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2011-07-02 +1 for Google+

Your typical, very personal and yet equally common, social networking experience
If you are like most people who work with, or use, computers and the internet in 2011, then chances are you are either on Facebook or Twitter or both, and perhaps also on one of MySpace, Delicious, StumbleUpon, and LinkedIn. Chances also are, that you use a smartphone to access these social networks too, or, miffed at your workplace for blocking these sites, and drooling at your co-workers/friends who interact with these networks from their smartphones, you are seriously contemplating buying one.

Chances also are, that you got fed-up of checking multiple networks for lack of time, and especially when you wanted to post an update was when you felt the need for the 'post once, propogate everywhere' experience. You sorta liked Google Buzz, also 'connected' to your Twitter account from within Gmail, while rueing the fact that you couldnt do the same with Facebook. You first tried upating your Facebook status with Twitter and then ended up adding #fb tags to your tweets, only those that you wanted pickedup. You also checked out a few more methods for some time, but none felt very natural or at times even worth the bother.

Chances are, as a side-effect of all these social interactions that you could barely keep up with, the amount of personal email you handled grew exponentially via all sorts of 'notifications' from your network. You perhaps finally managed to streamline that somewhat by using gmail multiple inboxes for social network updates or some such method.

You thought you had, once and for all, figured it all out, separated your 'personal' and 'professional' networks, even had become 'organized' via multiple online identities and were cruising along pretty well on the network!

Well, all was not hunky dory, of course. [You will have noticed, that the chances of your having experienced this are so high, that I'm no more using the words 'Chances are' to begin the sentences.] You worried about offending someone or the other for not having kept up with his/her updates via the network and had a few strange in-person meeting experiences to corroborate that feeling. Those glances, that stare, that abrupt stop to an email conversation thread, that last-minute dropping out of coffee meetups, and then ... [dread this] ... familial and ... [keep dreading] ... spousal angst.

You experienced real friendships vapourize into online ones. Your discomfort made you wonder why everyone was so obessed with these online interactions, made you wonder about your privacy, and made you realize that 'other' people had multiple personality disorders!

Finally, you wondered whether you were addicted and needed rehabilitation. And then finally, finally, you realised that there was a Problem With Social Media itself.

The Real Life Social Network
About an year ago, I came across this excellent set of slides on (where else but Slideshare) by Paul Adams, who has worked for Google in the past and currently works at Facebook.

It is a great deck with 224 slides, and here are the salient points:

  1. Social networks we create online don't match the social networks we already have offline.
  2. They influence your identity, privacy, and real relationships. Your profile follows you and your network of connections follows you. You have multiple facets of your identity that you share/disclose differently. Sometimes, people need to be anonymous.
  3. Social networking is a means to an end. You need to understand what the end is.
  4. People have multiple independent groups of friends. People tend to have between 4 and 6 groups, each of which tends to have between 2 and 10 people. These are most common limits to how many relationships an individual can meaningfully handle. These groups dont mix naturally, despite efforts. They stay independent.
  5. You have a different relationship via strong and weak ties with every different individual you are networked with. You mean different to each of them communicate differently with each of them, based on your relationship, the content being communicated, the urgency of reply and the level of privacy required. 'One status update for all' just doesnt work.
  6. People cope with current social networks via 'I am invisible' through 'I think really carefully before posting my status'.
  7. You phone/text/skype your strong ties - 7 to 15 in number, and can only stay up-to-date with a maximum of 150 weak ties. This is a limitation of the human brain. Any more and they can only be classified as temporary ties, more of which are formed online these days.
  8. Email is used for most private messages.
  9. We are influenced mostly by our strong ties and only marginally by our weak or temporary ones.
  10. Privacy is a process of boundary management, its about controlling how much other people know about you. Public content is not the same as publicised content.
I suppose, after the initial experimenting, people have or soon will start taking social media seriously. i.e. realisizing that there is a long term impact of their social interactions, they will use social networking tools and platforms differently and will expect capabilities and features that are different from those offered today.

Google+, a next step
Google+ is being rolled out later than other networks including their own Orkut and Google Buzz, and I expect that it would offer a better and more natural experience to users than users previous experiments.

In a nutshell, you not only get to add friends, but also classify them into different (possibly overlapping) groups, called circles, and get to read corresponding different update streams. This helps you prioritise what you want to read and you can make efficient use of your time. Photo sharing is built in and integrated with the rest of the google experience that you already use. You get notified of course, but also of things that truly interest you - Sparks. You could 'huddle' with a group of friends - haven't you always wanted a mobile group chat facility that doesnt make you poorer and carriers richer with SMS income. You could 'hangout' with friends, virtually of course, via webcam. And well, you can do all of this from your smartphone too via the Google+ app.

Amit Paranjape rightly tweeted:

  • Linkedin, FB primarily rely on two-way connection. While Google+ and twitter have independent bidirectional connectivity - much better (IMO)
  • #googleplus Hangout will give a tough fight to Skype and Webex
  • '+', 'Circles', 'Hangout' are the latest cool things.... 'Friends', 'Like' --> what are these? :)
  • twitter might be the least affected IMO.. compared to fb, skype, etc.
  • 'You follow me, but I don't necessarily follow you' paradigm... unlike 'friends' or 'connection' paradigm.
As did Shantanoo:
  • @google hangouts is nice feature. would be nice if recording facility is provided in that.
  • Wondering what type of disk space restrictions will be applied to #google+. iirc, picasa has 1 GB limit which gets exhausted immediately...
  • +1 "@hiway: I LIKE G+! It's a hybrid of twtr: follow anyone, fb: controlled sharing and intuitive interface."
Mahendra Palsule blogged that Google+ is "the mother of all streams" and I like the point about the enhanced focus on the 'interest graph' in addition to the 'social graph'. He has also explained upon why Facebook and Quora should worry. You can read about why Facebook shouldnt worry but Skype should, on this post at GigaOM

So far the math is not on Google+ side. There are 500 million Facebook users, 200 million Twitter users. But, there are about 200 million Gmail users too !

The set of gmail users is large. They will continue to use their current email anyway and everyone (at least everyone I know online) has a gmail account. Google+ is integrated with Gmail and makes it very simple to grow your 'circles'. People are already weary and will consolidate into a single social network that gives a better experience. In fact, the count of Gmail users will go up too and perhaps Gmail will improve on its 3rd position after all. Hence Google+ is very likely to be the dominant, if not the only social network.

You may want to checkout these 9 Reasons to Switch from Facebook to Google+.

Jason Hiner has blogged on "Why you won't hate Google+ and some tips to get started". A good read, check it out. :)

Tags: Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Social Networking, smartphone, Linkedin.

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