Tomorrow, I am chairing the Social Media in Government Conference, produced by the Advanced Learning Institute, so I won’t be on GovLoop nearly as much as I should, though I will be on Twitter.
There’s been a lot of coverage of Google+ both on GovLoop and around the Web. People are making all sorts of pronouncements, and though I usually try to steer clear of prognosticating, as I review my slide deck for the conference, I cannot help but come to this conclusion: I will leave Facebook for Google+ and I won’t look back.
I predict that many–if not most–people in the workforce will follow me. And most–if not all–people who already use the Google suite of products (GMail, Google Docs, Picasa, Blogger, Google Public Data Explorer) will follow me. The reason why is also the heart of my presentation. In a word: Connectivity.
On Thursday morning, I’ll talk about how connectivity is reshaping government, and to help government leaders and employees understand and implement connectivity, I’ve identified four types of connections: people to (1) each other; (2) digital assets, like photos, documents, and raw data; (3) applications; and (4) things. Simply put, Google+ acts as a single tool that enables each of those connections, while Facebook does not.
There is nothing that one can do on Facebook that one cannot do on Google+ (save, perhaps, play Farmville, but one has to assume that’s not far off). Twitter is something else entirely, and I’ll address that further on.
One of my slides shows a visualization of layers as they are used in various applications, like Photoshop and Flash. In Flash, users can create a base layer of graphics and then add layers like “music,” “buttons,” “animation,” and “action script.” I apply that idea to our lives, arguing that we can think of reality as a “base layer,” onto which we can add other layers, like “language,” “electricity,” “finance,” and “government.” We can also add a layer called “social.”
The social layer allows us to complete manual tasks more quickly (“many hands make light work”) and mental tasks more completely (“none of is as smart as all of us.”). The social layer helps us find things faster (“honey, have you seen my keys?” “everyone should read @digiphile’s latest: http://oreil.ly/nvYkUn #GOV20″), compile and vet information more rapidly (Wikipedia) and direct action more precisely (Ushahidi: Haiti).
What Google+ represents, especially for people already using Google’s other tools, is the application of a social layer onto digital tools through which we already connect to each other, digital assets, applications, and things. Where Facebook was spawned, as its name suggests, in a college setting, divorced from productivity and directed solely toward social, Google+ is exactly that: it’s an additional layer over productivity tools we’re already using.
In another post, I wrote that any social network would have to achieve critical mass to succeed; Google+ already has more than 10 million members, by some estimates, and even if only current GMail users move to the platform, Google will catapult to nearly 200 million members – critical mass indeed. Moreover, many organizations both in the private and public sector rely on Google for their IT infrastructure (Hello, Los Angeles). Google+ can likely count on those users to help it both define and refine its value as a social layer on top of its productivity layer.
I’m not suggesting that Facebook as a company is necessarily toast. But I am suggesting that the Facebook of 2013, if there is to be one, will look and behave very little like the Facebook of 2011. Its interface excels at only one kind of connection (people to one another) and is merely an add-on to our lives. Google (again, especially for users of its products) is central to our lives.
Not Ruling out Twitter
So why will Twitter be untouched by Google+? In a word: Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck, or Hootsuite, or whatever other compiler we may use, allows for an information-dense, easily- and quickly-customizable dashboard that the simplicity of Twitter’s data allows. It’s wrong to see Twitter as a “social” network; rather it’s an “information” network. As Mark Drapeau writes, Twitter has become both infrastructure and content. There’s plenty of room for both Twitter and Google+.