Social Studies

Opinions about Google’s new social initiative seem to be slowing down. The overall consensus is that Google has done some good work in avoiding where they have dropped the ball in previous efforts. Also some good work in creating a way to rapidly navigate through a series of people views. And a wonderful video tool that recalls the early days when we all gathered around campfires to shoot the breeze.

The early threads are predictably self-referential, just as they have been for each new startup service at this point in the cycle. With Twitter, I lurked for months until the realtime communications bus provided an opening for Friendfeed. Still in that phase with Foursquare, which joins other iOS apps on the push notification bus as what effectively is one service to me. Facebook is mostly an email notification service

Tracking the Google rollout has been surprisingly easy with Twitter. I keep thinking there are some hidden wells of information in the Circles comment stream, but for the most part the value remains at the post or share level. Techmeme absorbed the punch by Saturday night of the holiday weekend. Some conclusions based on this early data:

  1. Hangouts will be successful but immediately cloned by Facebook + Skype this week. This will drive the price close to zero, with advertising and gamification providing the revenue support for consumer services.
  2. Google will have to bite the bullet and open up to iOS. Blaming the AppStore will work only until the service expands beyond the first wave; after that an HTML 5 version will have to suffice for all but push notifications. With iOS 5 shipping in two months, no time to play Android marketing games.
  3. Google has ironically put themselves in the position of being a giant beta test for Microsoft to ponder as they try and finesse the collapse of Office. Much to be gleaned from Google’s tip-toeing around Gmail and its failure to integrate social, but Microsoft won’t listen.
  4. Twitter retains control of the @mention cloud, which has no parallel implementation in Circles besides its use of the syntax. As Ray Wang asks, where’s the Venn diagram tool?
  5. Where is the developer incentive to build on top of this? Android, of course, but if so much of the API strategy is yet to be obvious then why did they ship this now instead of waiting?
  6. To answer the last question, because apparently Google sees some competitive reason, or to put it another way, weakness in its roadmap. No response to iTunes Match, Apple TV/AirPlay, Turntable, iPad, no-Flash momentum, FaceTime in Hangouts, etc. Meanwhile cross-mobile video chat is showing up in the AppStore.
  7. Why cut out the lion’s share of the tablet market when it’s the single biggest reason people are perceiving any kind of jump ball in social? If Larry Page is all over Circles et al then who’s minding the ChromeOS store? If 25% of bonuses are tied to social, how do the other 75% break down?
  8. Maybe 25% Android, 25% search, 15% Apps, and 10% Chrome. Probably sustainable while riding the social wave, but where is the disruptive energy flowing? Don’t forget that Gmail came out of an off-search pool of talent and resources. Soon we’ll be able to calculate the opportunity cost of this effort.
  9. Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t mind email going away, but Microsoft and Google would. Not good to have these teammates.
  10. I never used Twitter lists. I haven’t segmented Facebook into friend lists either. But even less do I want to microcast to segmented Circles. I enjoy testing the boundaries of what people will tolerate in a single stream, as you can certainly see on Techcrunch comments here. Something drove the adoption on Twitter not just in spite of 140 characters and a public stream but because of what kinds of streams it rewarded.

I’ve tried to avoid the use of the project’s name until now as an exercise in how to think about its elements. I’ve added people to just one Circle, Friends, in order to prepare for the moment when the signal to noise crosses the threshold where Twitter required new filter structures. With little incentive to post Sparks searches and fragmentation of sharing internal threads, I’m somewhat at the mercy of those who like the idea of explicitly controlling who reads what.

Yet I come out of the Plus underbrush with a good feeling about what Google has done for itself and its users. We’re a long way from the passion of the early days, the Fail Whale and the privacy rollbacks of Facebook, even the idea of winners and losers. Google + seems to understand in its DNA that it will thrive based on value, not on destruction of competitors’ perceived weakness. While some short term advantage may be gained from favoring the Google platform, the broader challenge is to expand the value of the entire realtime platform. I’m optimistic this will happen as driven by our adoption of the broader disruption.

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