July 07, 2011
Meet Google+: Curate or Die!
Google+ has been "out" in limited beta for close to two weeks now -- give or take -- and I finally found a window to explore. I waited of course for the same reason I waited on Facebook when it was new...an early version of anything means I'll lose a days (weeks) of my time. Testing early products is a time sync yet if you're in the technology industry, you waste a lot of time in front of big and small monitors alike, hour after hour after hour. We've all been there.
Because it's Google, you can't really ignore it. Unlike the zillion other social media and so called "productivity" apps I get pitched on a regular basis, Google is the giant Big Brother we all hate and love and bottom line, if you don't know what they're up to at an intimate level, it's hard to walk tall in Silicon Valley.
And so I dove in like a lion who hasn't eaten in two days, the same way I dive into all apps...it's one of the reasons product management and UI gurus love me if I actually commit to the time, which is becoming harder and harder to get me to do.
After four hours, I had the same reaction after spending time on any new "tech tool or service" that takes me away from time in the physical world. Do I really need another social network that glues me to a monitor and in this case, weds me even more to Google's world than I already am?
Of course I get why Google is doing this and would do the same thing if I were them. Facebook is the closed wall garden giant that has millions of us couped up inside their massive restricted "room" and there are so many things they do wrong, why not take a stab at it if you had the budget the size of Google?
On the surface, you might think this is Facebook with a Google UI, but without the apps and bells & whistles since its still so new. But Google has other plans and those who have worked with them on partnership deals know that they cross their t's, dot their i's and have nothing but a leadership position in mind.
What intrigues (and also exhausts) me more than anything about people's behavior whenever a new "platform" comes to town, is how consumed early adopters are, myself included.
By consumed, I don't just mean getting an account and inviting friends into your new "system" (like we all need another "system of people" to manage), but the hundreds of comment threads speculating whether Google+ is going to be the platform which will kill Facebook for good. (all 700 million Facebook users that is).
How many comments posing questions have you seen which ask: how much time have you spent on Facebook and Twitter since you started using Google+? Of course, the early adopters are spending all their time on Google+ because it's still a novelty and part of it, dare I say, is the curiosity to see who's on it early, what they're saying and doing and to score some points or badges we don't even know about yet. "Oh yeah baby, I'm an early Google+ user and that makes me a cool cat." Remember that Buzz Lightyear was glamorous and hip compared to Woody when he first arrived on the scene but it was Woody who Andy had the hardest time giving up at the tail end of Toy Story 2.
Yet, we all flock to the new glamorous platform (aka toy) in hopes that they'll do a better job than Facebook and then we'll spend massive amounts of times (weeks not days) rebuilding our network on ONE more place on the web. And of course Google unlike Facebook won't be a walled garden or use our private data for any other purpose than for the value and usefulness of their customers.
Google+ is more than just another new social network and you can guarantee Google is thinking far beyond what we see today, yet we're all spending a helluva lot of time in it. BTW, I think it's shocking that Google Apps don't currently work with Google+, something you think they'd sync up before their launch, beta or not.
What is cool is the ability to select and toss people in circles. It's also fun and addictive, far too addictive in fact to be healthy. The UI is sweet, however it is still too cumbersome to add people to categories, especially when you want to add someone to more than one, which I do often.
Note that while my geekier friends tell me tagging is enuf, I want my damn categories - it's the way my brain thinks and works, so having a "circle" that is geographical as well as topical is important to me.
The + seems to be the key thing here, but in order to use it, guess what? Your profile needs to be public. The "wear your life on your sleeves and in every corner of the Internet" folks always say to me, "give it up Renee, privacy is dead" yet perhaps some of us still want just a little corner of privacy we call our own after hours of being public public public everywhere, all the time. People forget how valuable our check-in and content contributions are to Google, Foursquare and big brands.
Having a public profile of course makes our posts more useful to everyone else in your network, but that info is more useful to Google and all the vendors and brands who want to sell something to you. Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge fan of human curation as an integral and wedded partner to search in order to improve the experience we have today, but at what point do you sit back and ask how valuable your time is? When will companies start giving something back? And, I don't mean making me mayor of Hooters and giving me a free coffee every tenth check in.
Google says of +'s value and having that public profile: "this helps people see who recommended that tasty recipe or great campsite. When you create a profile, it's visible to anyone and connections with your email address can easily find it." They do note that your +1’s are stored in a new tab on your Google profile which you can show to the world, or keep it private and just use it to personally manage the ever-expanding record of things you love around the web. Here's a link to their video which takes you through the why +1 and how to start using it.
I'll admit that the latter is very useful as a curation tool and the UI is definitely more consumer-friendly than predecessors and others in its league who have been trying to make some headway for years.
While we're on the topic of UI, creating a comment from the upper right is annoying. Perhaps its just that I'm so used to being able to do it from a box in front of me but it "feels" like an extra step. Also when I post a comment in Facebook I simply hit return and it posts automatically whereas in the Google+ window, I have to physically hit that green post comment button.
I'm also not a particular fan of the UI for uploading photos. People take their photos personally, whether they're amateurs or a prosumer shooter like me. There should be a way to organize your photo albums the way you want with a customized display you want your readers/friends to see. And btw, like Facebook, does Google own your photos & everything else you post in its growing social garden? Just curious. You should be too.
The photo feature I do like is the photo display from others in your network - see below: (though what would be much more valuable is to choose what photos you'd like to see and not see from your network - quality vs quantity please. I'd much rather see more of Thomas Hawk and less of a friend who shoots underexposed shots from their iPhone for example).
Other schtuff: there's a cool incoming feature which allows you to see posts from people who are following you, making it a compelling way to interact with friends and fans without having to follow them back (Twitter model...though lists and streams within Hootsuite make this very doable for me and it is like reading 6 newspapers from across the world every morning -- I don't mean streams here, I mean accounts...yeah I have that many). Sigh.
This would be an appropriate time to beg the Hootsuite development team: Add Google+ to my dashboard tomorrow please - we're all far too busy to manage one more tab, one more window, one more stream.
YET, here we are playing in all these networks and spending a lot of time doing so. It's astonishing to me how much time we spend sharing and consuming in these walled online gardens. Sure, there's value for us or we wouldn't be doing it but my point is that there's more value for brands and marketers and we don't get a financial high five back for our time: our valuable contribution of content time. And in Google+'s case, our valuable human curation time. (see Steve Rosenbaum's book: Curation Nation).
The personalization and recommendation aspsect of Google+ clearly isn't new (Yelp, StumbleUpon, Digg, Facebook likes, retweets, #FF's, the list goes on), but coming from Google, the massive Silicon Valley giant that knows how to exude its extraordinary power in the U.S. and beyond, we are all getting sucked into building yet ONE MORE SOCIAL NETWORK.
I saw someone post a comment suggesting that they might replace their Tumblr blog with Google+. Really? So, who owns that content? ...Your content? If you don't have the domain, aren't you placing your valuable contributions and ideas (visual, audio and other) into Google's hands?
I still think there's huge value in a site that you create from scratch - your own design, look-and-feel, personality, font, photos -- all of it. It comes from you and you alone and there, the world can see a more holistic view of what you're about and what makes you tick. It doesn't mean that you can't and shouldn't push some of that content out to Google+, Digg, Facebook or Twitter, or wherever your fans, customers and readers spend their time, but it should mean that you think about what content is relevant for what platform and be discerning about what you share where.
And now, because I make my living inside the technology industry, I have no choice but to lose time inside the bowels of Google+ observing the every growing circle of people who sign up every day, ensuring that I'm part of a new ecosystem that I can't afford not to be part of even if I really don't want or need another network to manage.
Why dive in if you resist it so you ask? It's like not going to that god awful high school party that the tacky cheerleader hosted at her house. More than anything you hated going, but not to go meant that you were left out of the conversation and being left out of the conversation is death in social media. I was one of the rare ones who was found at the football parties, the artist parties, the late night on the rock parties and the druggie parties and there was very little overlap between the four. But man, did I have perspective because of it.
People had their communities just like they do online today and even though there is always some overlap, you pick a tribe along the way and there you stay. Choosing more than one tribe makes you a great observer of behavior, a great marketer and a great curator but it also means you may not be quite as immersed as those who only choose one and have no interest getting to know or understand another.
In spending hours on Google+ observing behavior of a few of my tribes, one of the things I have noticed is an obvious one: the overlap in "friends and contacts" between people I've known for over ten years is larger and our social graph tends to be more alike despite the fact that our tastes and jobs are very different and have even changed along the way.
The other thing that I noticed is just how fragmented my networks are, something you can see within Facebook, but it's not as visually obvious as it is inside Google+. And, despite how many people I know around the world, Google+ even in its early days is a reminder how many people I don't know, which left me thinking about something I refer to a lot lately: "we don't know what we don't know."
It could be interesting to try a new exercise: join a new tribe, one which has an entirely new set of contacts from any of your former tribes just to see what it feels, looks and tastes like. If you're an artist, choose science contacts, if you're an academic, choose business management ones...(only). Try to play in and engage with that tribe for awhile to see what kind of data you get, the unique distinctions you pick up along the way and what your own contributions and perspectives mean within the textures of a whole new world, a whole new tribe. I digress, but it's something to think about...
I'm putting on my anthropology and sociologist hat on, the results of which would be nothing short of eye candy for someone like me who has lived in 11 countries and thrives on learning new shit from diverse cultures.
While all of this is interesting, I see the value of the brand spanking new Google+, like the UI and its potential, here's my point:
- Do you ever wonder whether you'll wake up one day after spending thousands of hours building and rebuilding yet a new social network and commenting to endless threads of fodder, that it will all seem rather pointless even though it was highly addictive and "felt" important at the time? (note that most successful CEOs I've talked to always emphasize the difference between important and urgent when making decisions of how to spend their time)
- Do you ever wonder that despite social networks' usefulness in connecting us with others from around the world (trust me, I GET this value as someone who has friends on every continent), that the amount of time and energy you spent trying to keep up with it all (never mind managing your Klout, PeerIndex and influence scores on a daily basis - am thinking high school scrambling to be more popular than the next guy behavior), meant 100 less hours with your kids in a given month or not having that coffee, dinner, or hike with an friend?
- And, knowing, understanding and relishing in the fact that these tools give people who wouldn't normally have a voice a megaphone (many stories that will make you cry), in ten years, will you wonder how much you could have created or built with the time you were spending commenting to threads and reacting to Twitter feeds just so you could continue to be part of a whole lotta fragmented conversations? (Refer to my blog post on Seth Godin's Linchpins where he talks about "creation mode" & how creation can't happen from "reaction mode" which is what we're in when we're glued to Twitter, Facebook & now Google+ streams).
I love what we have been able to do for others (individuals and nations) because of open social networks -- have met some amazing people through Twitter and my blog -- but I only ask that in the midst of more and more being thrown our way to "manage," to not lose sight of the magic in a human connection and to make sure we don't get lost touching hundreds of people through our now Google+ circles when someone close to us wants a physical hug.
Perhaps that's a bit too deep for the end of a Google+ post, but I don't think so. Hopefully you get my point.
Perspective and balance people. Perspective and balance.
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