person. As we mature, we develop more specific checkpoints—there’s the Things Not to Share with My Boss checkpoint, the Things to Share with Close Friends and Family checkpoint, the ever-popular Things the In-Laws Need Not Hear checkpoint, and countless others. But in real life, we save information we want to share until we’re in front of the right audience.

Social networks haven’t provided us many options when it comes to lining up the right information with the right audiences. It’s generally a choice between sharing with all, sharing one-to-one, and self-censorship. The other option is drastic – sign up for multiple, siloed networks based on audience. What we post and discuss on LinkedIn is probably less personal than what we share on Facebook, and what we tweet and who we follow on Twitter tends to represent our interest graph more than our social graph. This isn’t very efficient, or enjoyable. These sharing options don’t reflect the complexity and nuance of our lives offline, but we’ve tolerated them because social networks have given us enough value in other areas.

The way information from others reaches us is also problematic. When the signal-to-noise ratio becomes hard to bear, we can tune out, trim the size of our networks or apply point solutions here and there that act as filters. Google+ addresses this with easy selection of streams by Circle. If I want to see only updates from my colleagues across the world, I choose my Bazaarvoice stream. If I’m after local updates only, I can choose my Austin stream.

But what if I wanted to see a stream of posts from only my Austin-based Bazaarvoice colleagues, or wanted to share something only with them (not that I would ever leave my international colleagues out)? Here’s one of the areas where Google+ has room to improve—dynamically-nested Circles. Instead of creating a brand new Bazaarvoice Austin Circle, I should be able to mash up two existing circles into a sort of Venn diagram, where content flows to and from only those in both Circles.

Here are a few more items on my Google+ wish list:

  • Embeddable links (allowing for multiple links per post)
  • The ability “mention” people through the mobile apps and tablet interface using the +[their name] format
  • Noise filters, like the ability to filter out posts with certain keywords (Chris Brogan wants to filter out anyone pushing their SXSWi panel proposal, which is a perfect use case for this function)
  • Creating circles out of the Sparks feature – I’d love to be in a circle of folks in Austin, Texas who are also following “photography” in Sparks

With Google+, social networking has been taken to the next logical step by allowing users to really be selective and mature about how they interact with their social circles through self-curation. Overall, this is an inherently more mature social experience, designed for the way adults actually communicate. The network was launched with some functional shortcomings, but they’re entirely tolerable given the age of the project and the attention Google’s engineers have given user feedback.

We don’t want to select between all, one, or none. We want true social self-curation for the way we really live, for information flowing in every direction.

Customer Intelligence

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