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.

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