Michael Wu, Ph.D. is Lithium's Principal Scientist of Analytics, digging into the complex dynamics of social interaction and group behavior in online communities and social networks.
Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics and its application to Social CRM.He's a regular blogger on the Lithosphere's Building Community blog and previously wrote in the Analytic Science blog. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+.
Before I begin today, I just want to let you know that I've submitted a workshop proposal for SxSWi 2012. The topic is Gamification: From Hype to Science. If you feel this topic deserves the merit and attention at SxSW, I'd like to ask for you help to please vote for my proposal (you may need to create a FREE account to vote). Many thanks in advance.
Alright, this is the last post of my mini-series that analyzes and compares the network properties of the giant social platforms. I started with Facebook, then I looked at Twitter, and in my last post I covered Google+. If you haven’t seen the earlier posts of this series, I highly recommend taking a quick read of the following:
In these posts, we covered a lot of network concepts. We talked about the strengths and weaknesses of bidirectional as well as unidirectionally networks. As with any social medium, the democratization of content creation also created a lot of noise (i.e. irrelevant content). So we also discussed the curation mechanism on various platforms. Today, we can finally line them up and compare them side by side to understand their similarities and differences holistically.
The Ultimate Tool for Relationship Management
Facebook and Linkedin are clearly social networks that help people maintain relationships (see Maintaining the Strong Ties). However, they are maintaining different types of relationships in our lives:
Facebook for personal relationships: family, friends, relatives, etc.
Linkedin for professional and business relationships: colleagues, classmate, partners, friends, etc.
Yet, these different relationships are all part of our personal social network, which consists of all the people we interact with and the relationships between them. In real life, our relationships are very complex. Every one of our relationships is unique in some ways. However, both Facebook and Linkedin try to bucket our relationships into very generic categories. (Note: Technically, Facebook allows users to put their friends into groups, but this feature is practically ineffective due to low adoption.)
Google+ fixes this problem via Circles, and it fixes the adoption problem through gamification design (see Part 3: The Plausible Rationales beyond Circles). It definitely packaged a lot of essential social features in a well-integrated platform. +1 to Google+! But is Google+ the ultimate answer for managing our relationship?
Probably not. Although Google+ enables users to put their connections into any number of circles with any granularity, the social circles in our real life are far more intricate. They are nested, overlapping hierarchically, but most important, they are dynamic and context sensitive. I seriously doubt anyone is going to spend the time to replicate their real life social network on Google+, let alone manually adjusting these circles as they change from one context to another. If people are mirroring their physical social network on Google+, and are sharing content to the proper circles, then Robert Scoble shouldn’t be complaining about the noise on the platform. The very fact that there is still so much noise on Google+ is an indication that the circles on Google+ is far from those in reality, because we clearly don’t experience such high level of noise in our real life.
There is one critical limitation on Google+ I like to point out. Right now, it is not very easy to exclude an individual or several circles from my shares. For example, I can’t easily share to all my connections except my relatives in Taiwan, or all my college buddies except the one birthday girl that we are trying to surprise. Facebook has these types of exclusion features, but again, they are not well adopted. In fact, Facebook has a lot of the features that Google+ offers. They are just not well integrated and not very easy to use. Remember... simplicity is crucial. It is the one factor of gamification that people often overlooked.
Technology alone cannot solely determine the winner. To get a more complete picture, we must also consider the business ecosystem beyond the social principles and network properties that are built into these platforms. Facebook has been around for 8 years and they have a large network of partners and developers who have built apps and business on the Facebook platform. Some of these partners (e.g. Zynga) even spawned a whole industry of their own (e.g. social gaming). Likewise, Twitter (5 years old) strategically opened a sampling of their data through their public API. This resulted in a huge ecosystem of software apps, tools, services as well as businesses, and this Twitterverse infographic is merely scraping the frost on the tip of the iceberg. These business relationships are not going to disappear overnight.
Google+ (being an ultra-secret project that launched only a month ago) clearly doesn’t have any of these external infrastructures yet. But let’s not forget that Google has been around for 13 years, and Google+ can certainly leverage the breadth of business relationships from its mother ship. For example, Google+ just introduced games last week.
So, who is going to win at the end? Being a scientist, I hate to play a fool’s game, especially when there is little data. But if I have to speculate, I would say that social networking services will probably become a fragmented market without a single dominant player. As you can see, Google+, Facebook, Linkedin, and even Twitter have their unique strength and their niche in the market. The only clear winner I can see is the consumers.
Disappointed at the answer? I did warn you last time. :-) The reason is because I strongly believe in a modest amount of healthy competition, which drives innovation, differentiation, and specialization. As the social networking industry matures, interoperability will ultimately bring better services to the end users and give them more choices.
We have covered a lot of network concepts over the course of this mini-series. Rather than summarizing everything in words, I decided to create an illustration that summarizes the main points we’ve discussed (see Figure 1). This image is hyperlinked and clickable. I must say that I’m not a graphic artist by training, so I hope you can forgive my bare attempt.
This mini-series was originally a single very-long article. I decided to split it up due to its length. I also wanted to experiment with a more frequent posting schedule. Did you like this short episodic presentation, or would you have preferred seeing the whole article at once? Let me know and I will definitely try to accommodate in the future.
Well, this concludes my mini-series on the network analysis of the popular social platforms. See you next time. Don't forget to vote for my SxSW proposal...