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I have never been one to write about the latest new web-based gadget, especially not before it has launched.  You, my readers, told me the last time that I asked, that social media gizmos were not something that you wanted to hear about. But the announcement of google+ has me more excited about a web tool than I have been in a long time.

It’s not just because I see a strong competitor for facebook, a platform I dislike.  There is a philosophy behind this new platform that is far stronger than the elements of their presentation.

To understand why google+ is so important we have to take a long look at what is wrong with the tools we have now.  As many of you know I have been building a reputation consulting very small businesses on how to use these various tools to promote themselves.  My methods are a bit unorthodox, partly because I have sought a much deeper understanding of community – what it is and how it forms.  My experiences over 20+ years as a community activist in St Paul have taught me a lot, both from very skilled people I’ve worked with and my own direct experience making mistakes learning what works.

Community is not a casual thing. While there is a lot of debate, sociologists generally point to four essential elements – membership, influence, integration, and shared emotional connection.  If you haven’t seen these you may want to read up on it.  I don’t think that many people who make arguments about community have the background to understand this topic.

Social media tools rarely have all of these elements in place.  People, being what we are, can form a strong community just about anywhere – but in an imperfect area the odds are stacked against you.  Any business or organization that wants to create community needs a better chance than our current tools give us.

That’s why I divide up the social media tools into Contact, Content, and Community – which is to say use each of the tools like twitter, facebook, etsy, and so on as effectively as possible based on their strength.  Community, a real sense of ownership, can be created in a defined space such as this humble blog (thank you, everyone!) but often it comes in a much more intimate setting of the real world – which is very true for bars and restaurants, the businesses I work with the most.

This long prelude gets me back to why google+ is exciting as a concept.  On facebook sharing of information is very non-exclusive, which is to say that membership is very weak and emotional connection is shallow.  Facebook makes an excellent point of Contact and can be useful for sharing Content, but it fails as a center of Community.  It’s not as bad as twitter, however, where time dependence and lack of threading makes it a very useful point of Contact (ie, a place to meet) but little else.

The new tool promised by google+ seems to have all of the elements of community available to users, and I advise going through the very hip Prezi intro on it.  The details show that it has room for more shallow semi-communities, which I have in the past called “scenes” and they appear to call “hangouts”, separating them out from tighter communities.  Users can define their own communities and share information only with that group.  It’s not a huge leap from facebook by any stretch – but it is clearly set up to be something much more personal and powerful than facebook simply because it understands Community.

It appears that updates can be set up something like a user-defined newspaper, where people can organize the “news” into their own sections – such as family, friends, knitting buddies, neighborhood, and (this is where my consulting comes in) stores and restaurants that they like to visit.  That simple organizational step would make it possible for people to sort the barrage of information they receive, make better sense of it, and thus allow the businesses with their events and specials (the content they provide) to be much more effective.

In short, when people can define who they talk to about what we can leverage our Content into a much stronger sense of Community, which is what we want. Contact points?  We already have those all over (in the case of google, a search engine is an excellent one).

So, I am excited about a new product for once.  I hope that one of you, my readers, can invite me to join google+ (hint!) so that I can write more about it (stronger hint!).  I would be forever grateful for the chance (how strong do these hints have to be?).

19 thoughts on “Google+

  1. I love this post Erik and agree wholeheartedly. I think the key is it must be easy to manage. One thing I see with all these networks similar to our email white noise problems is clutter. We slowly accumulate contacts and such. Over time the volume of traffic becomes white noise. Similar to when we sign up slowly for email contact then wind up mass deleting contact we actually opted in for.

    I have always wanted a better format for separating my social networks into usable pieces. So that I can focus more time on the contacts I value the most. This does seem to offer that.

    The biggest question since I despise the ownership and management of Facebook for the way they exploit their users, is what happens with marketing. I am sure communities can still be formed and there will be advertising, but I see brand Pages and all the other exploitation for marketing gimmicks by Facebook as failures when I crunch the numbers. It is just a poor platform for large scale needs. Big brands needs to talk with millions at once and you can not do that in a two way manner. It is impossible. So really they are left with traditional forms of marketing. I personally hope to see all the smoke and mirrors marketers disappear since they damage the industry with false hopes for people (just attend a social media club breakfast and you will see it up close the non-marketers seeking a silver bullet no different than those who watch Televangelicals)

  2. I’m excited by the idea and I can’t wait to see where it goes. Facebook seems very high-school to me and it just isn’t my thing. This could be a lot more useful. Thanks for telling s about it!

  3. Howie: Good to see you, and thanks! You and I are very much on the same page regarding how much the snake-oil salesmen have wrecked the field and the great promise of social media. Google+ seems to have that well-thunk-out, grounded approach that the company is famous for – and their slow roll-out should help work the kinks out of it and allow some serious fine-tuning. Facebook really is a terrible platform for marketing, IMHO, and that simply interferes with their ability to make money other than by hype – which is to say it hurts longterm sustainability. Bleh. Newspapers figured it out long ago and, to me, that’s what we’re replacing over the long haul. I left that element out to keep this piece to 800 words, but I do think it’s something worth thinking about as we develop SM:

    Anna: I’m with you on this as well. Facebook is a first-generation attempt at this kind of thing but it is consistently half-way (putting it nicely) and set up more to chatter than to organize information in a way people can find useful. This should be a lot better.

  4. Erik:
    Just how do I invite you to join Google+? I don’t get that.

    As an activist my need to understand this stuff better is great. Seems to me our culture is one of deep isolation and alienation–maybe Minnesota is a little better off in this respect than the country as a whole…?–are we trying to solve this with technology products? How much can they help?

    I’ve never liked or understood Facebook very well; it seems to want to waste my time with drivel. But, I’ve noticed this: Someone from my long-ago high school class took on, several years ago, the mission of bringing us back together. Recently he sent up a FB thing for the class and that seems to have generated more interaction that the previous couple of years of emails. So something is really there….

  5. Alan: Sorry I wasn’t explicit enough – google+ is being rolled out to a limited number of people who can “invite” others to join, just as they did with gmail at first. I’m trolling for someone who can give me the golden ticket, er, invite. 🙂

    I do agree that there is something there with facebook, and I do enjoy connecting with people from my High School who seem to have gone all over the world! We were all a strange lot, it seems, but what do you expect from Miami? 🙂 But can we solve the fundamental disconnection in our society with tech products? I remain skeptical, as I’m sure you are, but I am always eager to be proved wrong – this is important and anything that might help us connect and unite is worth a shot, IMHO.

  6. I have never been impressed by these “tools” as you call them and have always thought that everything we know now is first generation at best. This may be a small evolution that makes all the difference but I have no problem waiting to find that out much later. It has to be a tough business to be in and I wonder why your talents are wasted on it to be honest. All the high school cheerleaders and football players seem to have infested the social media world and made it pretty insufferable. I doubt you will make much headway until you find a way to get rid of all of them.

  7. I certainly can’t see any of these replacing real community, interaction or whatever fancy word you want to use. But if they get a bit closer to it I guess that’s all for the good.

  8. Jim: Thanks, I think. 🙂 I’ll make a living any way I can, and right now this gig has been going OK for me. I have a few other tricks up my sleeve, tho.

    Dale: I think you’re right that it’s no replacement, but it can help.

  9. There is a line of thought that the more we are connected electronically the less we are connected spiritually and emotionally. There is probably something to this–a keyboard and screen, even with video, seems very narrow bandwidth compared to actually being with another person.

    But I don’t see how citizens would have any chance at organization and collective action without internet-based tools. They obviously have quite limited and ever-decreasing real access to the corporate media, government, etc. Relatively free and open–but under attack!–net communication–include cell phone imaging in this–is the main thing democracy has going for it, all over the world, under diverse political systems. The ability to put up a site and have people all over the globe–mostly–able to read it is quite remarkable.

    A concern I have with networking drifting into Facebook or a Google app or a Yahoo is that these are private businesses and one has, I presume, no rights of free speech there. They can shut one down if they want to, and there is little if any recourse. Of course, your ISP can shut you down–we’ve seen what happened with Wikileaks struggles to stay online–but they are UP in spite of the US government. There are millions of ISPs and nameservers, but only one Facebook (I think). Google notoriously reads gmail traffic….

  10. I think facebook is great but I worry about people who are on it constantly. if that is the only way you connect to the world you are probably in a lot of trouble socially and mentally. I see kids like my niece who are addicts and there is no other word to describe it. It’s all she does even on a warm summer day when she could be with the same friends she says she misses from school.

  11. Alan: That is about the way I see it – and fortunately a lot of people in developing nations seem to as well. But to make that happen we have to keep social media from separating along lines of age, race, and class – which it very much does in the most conventional analysis of how to use it for business. We have to block that if we are going to realize its full potential and utility. As for the private companies that run them, well, I’m not sure there is a real alternative at this point but I can say that as much as I envisioned something just like google+ my only big change was an open source information sharing system more like RSS. 🙂

    Shirley: I have the same problem at home, at least at times. It is an addiction for kids. But she says I’m a twitter addict in response, so I’m not sure I have much influence here! 🙂

  12. I love that you crossed out “making mistakes.” LOL! I agree with you on a personal level, but I’m having a hard time understanding the intrinsic business value. Maybe there isn’t any, which is fine. But it’s going to be hard for all of us to manage a ton of social networks.

  13. Jack: I’ll bet you have something. 🙂

    Gini: Thanks, I try to make sure people don’t take me too seriously. 🙂 I have a vision for the business use of it which may or not be correct based on implementation. It’s sort of like the ads that come wrapped with the comics in a Sunday paper – and that some people read more closely than anything else. You want to know where to go on a Saturday? Open up the bar section (am I too focused on a narrow clientele? 🙂 ) and see what everyone is offering you, side by side – in their own terms. Businesses become content providers, as you envisioned.

    But it may not work that way, at least at first. But it could because it’s set up properly. I can’t wait to try it out!

  14. Check your twitter DM, got an invite ready for you. 🙂

    It does appear there is a bit of a learning curve… I’m still going through the materials and learning the ropes.

  15. Thanks to Ron I now have google+, and I have to say that it’s got everything I expected and it’s far from intuitive to use. So they have some work before it’s ready for prime time. However, every new user they get takes some small amount of money off of Basefook’s (now) projected IPO of $100B, so I will be happy to give anyone who wants it an invite.

  16. Pingback: What is Google? | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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