MySpace founder Tom Anderson addressed whether social is in Google's DNA in light of the early success of Google+ in a guest post on TechCrunch.
Google+'s primary differentiator from Facebook is the Circles construct, where users manually follow other people they choose. Some Web luminaries have been questioning whether this is a good thing; others welcome it.
I welcome it; it helps get my messaging out and if I can get more notable users to follow me, my social rank improves. That is Google+'s raison d'etre in my opinion.
Anderson is right to ask the question, though the whole business about whether social is in Google's DNA is as trite and cliche as Ballmer's "Google is a one-trick pony." That is competitive positioning losers use when they're getting their asses kicked by Google.
But it is true; if you had to pick one glaring space in the last five years where Google has, well, sucked, it's in social. Google Buzz was launched as an abusive bastard of social conversation, lacking serious privacy chops. OpenSocial. Friend Connect. Meh. Really?
It's early days for social, and it seems Google may have gained social DNA by hiring social pros like Joseph Smarr and Chris Messina and by moving the right people over to create + (Vic Gundotra), but that's not Anderson's point. It is:
"I love using G+, enough so that I'm worried that Google is going to make a misstep and ruin the service. Specifically I worry that Google will assume an algorithm alone is what's needed to reduce the "signal to noise" ratio in the G+ feed. Several Google engineers have posted publicly that they're working on this algorithm."
I don't worry about algorithm or human. I worry about which social signal-to-noise distiller approach will work best. Noting that Facebook uses an algorithm, Anderson wonders whether we humans will be able to filter by hand, or by predetermined signal checkboxes:
"Will G+ give users more control by letting them sort the feed based on post date vs. comment date? Will G+ give users more control and let users sort by photos, videos, links? Or simply search the stream?"
Yes! I'd like all of those features. I say Google+ should get as fine-grained as possible for controls, and do it in such a clear, transparent way as to further pressure Facebook and its complex overtures toward user privacy.
But Anderson really endeared himself to my heart when he wrote in the next paragraph:
"Imagine if G+ could determine the semantic nature of a post, categorize it, and let users follow a subset of topics from a user, instead of an entire feed: (e.g. follow Tom's posts about Google+ and Apple, but not his silly .GIFs)."
Semantics! That cuts in such a concise, practical way to the heart of something I suggested earlier this month about further filtering life's social changes and nuances earlier this month:
"Imagine a social network, which is static until we augment it, whose graph changed based on cues or signals its users leave. So the software notes that Mandy and Mindy are engaging in a flame war online, then changes their "friend" status to something else. Of course, that assumes Mandy and Mindy have bared their beefs online. It won't translate from offline to online without some sort of input."
"So what we clearly need to do is find a mechanism where peoples' input is absorbed and digested by the software, which accounts for life's normal changes. Quora's approach is Q&A style. That won't wash for a broader social network. Not everybody is seeking answers to questions all of the time. Sometimes they just want to hang out."
"As BFFs, Mandy and Mindy may not be angry at each other forever, and we need to allow for such changes. It's just not clear how to do it."
The sooner Google offers these semantic sentiment analysis tools, the easier it will be for the early users and those who join when the floodgates open. There are 10 million+ users now, but multiply that by 100 and you've got a potentially massive, chaotic network.
Maybe Google should hire Anderson to help cultivate the social media noise regulator. He knows where to look next on Google+. Just sayin'.