2011: The year in review.

A brief look back at the main at the main events in social during the last year as referenced here on my blog.

20112011 has been a busy year for the social web with all the major players having something to bring to the table. The pace of change is increasing and will only continue doing so over the next 12 months but let's have a quick glance at the main events:

Google

Most notably we saw the launch of Google+ - the search giant's last-ditch attempt to actually get social right after the false starts of Buzz, Wave and Orkut.

Going back as far as August last year I stated that Google had to get social incorporated into search in order to stay relevant - they finally came good in February.

Amidst rumours of either a full-blown social network (the google.me name did the rounds) or a social layer it seemed as though Google might cop-out and just enhance their search product but including recommendations from friends and the launch of the +1 button were merely precursors, laying down some of the foundations for what was to follow.

In reality Google+ is both a network and a social layer combined but it is early days and the latter element still needs a lot of work in order to be the game changer that it has potential to become.

It also surprises me that Google have not opted to wrap all links with the goo.gl URL shortener in order to gather even more stats but they seem to be doing well with the +1 button so maybe this isn't needed.

Twitter

2011 has seen a lot of change at Twitter from personnel changes and reports of staff unrest to the recent #newnewtwitter redesign.

The company has been on the defensive and fighting battles to regain control over its ecosystem to the point where it was virtually forced to buy TweetDeck to prevent UberMedia acquiring it and having too much power.

There have been calls for Twitter to extend beyond 140 characters and provide ever more complex functionality (I even proposed an idea for channels) but as I also said back in February:

"The joy of Twitter is in its simplicity and this is what resonates with the public."

Twitter agreed and sought to simplify and unify the experience across all platforms with its latest look. While #newnewtwitter may not have been universally acclaimed - some even accuse it of just being a case of the emperor's new clothes - it did at least unify the different points of access for the first time.

Identity

The launch of Google+ ignited a huge debate over the role of identity in the social web. Google's insistence on a real name policy was a major flash point and led to what is known as the "nymwars" (from pseudonym).

There was a massive problem with the public perception of Google+ with many treating it as though it were just another social network but, due to the social layer, it is also an identity service. In order for Plus to be taken seriously as an identity service then there needed to be one key ingredient: trust. Without being able to trust a service there is no way people or third-party companies are going to recognize it, a rigidly enforced real names policy, therefore, became a necessary factor in establishing this.

Google has three levels of authentication: anonymous, pseudonymous and authenticated and the problem is that different apps across their stable employ these three levels with no cohesion or consistency. While Google had said that Plus will support pseudonymous authentication in future the hardest task Google will have in 2012 will be finding a way to successfully link Plus with the various other services via the social layer whilst retaining current levels of privacy - an undertaking of Herculean proportions.

Facebook

After the launch of Google+ we started to see a number of changes which many argued were a response to the Google threat but nothing could have been further from the truth. While the timescale for some minor changes may have been brought forward they were, in fact, just setting the scene for the big ones to follow.

Changes to the news feed, the ticker, timelines and the extensions to the open graph are all massive undertakings and will have been in the planning stages for some time rather than cobbled together in response to any perceived threat from Google+.

Facebook has continued to push the boundaries with regards how far social can intrude on our lives and what we will share with others even though Frictionless sharing is not a sure-fire hit with everyone.

The problem Facebook has is also its strength. The company is very much the vision of Zuckerberg who knows exactly where he wants to travel on social path it's just that a lot of us riding his bus wanted to be dropped off a couple of stops ago. Designing a product to achieve the goals of an individual is sometimes dangerous and can backfire when the public doesn't agree. Still, perhaps it is better to push the envelope and make some mistakes than to not try at all; someone has to take a leap of faith for things to progress. At least Facebook, and Zuckerberg specifically, put their hands up and admit when they are wrong.

Location, location, location

This year saw the first steps in a transition away from the traditional check-in as the means to use location in social. Facebook announced it was moving away from the check-in and instead tying location into everything it does, every status update. Google+ allows for the same thing from the application on mobile.

A check-in on its own is very limited - location really provides value when it has additional context so enabling users to post updates with multiple types of information is now a must in order to succeed.

Facebook further signalled its intent with the talent acquisition of Gowalla (which is shutting down) in an attempt to utilise the synergies between the location startup and the new concept for Facebook Places.

The journey continues

I have already outlined a few ideas of what could happen in 2012 (perhaps they are more of a wish list than actual predictions) but, beyond staying the virtually obvious, it is almost impossible to predict what comes next in social as the rate of change is extraordinary.

As always, I look forward to the journey even if I don't know where I'm going.

Why not discuss the original version of this post over at Google+

Image by jaxxon

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