I recently shared my thoughts on Google+ (Google’s recent foray into social networking — let me know if you need an invite — after the public failure of Google Wave and Buzz). They’ve got to get it right this time (and frankly I think they nailed some of the subtleties that they didn’t in their past avatars). That said, there’s just something about Google+ that doesn’t seem right and — that’s got to do with its relationship model.
Google Plus is a curious amalgam of Facebook and Twitter but more interestingly this is the same model that Friendfeed pioneered (with far slicker tools: “like” and “real-time feed” anyone).
Google+ is basically the 2nd coming of Friendfeed and therein lies the rub…
Information networks vs. social networks
Why is that a problem you ask. Let me first explain the two different types of social networking models. Traditional social networks (like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) have a symmetric connection model — mutual connections mark the relationship. Twitter on the other hand (an information network if you will), followed the subscription model where you follow users (much like Ev and Biz’s first hit – Blogger.com, which Google later bought). To the best of my knowledge, here’s the best description of the two models — hat tip to Joshua Porter (Bokardo), who did a terrific piece explaining these two social networking models. Highly recommended reading.
[Update]: Ben Parr just tweeted with his more recent piece, on Information networks. Here it is. Extrapolating, it’s basically any community that’s based on the information ties that you have (Twitter, Quora is a great example / follower model) vs. ones that are predicated on social ties (Facebook, LinkedIn / mutual connections).
Now, Friendfeed (later bought by Facebook – oh, what an intricate social web we weave), came out with a hybrid model which allows you to have both friends (subscribers) and followers. Oddly enough followers could pop up into your conversations as well. So, rather than being the best of both worlds, what you end up with is the worst of both worlds. Initially, there’s an incentive to build your REAL social network (a la Facebook) that Google+ is trying to foster with Circles, but at the same time they pollute that atmosphere with the follower model, where people you don’t know jump in with comments that you don’t feel like responding to.
That was the problem Friendfeed faced and that’ll be the problem that Google+ will inevitably encounter.
Secondly, Circles or Friend-lists are not scalable (though Google+ has perfected the art of persistent engagement to get users to bucket them – nicely done). What this means is that Google+ will gravitate toward the asymmetric or hybrid model (as it already has, wherein your stream will be sprinkled with random comments from people you don’t know).
What’s Google+’s future?
As I said in my Quora post, Facebook has nothing to fear from Google+. They both operate under completely different models. While Facebook is focused on building real relationships and has assiduously built an environment that reminds me of “Cheers” (see below), Google+ is slowly morphing into Friendfeed.
At the end of the day, I just wanted to be someplace…
…where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
you wanna be where everybody knows
That is Home. That is Facebook. (For me)
Now, granted the asymmetric model gains traction and followers fast, the question remains: is it sustainable? Time will tell. I won’t bet against Google given their enormous muscle and their ability to weave Plus into every Google interaction you have. But, I don’t think in its current state, Google+ will draw me away from my real home on Facebook.
What are your initial impressions of Google+? Leave a comment or @mariosundar.