E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Google Plus – One Social Networking Tool to Rule Them All

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Like I have mentioned yesterday, it’s been a few days already since I jumped the shark and joined the bunch of early adopters who have been hammering down, and taking for a spin, the latest iteration of Google to get social with Google Plus, right after Google Wave and Google Buzz. And I guess the experience has been somewhat rather positive so far, because a few days later, I’m still there, having a blast. So since a bunch of folks have asked me to share my thoughts about the overall user experience I thought I would put together this particular blog entry where I could describe a little bit what it is like: well, to me, it’s like being all over 2007, once again!

But let’s get started with things properly. As most of you folks already know, my first exposure to social software was inside IBM, back in 2001, with a Profile Social Aggregator called Fringe; then I started experimenting with the instant messaging social capabilities of IBM Community Tools (a.k.a. ICT) around the same time; in 2003 I got things started with my first internal corporate blog, followed in 2005 with my first social bookmarking site called Dogear. From there onwards, and in 2006, Cattail (an internal Personal File Sharing space) came along, just as I was getting started playing with micro-blogging / sharing tools like BlueTwit, as well as Beehive (Now SocialBlue) and a whole bunch of other pilot social networking tools made available to us, fellow IBMers, through the absolutely wonderful Technology Adoption Program, a.k.a. TAP.

Quite an exciting journey, if you would ask me, from the perspective of having that golden opportunity of living on the cutting edge of technology, although sometimes it’s been more along the lines of bleeding edge. Either way, the result was phenomenal since it gave a few thousands of us a unique opportunity where we could explore the potential of social networking for the enterprise, and still going strong!, and all along it’s been quite exciting being ahead of the curve from other waves of adopters or the mainstream itself. Even for us.

However, you can imagine how, as time went by, most of us ended up with a whole bunch of various different profiles in a good number of internal social networking sites resulting in spreading thinner than ever and eventually jumping into what some other folks have been calling social fatigue. Pretty natural, most folks seem to claim, and I would probably have to agree with them to a certain extent, since I, too, noticed such fatigue over the course of the years. Till 2007.

In that year, IBM decided to productise all of those wonderful social interactions and create, as a result of it, a single product: IBM Connections, formerly known as Lotus Connections. So in the end employee profiles, blogs, social bookmarks, files, activities, wikis and communities (And now Forums) became all integrated into a single point of entry: Connections itself. No longer would there be a need to keep up with multiple social networking environments, with multiple networks, with multiple levels of interactions. It was all coming along, rather nicely, into a single, unified experience. And we were all rather grateful! Yes, sir!

All of a sudden, all of that social fatigue vanished thin air and a new re-energised effort to consolidate both connections / networks and content was born! All of a sudden there was a single space where fellow colleagues could all interact, be social, get the job done doing their work, but still have plenty of good fun along the way, without having that sense of walking the talk thinner than ever. Yes, sir, we *are* all grateful!

Well, hello Google Plus! Welcome to my 2007 integrated user experience! Glad you could finally make it and very happy to see how you will help me fight that social fatigue I was starting to experiment with the Social Web and integrate all of my core networks into a single one, and all of that with a plus!

Now, I am sure that plenty of folks out there would not feel very comfortable with me advocating for a ONE, single social networking tool that could eventually rule over all of the others. But the thing is that, if things continue like that, Google Plus will eventually rule them all! And here’s why.

I am not going to bother folks sharing a good number of the rather interesting and insightful blog posts that other early adopters have been sharing so far in their own blogs. However, what I would like to do is to share with you folks why, if Google Plus continues to evolve nicely, like it is at the moment, even though we are only at iteration #1, I may well kiss good-bye to a good number of the social networking tools from the Social Web that I have been using over the course of the years.

Starting with the no-brainers, both Facebook and LinkedIn. Why? Well, because G+ seems to have done their homework properly and understood how much more benefit they would be getting from a rather understanding and compromising Terms of Service, something that both FB and LI still have got to come to terms with it.

Then followed by Flickr. If you have been using the Photos option within G+ you will surely agree with me that the user experience is far superior to Flickr’s upload of pictures, which is eventually what we would all want to do, right? The fact that you can import bulk uploads really easy makes it a breeze to move away from other photo-sharing social networking tools, like I recently did for Instagram with Instaport, and probably Flickr soon, too! Oh, I am now waiting for the iOS Apps to become available and that’s where my mobile photo-sharing will be going, eventually…

The next one coming down nicely would be Delicious… Why would I want to go and share my bookmarks and whatever other links in an external social bookmarking site when my core social networks, i.e. my social graph, the one I care about the most, are all hanging out in Plus. Why force them to go and do a couple of extra clicks to get access to interesting and relevant content when you can do that right there! Mind you, I haven’t been doing any external social bookmarking for the last few months, after the recent debacles and hiccups with services like Magnolia / Gnolia or Delicious itself, respectively. But I can see myself using Plus to share my favourite links with my social networks, in context, i.e. in Circles, which means we all get to hang out at the same space!

Moving along, the next one on the line of threat would be our beloved Skype. I am not sure whether folks have been experimenting with Hangouts (See this rather quick YouTube video clip on it) in G+ already or not, but if you have, you know exactly what I mean. They totally rock and I could surely see myself using them more and more as my core networks continue to make the migration over.

And, finally, the single one I feel would be the most threatened of them all: Twitter. And I know that this is probably going to hurt quite a few folks, when I say such thing, but I am already seeing it myself judging from how drastically my time in Twitter has gone down and how that time has been re-invested in Google Plus. I am a big fan of Twitter, as most folks know already. It’s been my single, most important social networking tool of them all! I live there. Or, at least, I used to. But the thing is that Twitter has been enjoying a good number of annoyances over the course of time that have provoked that love / hate relationship to evolve into one where I can’t care less anymore:

  • Search: Looking back not even a week’s worth of tweets, both your own or others’, is not good enough, I am afraid! Specially, when you are doing live tweeting at conference events and a week later it’s all GONE! As if it never happened!
  • Timeline: It used to drive me crazy I can only go back up to 6 hours of tweets; I know and understand the Social Flow and everything, but let me decide what I want and don’t want to read, please; I am already old enough to make such decisions.
  • Replies & Mentions: They have never worked the way they should, have they? And that’s been like that for years, creating and generating unnecessary hassle for what I do believe is one of Twitter’s core capabilities… reaching out to people!
  • Spambots: They may be doing something about it, but not good enough, in my opinion, when too much of it is out of our own control! Just like with email!
  • Silly Twitter API limits: One of the reasons why I keep following very very few people, as opposed to the ones I know I should / could follow. Again, let me decide, without limits, the number of folks I would want to follow or not. Don’t make that decision for me, please.
  • Twitter API new rules: That have crashed most of my favourite Twitter clients user experiences and no questions asked! Latest example, the recent changes where I cannot longer see DMs in my favourite Twitter client for Mac: Nambu. I do know it would happen eventually, but let’s face it, Twitter is what it is today because of its entire ecosystem, not because of the tool itself; if you ignore it, or kill it, be ready to suffer the consequences…
  • Lack of support, All of the issues I mentioned above have been reported to Twitter by yours truly a few times, and I am still waiting for their first response on any of them :-//
  • Hold a simple (Not even complex!) conversation: In Twitter? Yeah, right, good luck with that one! You will need it!
  • Its lack of integration with other services: That I know will be addressed to a certain extent with the upcoming iOS 5 release, but then again probably a bit too late already, if we would have to wait for over 4 years to such integration into an entire social ecosystem. 

If you would look into each and everyone of those issues you could say that Twitter would be in trouble. But the thing is that Twitter *IS* already in trouble, because Google Plus addresses, AND fixes!, each and everyone of those annoyances and it does it beautifully, if I may add, even something so relatively simple like sharing clean URLs that you could then curate and re-share across.

Now, I am not sure what you folks would think about, but I am, for once, getting really excited about the huge potential that Google Plus has got to be a smash hit in the Social Web. Its unique opportunity to be pervasive enough to be part of Google’s entire ecosystem makes it tremendously powerful; its mobile capabilities (The Android App is brilliant!) will be par to none, as soon as the iOS App hits the Apple Store (Hopefully, this week!) and the other half of the mobile world gets down to business with it. Its simple, yet wonderfully insightful approach towards Circles (Think of Twitter Lists with a purpose) will help folks tame the info overload beast that most other social networking tools tend to have as they grow bigger. And the list goes on and on and on…

Indeed, you can colour me excited. I haven’t felt this excitement about the Social Web for a long while, probably as far back as when Twitter went mainstream, but I must confess that after having played with Google Plus for a good few days, I am still enjoying the experience, just as much as the first day, despite the learning curve, despite having to re-build my networks, despite the fact that there are mostly geeky early adopters in there, while we wait for the rest of the masses, etc. etc. It hasn’t faded away and probably it won’t. At least, for me, because right now I am just waiting for Google Plus to open up the doors and give us an opportunity to invite others, so that we can get that second and third wave of early adopters and from there onwards go mainstream.

Now, the final key question I am sure you folks would be wondering about as I get to wrap up this blog post. Will I ever leave all of those other social networking tools and move just to Google Plus? My personal gut feeling is that, just like I did with IBM Connections back in 2007, if my core networks (Specially the ones from Twitter) decide to move I’ll be making the move myself. So far, I am just two thirds of that move to be complete and then you could say that Google Plus would be, for me, at least, the one that would rule them all. Just like Connections does for my Intranet social interactions. And somehow that feels rather liberating… For a change.

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12 comments

  1. Oh wait, you forgot one more egregious offense by Twitter of late – the requirement that any integrated tool also access to your Direct Messages! Ok, so now they limit the time frame of that access. But really. Why does any other app, other than Twitter, need access to your DM stream? We already know Facebook apps and the privacy model is wrong. But Twitter? I used to integrate many Twitter apps without thinking. Now I refuse them all.

    But I agree Google + could very well easily take over Twitter for me – and address some of my own annoyances in my professional circles (many you address above beautifully). And in a few months, I might get used to Google+ only to replace Facebook as well … I’m open to considering that at some point. For now, I like having a totally “personal” app and totally “professional” app.

    All Google needs to do now is create a killer iPhone and iPad app. When I shut down work, I prefer to be mobile and G+ leaves a lot to be desired on the iPhone and iPad (on iPad even browser view drops many features). If Google doesn’t mess up TOS, they might have a winner.

    The only downside to G+? Wordy comments like mine when you might really want someone to be brief and get to the point 🙂

  2. Thanks for this, Luis. As usual, you’ve provided some clarity in a fast-changing environment. What is frustrating for me right now is I kinda feel like a person without a country. All the people I’m connected to in G+ are currently far more active in their professional lives with social media, e.g. the Community BackChannel, E2.0, and general Social Media and KM folks; everyone works for a large organization or has been doing it independently for years.

    The people I really need to engage and share with for what I’m currently focused on professionally aren’t on – and aren’t likely going to be on (at least not until Google opens G+ up to more folks) – this platform.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way saying I don’t want to continue my relationships with the people I’ve grown close to in the last few years, but I have little to teach them . . . and much to learn. It’s kind of a one way street right now. If I am to make a difference here, in the city in which I live, with its governance, educational, and business communities, I need to bring them on board. Unfortunately, they’re a more diverse and – in far too many ways – intransigent lot.

    So . . . I guess what I’m saying here is I’d like to be as excited as you are; I feel like I should be as excited as you are, but I have no one I’m working with to share that excitement. It’s not anyone’s fault – that’s for sure. It’s just the nature of the beast. And I agree with you. I see G+ as being disruptive in many ways, but I’m having trouble keeping up when my day-to-day activities don’t involve using many of the tools it’s threatening. I used to get paid to do this. Maybe in a while, eh?

  3. I guess I’m not quite as 100% positive as you are Luis, or at least, not yet.

    My major instinct with Plus is the same as I’ve felt with Android, Wave and Buzz before, that there’s some tremendous technology there that is very effective, but little emotional pull. There’s definitely a theme running through Google’s UI that just doesn’t draw me in and build the relationship between the tool and me. That’s why I’m back on iOS, using a full email client rather than GMail, etc. It’s all just a little too clinical for my tastes. Clearly others do not agree.

    Plus is definitely a game-changer though, no question. What happens next is really about integration. Twitter and Facebook are now so embedded in both the cultural psyche and the consumer web, that it’s going to take a big effort for Plus to overcome that. As well as getting the users onto the platform, they’ve gone to get the platform onto the users – on the majority of sites that the user visits. That’s a tough ask in the short term…

  4. Today social networking is very popular. it’s much more hard competition to get fame. Dig, twitter facebook has set their position. But if google provides much more better facility it may be possible. Great try. hope it would be successful……
    Regards
    Mahesh Kumar

  5. I like G+ but I’m not ditching Flickr anytime soon. G+ may be better for uploading casual pictures of a birthday party or any other event, but as a photography aficionado, I find Flickr’s approach *vastly* superior, beginning with the possibility to upload a full size 12Mpx image and pull it in original resolution, easily viewing EXIF data, and other nice features.

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