Jul 15, 2011

The Bright Lights of Google, Trapping Us Like Fireflies

Gusher by Williams

Why is GooglePlus so much fun right now?

The answer’s a lot simpler than the ex-Twitterati would have you believe

It's the old rats and the water bottle in the cage trick: every time we leave it alone for an hour or two, we come back and it's got that red notification light blinking.  Holy cow, someone wants to circle me. Someone commented on my post. Someone else commented on my friend's post. Someone found a Twttter/Facebook add-on for Chrome that really works.

And it's all there brothers and sisters, if you keep the faith and push the little red button.  That's how Twitter first became addictive.

And so it was with  Facebook too. Used to be every time we logged in there was some new piece of news that greeted us. "Fire up those endorphins captain, there's another @ message coming in! And look! Carl from middle school wants to be friends again!"

Right now those places are a little too overrun with strangers and random friends respectively. That takes much of the fun out of the experiences and creates the perfect storm for imaginary Seinfeldian dramas, the kind that convince you not to post that you accidentally closed the door on the cat and how funny his reaction was lest you become a lightening rod for outraged animal lovers who don't find it, or your reaction, the least bit humorous.

Or worse, you start to post pictures to Facebook about the rocking time you're having at the ball game, and stop because you're pretty sure that the guy down the street, whose wife is Facebook friends with your wife, had tried to pass off opera tickets on you for tonight and you can't really remember what sort of excuse you gave him.

GooglePlus will face those kinds of issues soon enough. But not yet. Right now it's just an amusement park full of shiny red lights, rolling circles and ever increasing numbers, so we're all busy coming back to see just what we've won  today.     

Jul 12, 2011

The Feel-Good Social Web

Like many women of her generation, my grandmother was a good cook. She mostly prepared the recipes her Hungarian mother had passed down to her, but the food was good enough that I was soon bugging her to teach me how to prepare it.

Like most home cooks, she never actually measured anything. You put in “enough water to cover it”, “a couple of pinches” of salt or paprika and it wasn’t unusual to rely on some pre-made American staple (breadcrumbs comes to mind) as a base.

And so I learned to cook. I mostly created my own recipes based on what I liked to eat. There were never any exact measurements and I usually based whatever I made on whatever I happened to have in the house. My friends seemed to like what I made them, and, more importantly, I enjoyed doing it.

Then, about fifteen years ago, I started to run into people who called themselves “foodies.” They’d ask me questions I didn’t have the answers to, like what farm the cheese I used was from or did I know what type of mushrooms I had in the salad. They had “celebrity” chefs they followed and seemed to make frequent use of their catchphrases. 

They made cooking seem a whole lot less fun.

I bring this up, not to slam pretentious foodies (although that’s certainly apt) but because it feels a lot like the current state of the social web. Where lots of self-appointed authorities are telling people the “right” and “wrong” ways to use the new GooglePlus platform and getting all in a huff if they don’t listen.

They make GooglePlus seem like a whole lot less fun.

One of the best things about social networks is that I can make groups/lists/circles of just about anything I want and no one will be any the wiser. So I can have a circle of “People With Funny Looking Noses” or “People With Red Hair” and amuse myself by trying to find patterns in their conversations. It’s completely pointless, but that’s one of the great joys of life: the ability to do something pointless just because it’s fun. And there are plenty of other ways to do that on GooglePlus or any other social network. It's one of the reasons they're so addictive.

As for GooglePlus, the platform is still a work-in-progress, they've announced they're weeks if not months away from introducing a platform for brands, but that hasn’t stopped the flow of SEO-friendly blog posts on “10 Best Practices for Brands on Google Plus!!!”

A curious statement to make, but one that the ecosystem seems to support. (They wouldn't be writing them if other people weren't reading them.)

What's most fascinating to me about GooglePlus is something wisely noted by Frederic Lardinois, writing on SiliconFilterGooglePlus is a planned platform - it’s supposed to be a global social network 

That's something YouTube, Facebook and Twitter were not. 

But human behavior is not all that easily planned and if previous social networks are any indicator, users quickly adopt behavior that’s markedly different than what the platform's builders had planned. Then mainstream users come along and start using the platform is ways that are markedly different than the early adopter crowd. (e.g. why your mom and her friends make lunch plans by posting on each other’s Facebook walls.)

What’s needed now is a lot less prognostication and a lot more observation. Let people figure out their own best way to use the platform. Before anyone starts telling them they’re doing it the wrong way.