Friday, July 22, 2011

Social Networks

The release of Google+ has caused me to reflect on what social networks mean to me. When I look at my top four visited websites, two are from Google (Gmail and Google Docs) and the two are Twitter and Facebook. Clearly, I spend a lot of time bouncing around inside these companies' sites so it's worth taking a closer look at why I use them.

is for connecting with people I know personally. I do not, in general, accept friend invitations from people I haven't met. That said, my familiarity level with my Facebook friends is highly variable. Some are high school buddies I haven't talked to in a decade, others are good friends who live elsewhere and it's very valuable to connect with them whenever I can.
To me, Facebook's value is entirely in its social graph. I don't use apps, answer questions, I've deleted most of my profile, I don't upload or view photos often. But damn do a lot of my friends use it and many will probably never migrate elsewhere. So, as much as I would like to move to a service which offers me more value, I may end up sticking with Facebook, if only to have an account I check once a month to see if anyone has messaged me.

became my favorite social network about a year ago and I'm still really high on its potential. Like a lot of people, I dismissed Twitter as silly at first; how could anything meaningful go on? Isn't it just for following Ashton Kutcher and quipping one-liners? But then I started using it and now it has basically replaced my RSS reader. I follow librarians, educators, and techie people I've never met, all of whom share wonderful links that have made me more informed and amused on a consistent basis. Things happen first on Twitter and if you want to be current, that's where you need to be.
The biggest downside to Twitter is that I'm certain most of my friends will never migrate. Also, until recently (with the ability to search your Gmail address book), it was not easy to discover people I knew on the network. So while I have several friends who primarily use Twitter, they're in the minority.

It's worth taking a moment to contrast my own forms of sharing. Twitter = public, professional | Facebook = personal, sometimes political. For the most part. It's interesting that I can observe many friends doing precisely the opposite, being more open on Facebook while having locked down Twitter accounts. To each their own.

comes in here because of the preceding paragraph: it can unify the public and private sharing in one location. I can share personal details, which I not only do not want randoms I've never met to know but also probably wouldn't interest people who do not know me personally, with my Friends circle. When I find interesting links, I can share them publicly or to a more targeted audience, like my Librarians circle or my extended circles. Furthermore, Sparks—which I literally just got around to using this morning—adds another discovery service within the G+ platform, making it even easier to find and share content.
A lot of people have hyped the "integration of G+ with other Google services I already use" argument. And I do like that, whenever I'm searching or using Gmail or Docs (which I use a lot...see 1st <p>), I have a notification icon in the upper right corner. But I'm not sure much more meaningful integration can follow. I don't want a "add this person to your circles" icon every time I receive mail from someone new, or a "share this to G+" button in Docs, since I rarely publish from Docs. I think Google+ needs to either A) convert my Facebook friends, which will be difficult, or B) enable sharing to and receiving feeds from other services so that I can stay in G+ but connect with people elsewhere.

As an aside, I'm sort of worried that Google is going to make the same mistake Facebook did and maximize the G+ platform, adding in feature after feature after feature until its so cluttered that I cannot stand it or grok the different content types (is this an Event or a Group or a Page?). What I would really love is a completely modular interface where any panel can be removed and numerous plug-ins added. Think the Firefox of social networking. Do it. Do it now.

Other Social Networks
are not social. I use Goodreads and a lot and I truly love their services, but I cannot identify any way that they involve connecting with people. Rather, they are more like personal analytics sites that offer me interesting data about myself and can suggest new books/musics based on their extensive access to my previous history. And then LinkedIn, while a great place to post a resume, is populated almost entirely with content pulled from my friends' Twitter feeds, so there's no need to check it regularly.

Readers, what's your social network hierarchy? Does anyone out there still use only one site? Or better yet: if you could use only one site, which one would it be? I think I'd go with Google+.

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