G+ is on my mind these days, and so I hope you don’t mind me spewing out a bit more riffs on this front over the next few days. Like many of you here, I have a substantial investment in this platform and would like it to succeed.
In short, it’s not enough to enshrine Collections and Communities. Circles matter too.
Relationships in a Knowledge Network
I’ve been stewing on a core idea, which is that Google+ needs to invest more into building back relationships between human beings. I’m not saying this to detract from the important strategic turn this network made in focusing on topics. I’m saying this to support the focus on shared interests.
For there is no shared interest without someone to share them with.
A pure topic network already exists: it’s called Google Search (and the Knowledge Graph behind it). What Google+ really is is a Shared Interest Network, designed to augment its Interest Graph. The Interest Graph is the point of intersection between the Social Graph (which Facebook already dominates with its social network) and the Knowledge Graph (which Google largely controls).
The Interest Graph is what ties me to a network of particular topics. It’s what ties me into the Knowledge Graph.
For what constitutes knowledge is a true matter of perspective. I may want to know about the human soul, about artificial intelligence, and about mission-driven businesses. You may want to know about marketing, biology, and theology. The value that certain knowledge has for me is not the same as what it has for you.
The Mission of Shared Interest
Understanding this relative value that each of us hold for various topics is essential, not just for advertising, but for the bigger project of organizing the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, which is, after all, Google’s mission.
One could argue that Google already has a very good model of this intersection between people and knowledge thanks to the massive amounts of data it collects from our interactions with its Search Engine. But those relationships to knowledge — that search history — is a mixture of our subconscious and conscious minds that we don’t always want exposed to everyone else.
The Shared Interest Graph is a representation of our outward-facing expressions of our interests. It is what we consciously express to one another, what we willingly share with one another.
The primary purpose of a Shared Interest Graph is to express ourselves to one another.
Shared Interest Graph Competition
Interest-sharing networks like Google+ that are built for the express purpose of generating an Interest Graph. The Interest Graph is the new frontline in the battle for commerce.
From a commercial perspective, I’m talking about the detailed understanding of how each individual conducts her or himself when we know our expressions are visible to the public.
If you don’t quite see how important something like this is, I recommend you dig into what Facebook is doing with its Graph API. You see Google is cooperating with search competitors like Microsoft and Yandex on Schema.org, which suggests to me they are not anticipating a future where any one company has a lock on the knowledge graph and its connections to our various social graphs through things like social networks, email, messaging, and more critically in the future, the Internet of Things.
Facebook, however, does seem to believe that they can own the whole thing. They are betting they will be big enough to control this interface between people and knowledge. They know there’s advertising money there, and know, rightly, that it is this juncture between people and things is where all business-to-consumer commerce originates in the field of marketing and operates in the coming Internet of Things. Facebook is betting its future on owning the interface between people and things.
This, you see, is part of why I invest my time on Google+ and Twitter (and now Mastodon), with only a minimal presence on Facebook.
Relationships Lost on Google+
Google is betting its financial future on this interface too. What Google doesn’t seem to realize is just how important its bet on the Shared Interest Graph — its bet on Google+ — actually is.
The good news is that the Google+ team is really focused on the idea of shared interests. That’s been the fuel behind the resharpened focus on Collections and Communities in the new UI.
The bad news is that other topical navigation solutions such as hashtags and search have been badly degraded in the redesign. These need to be fixed.
The further bad news is that the redesign badly crippled Circles, which is really the heart and soul of human relationships on Google+.
But the squelching of Circles is only one example of the way that relationships have been demoted in importance on Google+ over recent years. Another example is the fact that, without tools like CircleCount and Circloscope, we are unable to know whether or not someone has circled or followed us back. Reciprocality is social networking 101. This omission would almost be funny if it weren’t so damned egregious and telling of the lack of focus on relationships.
Why did the design team take away the simple icon that shows someone else feels that they too are in relationship with you? Was it somehow running out of pixels? No, my gut tells me its because it is now unclear what exactly constitutes that reciprocality. Should it show as reciprocal simply from someone follow one of my Collections or does it have to retain its original meaning, which was that that person had circled you? It’s a good question right? But rather than resolving this, the design team just punted on it, remaining silent to ongoing user questions about the rationale behind its removal.
Or what about the fact that it take a good 30-40 seconds between the time I hit the “Done” button and the time I’ve successfully added someone to a circle using my Android phone? Adding someone to a circle should take no more than a second or two. It’s ridiculous that it takes that long, and more evidence of the lack of focus on relationships in the redesign.
If all this sounds a bit harsh, it is only from a place of the tough love that I hope can act as a catalyst for change. Google+ team, we are here to help you, just as much as you are here to help us. People want to be co-creators, not cattle.
We are telling you, in various ways, that there needs to be a renewed focus on relationships. And here’s the good news, it’s not at the expense of the new strategy, but in full support of it. For a Shared Interest Graph is nothing without people with which to share it.
(Please excuse any typos; I don’t consider this my blog, where I edit things more carefully before publishing. If there’s something that just plain doesn’t make sense, let me know in the comments and I may re-edit the post to address it.)