Monthly Archives: July 2011

Is Google+ The Future Of Networking, Social And Otherwise?

This article was originally published on the Idealware Blog in July of 2011.

Google unleashed their latest attempt to grab the focus from Facebook and Twitter with Google+, a Social Network that, at first glance, looks like a Facebook clone, but differentiates itself in at least one significant way: the people you communicate with on Google+, along with the way that you do it and the tools for inviting and connecting people are far superior to the social networking competition and they emulate the way we communicate in real life.  This makes for a very engaging and, once you have a handle on it, comfortable social network right out of the gate.

Now, most of my nptech friends are working hard to imagine what kind of applications this new platform will offer for constituent engagement and marketing.  This is a bit of a challenge, because the beta-release is specifically designed for individuals, not organizations; Google plans to open it up to companies later, with some targeted functionality. That’s too speculative for my taste.

Lots of smart nptech people have described Google+ and shared some insightful first impressions — here are some of my favorites:

Beth Kanter’s first impressions

NTEN’s Amy Sample Ward on Google+ privacy and control

Frogloop’s everrything you always wanted to know about Google+

Her’s how I sum up the major difference between Google+ and the social ntworking competition: on Google+, you’re a person.  On Facebook and Twitter, you’re a persona.  This is an easier case to make for Twitter than Facebook — Twitter’s only privacy offering is the option to block your tweets, and only a small percentage of users do that.  Most of us know that we are broadcasting to the world on that medium and act accordingly, being mindful that we are establishing an onliine reputation, not having a fireside chat.  Facebook suffers from an identity crisis: it started out as an intimate, friends only network, but, in recent years, has been re-egineered to default to a Twitter-like public stream.  It can be restricted, but even if you define lists that separate out friends, colleagues and family, targeting messages to them is still a bit of work, particularly when compared to Google+.  Accordingly, most of my friends use the platform to share information broadly, rather than converse.  It is overall more personal information than what you see on Twitter, but it’s not interpersonal.

Google+, by contrast, allows you to easily restrict your post to the circles of contacts that you define and/or individuals that you’re connected to.  If they’re not on Google+, you can include them in your circles anyway and share via email.  This makes it more like an email extended conversation than a separate social network — I’ll be surprised if we don’t see some merging of the Google+ Circles and GMail Contacts soon.  Add to that the Hangouts feature — group video chat — and Google+ isn’t really focused on sharing information as much as it is on conversing.  It can function like Twitter and Facebook, but the default is a little bit richer.  We’ll see what happens when the thrill wears off, but the initial activity seems to well reflect this — we’re finding it to be a very engaging platform.  My friends haven’t abandoned Facebook and Twitter, but I can see that the questions and conversational posts are going straight to G+, while the shared links and cute cat pictures are remaining on Twitter and FB.

Web strategist that I consider myself to be, when I look at these networks, I think about them not as social networks, but as future operating systems.  I firmly believe that Windows, Linux and OSX are all going to become less and less important as feature platforms — they already are.  People are starting to abandon them for IOS and Android, patforms for running mobile apps.  AsHTML5 and Ajax make web apps more sophisticaed — and those apps run well regardless of the operating system — the IOS and Android-specific apps will wane as the cross-platform web apps take precedence.  At that point, the function of a network operating system, regardless of the hardware platform, will be to support communication and sharing, better befitting the name “network”.  Google+, Facebook, and the like will mirror the functionality of business portals like Sharepoint (we already see themadopting the social networking features).

In this near future, where the social network IS the network, who’s going to win?  The ones, like Facebook, that restrict the use of the data and push everything to be public, or the ones like Google+, that make it easy for users to extract, backup and control their information and that have intranet/extranet/internet functionality built in at the core?

Which company is going to get this concept quicker — the one that started as a social network, or the one that has been developing a web-based operating system for years, Google ChromeOS, which already works as a shell for existing Google products, much as Google+ is conceived as an extension of the same?

I don’t think Google+ is simply challenging Facebook.  It’s still Google challengng Microsoft and Apple. Facebook might well be a victim of that battle because, once this network as OS matures, we’ll all have to ask ourselves why we would use the one with Farmville instead of the one with Google Apps.  Or the one that facilitates collaboration and teamwork over branding and sharing cat videos.  I see Google+ as the evolution of the Google operating system, not just another social network.  It will be very interesting to watch it grow.

The Evolution Of The NTEN Tech Track

My friends in the Nonprofit Technology Network know that I have been championing a resurgence in plain old tech talk at NTEN’s annual conference for a few years now. While “technology” is part of the organizations name, it’s seemed to translate to “social media” for the last few years, to the point in 2009/10 that it seemed like the social media focus of NTEN might overwhelm the nonprofit one — the NTEN conference was trending on Twitter and more and more social media mavens were referencing “NTC” along with “SXSW“. Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of staff and consultants that deal with servers, routers, wireless, Windows and virtualization at nonprofit oprgs were finding little of interest in the NTC session list.

So, in 2010, a group of us put together the first “tech tracK“. A subtrack of the IT Staff track of sessions, it included topics like Wireless Computing, Virtualization, Cloud Computing, Budgeting, and Change Management — the core things that IT staff are dealing with these days. The mini-track was conceived as a peer learning and community building subtrack. We eschewed Powerpoints and daises for a more informal discussion format, mining the attendees for both issues to discuss and expertise to share. It was a great success: five high-rated sessions with good attendance and a stated appreciation for the takeaways provided. In 2011, the Tech track was back (even though I didn’t attend that year) and was also a success.

So the 2012 NTC planning is well underway, and I’m declaring the ultimate victory. There will be no Tech Track this year. Instead, the IT Staff track definition has been narrowed to this:

IT Staff: This track is for staff and consultants who manage and support technology infrastructure. This is a resource-sharing track for all nonprofit techies, no matter how you arrived at your role, looking to share success stories, challenges, voice concerns, and glean wisdom from each other.

To my mind, this is how it always should have been — a fifth of the sessions dedicated to those of us who toil in the IT trenches, providing the tools, systems and platforms that enable mission-focused endeavors.

So now’s the time for you to speak up — if you’ve taken on the challenge of supporting your org’s use of technology, what do you need help with? What do you want to see on the 2012 NTC session list that you can bring to your CEO and say “send me to San Francisco, because this is information we need to know?” NTEN is seeking submissions for session topics. You can submit one without committing to present on it. The goal is to hear about what interests you, and they’ll match up the session submissions with speakers and/or facilitators later on. So, have at it! Click here to submit your sessions.

One Size Fits

Here’s a rant aimed at Apple and Microsoft.

Mac OSX Lion came out today, and it sports a lot of new features cribbed from IOS, the iPhone/iPad operating system. Steve Jobs has pretty much decided that the days of the PC are waning, and we want a mobile OS everywhere we go. He said that a year ago, and Microsoft was listening. Reports are that Windows 8 will be one operating system (that looks a lot like the boxy new Windows Mobile 7) for all platforms. I imagine that I’ll be running to Linux soon…

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of convergence. I like watching TV on my laptop and I appreciate the ability to do email on my phone. I anticipate that, within a year, I’ll be commuting with a tablet (I’m waiting for the Android technology to mature a bit). But what’s wrong with letting the tools go with their strengths?

This is almost the reverse error that Microsoft made with the first Windows mobile, an OS for phones that had a start button, Programs folder and dropdown task list. And zero usability. Microsoft thought the same thing they’re thinking today: one size fits all; our users want standardization, and are willing to sacrifice usability in order to get the same interface on every device. WRONG. Users want tools that are good at getting jobs done. Neutering the PC, or making the phone too obtuse to navigate, in order to standardize the interface is more like servicing your branding needs at your customers expense.

Of course, what concerns me more about these moves are the fundamental differences between the sophisticated computer OSes (Windows 7, Snow Leopard) and the mobile OSes. Mobile OSes are, somewhat justifiably, rigid. You can’t offer the same level of customization on a low-powered, small screen device that you can on a powerful PC or laptop. Apple, of course, has taken this a step further by tightly controlling the flow of content via iTunes. And taking the additional, controversial step of censoring the content available via iTunes and the app store. While most of us (I think) aren’t upset by a vendor-imposed restriction on pornography, Apple has also censored Pulitzer-prize winning political cartoonists, adaptations of classic literature, and magazines about competing products. We now have an app store for MacOS and one for Windows under development, and Microsoft has looked, once again, like an Apple-wannabee with their recent product moves.

So are we moving into an era where our major computing tools providers have graduated to content managers and censors? It sure looks that way. There’s a lot of easy money to be made — as Apple’s string of record-breaking profit quarters will attest — in taking the computing out of computing, and turning convergence into simply entertainment-delivery, while user content creation tools and environments get the back seat at the drive-in. I’m not happy with the trend.

Why Google+ Will Succeed Where Wave And Buzz Failed

Geoff Livingston of NPTech Strategic consulting firm Zoetica held a little contest yesterday, and I won a copy of his book. The challenge? Explain, convincingly, why Google’s latest attempt at social networking, Google+, is not just a shiny object. Or why it is one. I chose the former, here’s my winning post:

Here’s my take on why, after the shininess fades, Google+ will still be an active social network.

First, they’ve learned from mistakes, theirs and others. They learned a lot from the failed Wave and Buzz projects, making privacy front and center; doing uncharacteristically flashy UI design (even stealing one of the Apple guys to do it); and not being too heavy-handed in the rollout. They are leveraging the Google App ecosystem, as Buzz tried to, but this seems like a cleaner and more serious effort — instead of just pasting a social network onto GMail, they’re incorporating apps like Picasa into it. Those of us already drinking the Google Koolaid (and they say that Google Apps is a high priority) will find it very useful (as opposed to redundant, as Buzz largely was).

The biggest lesson they learned was to not let people stream pollute as easily as they could on Buzz. I maintain that Buzz is a great platform for communications. It’s the ultimate cross between a blog and blog comments that could foster great conversations and raise the art of information sharing, if we didn’t have to wade through 20,000 redundant tweets to get to the good stuff. Google opened a floodgate of noise there, and too many users — including very good friends of mine — were happy to add to the din.

Second, they’ve created something compelling. It out-Facebook’s Facebook for interpersonal sharing and it can stretch to Twitter functionality. What’s powerful here is that, unlike Facebook, where targeting subsets of your friends requires advanced knowledge of the platform and a lot of patience, this interface makes it easy to either have an intimate chat or broadcast info widely. It’s easy to follow strangers that I’m not really interested in conversing with, at the same time that I can have deep talks with my close friends. They really got it right with Circles — friend/follower management on FB and Twitter is ridiculously kludgy in comparison. So, unlike Wave, which was too obtuse, and unlike Buzz, which wasn’t compelling, this is elegant and compelling. It wins people over.

Third, they’ve nailed SEO. The early adopters are raving about the hits it’s generating and the great statistics available. That’s going to be a more sticky draw than the shininess.

Most of all, they’ve emulated the cool Facebook stuff while shedding all of the annoyances. You can friend strangers here without over-sharing with them. You can +1 a commercial entity (or NPO) without inviting them to flood your stream with ads. You can tell your best friend something without sharing it with your mom. And that’s all easy; there’s no complicated help screen or multi-level privacy settings to contend with. It just works.