Google’s messaging bait and switch

Most will tell you that Google doesn't get social, many will even take great delight in doing so.

Buzz was a decent offering with a good community vibe, but was hampered by being solely within Gmail and forever tarnished by the initial privacy snafu.

Google+ was a bold move with great potential but most didn't seem ready for the approach taken with it: everything linked to identity; a social layer as much as a social network. And privacy advocates decried its reach.

Google pulled away from its original intent once it became apparent that people (and regulators) didn't want social tied to everything leading them to refocus on Communities.

Then came Spaces - a seemingly cut-price version of those communities for small groups, but even this is being criticised for poor implementation.

Not a good track record.

Leapfrogging the competition

Jamie Davidson wrote an incredibly insightful post in which he posited that Google's new iOS keyboard - Gboard - was a way for Google to disrupt the messaging landscape dominated by Facebook with Messenger and WhatsApp. A seemingly brilliant plan to insert itself into every other platform and usurp their power.

Davidson argues that chat and messaging is now the killer application on mobile and, if you factor in Mike Elgan's notion that social networking is slowly dying in favour of private networking, you can't help but see the pattern.

But there's more.

As soon as I saw the announcement of Google's new messaging app Allo my instant reaction was that this might actually be a remarkably clever power move by Google.

People love Gboard saying it is the first 3rd party keyboard on iOS that can really hold its own and be a viable alternative to the standard iOS offering. By having search integrated into the keyboard you avoid much of the need to switch out of the host messaging app - an incredibly powerful proposition.

But, placed alongside the announcement of Google Assistant, it is almost as if Google is saying "Gboard is powerful, we know you like it, but just imagine how much better it would be if it was integrated into its OWN app."

Bait and switch.

Google is being criticised for having too many different messaging apps with overlapping remits - almost a throw enough at the wall and see what sticks approach.

This time they could be on to something.

Although we still have a while before Allo launches, the only thing that surprises me is that Gboard wasn't released much earlier, and far wider than just the US, to give users more time to get hooked. Bait and switch but with an improved payoff.

It's a clever ploy that might just work.

Google’s messaging bait and switch

Author Rank and the changing face of Facebook.Comments

Social networking is big business and much is made of the positions and strengths of the major players such as Facebook and Google.

I was recently sent an email by Vincent Schmalbach promoting his post "Author Rank: Larry Page's Nightmare" in which he likens Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm with the concept of Google's Author Rank.

I cannot agree with the starting point of his piece, for the reasons stated below, but he does raise a few interesting questions.

EdgeRank is not author rank for Facebook

EdgeRankEdgeRank is an automated relevance engine based on behaviour: it observes who we interact with, what we like, the types of post we most engage with, etc. and works to show us more of the same thus hoping to pique our interest and enhance our engagement - the overriding aim is to remove irrelevance and provide a better experience in our News Feed.

Author rank (according to patents) seeks to determine the relevance of individual authors to specific search queries and promote those with the most authority within search results. EdgeRank is far more personal.

Once Open Graph data is available via Graph Search, however, a form of author rank could be employed by surfacing web content with the most likes/external Facebook comments as relates to the search query and this is where Vincent's notion of transferring "EdgeRank to web search" comes in to play but, as it stands, this will be more personal than a strict Author Rank.

Search

As I have said in the past, Facebook is outsourcing its search engine index to users via Open Graph but, again, it is a relevance engine: it is not an index of everything but an index of everything that mattered enough to Facebook users that they felt compelled to Like or comment.

Author Rank coming, YodaOne thing Vincent and I do agree on is that Bing's social search initiatives could be a serious competitor for Google with regards to Author Rank and Open Graph data from Facebook could play a large part via nodes, connections and relationships. Unlike Bing, however, Facebook is not currently after definitive external data sources but about likes, interests and influence.

There is massive potential within Facebook but it exists in a state of dichotomy; on one side we have EdgeRank and Graph Search promoting relevance but, on the other, Facebook is constantly criticised for the complete lack of advertising relevance as though our interest data is being completely ignored.

Work is needed to make better use of the data held by the social behemoth.

Facebook's changing face

Much of Facebook's problem is that its social model, the traditional friending model, is becoming less relevant in the wider context of other services across the social web.

Social platforms have an increasing propensity towards discovery rather than just connecting:

  • Twitter's #discover tab and continued use of hashtags
  • Instagram and Foursquare explore options
  • Google+ communities, automatic and related hashtags

While it is seen as copying other services, Facebook is having to change and adapt to the new social paradigms and this is what we have started to see recently. Be it something simple such as Subcriptions or, coming up to date, Graph Search this is now not the look of a network that relies solely on people connecting with those they already know.

What not who

No identityDespite what we may tell ourselves, the business of social is increasingly less about existing relationships but more about establishing connections or edges and what tiny signals might possibly be inferred or extrapolated from even the most innocuous of actions.

It's not who you are but what you do, where and when you do it, who you do it with and how they share that experience.

Facebook used to care who you were as that determined why family and friends might want to join and connect with you; your real identity was important. Now, however, things are shifting and changing focus.

I said a while back that Twitter didn't care who you were, Facebook cared a lot and Google wasn't bothered as long as you were consistent. The reality now is that all social properties require that element of consistency so that users can be effectively targeted with advertising etc. either directly within the network or within connected services.

The need to know exactly who we are is diminishing as long as we always have the same identity, be it real or not.

The role of social

So, if identity is not strictly as important as it was, social platforms will have little interest in becoming true identity providers but merely identity services. Rather than wanting social identities to be our digital passport it needs to be more our entry ticket.

Take your seat.

Author Rank and the changing face of Facebook.

Of circles, communities and serendipitous discovery.Comments

Social discovery is key for social growth.

DiscoverI have long said that saved searches are isolated events and treated as second class data when they should, in fact, be an incredibly valuable means of discovery. We have the ability to save searches on networks such as Twitter and Google+ but when you consider that Google a "search first" company it is surprising that this does not feature more prominently within its social network.

Let's consider how we connect and discover with people and content on Google+:

  • when we circle someone we have a permanent connection and can choose the amount of posts from their circle to include in our stream
  • when we join a community we have a permanent connection and can choose the amount of posts to include in our stream

Realistically, a community is essentially a topic based circle that is independent of its membership but wholly reliant on that membership for its content - an implicit network within the Google+ whole.

What about saved searches? What about hashtags?

Proposed on Twitter by Chris Messina back in 2007, the hashtag has become a social staple and popular means of discovery and content tracking. They were adopted on Google+ as an alternative to other potential options such as badges or labels - which already existed within the Google ecosystem - and that is testament to their ubiquity. Even Facebook is rumoured to be considering their implementation.

Automatic hashtagsMachine learning

Google search relies on algorithms to rank the returned results and the introduction of social signals and search personalisation based on Google+ activity means these algorithms are more complex than ever.

In my previous post I discussed the implications of our social feeds being constructed based on behavioural algorithms - as occurs with Facebook's EdgeRank, for example - but it would appear that Google is looking to enhance our experience with these algorithms rather than dictate it.

The new automatic hashtag feature introduced with Google+'s new look is an ideal starting point to spawn a new means of discovery; we can now click on hashtags (up to three per post) to view a card showing related posts in situ, without having to leave our place in the stream, and are also presented with related hashtags.

Google is obviously doing some good work behind the scenes with content extrapolation in order to bring us this additional information but our checks to find these extra posts are still random, isolated, manual acts.

SerendipityAutomation

This is a great start but such means of content discovery is an area of hugely untapped potential.

What if Twitter allowed us to follow topics instead of people and have those tweets appear in our feed? What about if Facebook allowed us to subscribe to Graph Search queries so that we could see real-time results within our News Feeds as soon as they happen?

What if we could subscribe to a hashtag on Google+ as though it were a circle so that related, topic based posts appeared in our stream that were not dependent on us following any specific individuals or joining communities?

This would be discovery based on our stated interests.

What if we took this one stage further by having posts from those related hashtags appearing in our stream every so often and Google's algorithms learning our tastes so that those related hashtags could be tailored according to our own behaviour and consumption habits?

Now that would be truly serendipitous discovery.

This is an extended version of a Google+ post that can be found here.

Image by truk (cropped)

Of circles, communities and serendipitous discovery.

Social relevance, algorithms and choice.Comments

Apart from family and existing friends ... the interest graph is actually the primary driver behind expanding the social graph - The lines are blurring.

One of tDiscoverhe most important factors in social growth is discovery, discovery of posts and of people.

Google+ was launched on the premise of being "real world sharing for the web" - it aimed to make it easier and more natural to divide our online lives into "circles" just as we are part of different groups offline (family, friends, colleagues, etc.)

Social networks afford us multiple stages of relevance management and taking Plus as an example we have:

  • Circle management
  • Circle volume settings
  • Community membership
  • relevance by association which is discovery by similar actions, posting comments to the same thread, for example)

ControlControl

One of the most controversial and divisive aspects of Facebook is Edgerank - the algorithm used to decide what gets displayed in our news feeds based on the relationships and interactions with our friends. Essentially, our actions are analysed and we are shown more of what we "like".

Social networks such as Facebook and Google+ are cultures of affirmation where we only have the option to Like or +1, while this is intended to create a positive atmosphere it risks creating a closed loop where our feeds becoming more insular and focused.

When conditions exist such that we have multiple levels of relevance management do we need the social stream to be further filtered for us?

In response to user queries over strange stream behaviour, Google has confirmed that it is testing a relevance algorithm and "experimenting with ways of bringing the most relevant posts to the top."

The issue of control has come up before.

Engagement

Relevance engines are intended to maximise engagement - if we see things we like we are more likely to interact with them - but they can remove the opportunity for in-stream serendipitous discovery.

Is affirmation an indication of future behaviour? If I like (small 'l') an item about Jimi Hendrix today does that mean I always want to see items about Jimi Hendrix? Even if that were the case is this a zero sum game and does exposure of related content mean that other content has to be filtered out?

Engagement

The introduction of Communities to Google+ put a new slant on how we manage our engagement, consumption habits and connections; they are interest based rather than people based.

Could the addition of a relevance algorithm the main stream indicate a possible shift away from people towards interest or is it intended to supplement our normal consumption highlighting the things we might have missed?

Who does it serve? The network or the user?

Conflicts

While Google have advised that problems experienced by users were due to issues with the relevance algorithm it is clear that those users are concerned about any potential changes.

Can (or should) the interest-based discovery paradigm of Communities be forced upon the main stream? Are we able to reach a state of equilibrium between serendipitous discovery and being nudged in the right direction?

Alternatively, do we have a paradox of choice where being overwhelmed with content causes us to interact less or with fewer individuals? Could a relevance engine benefit us by filtering the stream and lessening the load?

Google+, in two different respects, suffers from having a dualistic nature:

  • social network v social layer, &
  • people focused stream v interest focused communities

In both cases, while there is an element of cross-over, they have their own strategies, subtleties and sensibilities. We just have to remember the reaction to Community posts being included in our personal feeds - this heavily divided user opinion forcing Google to give users a choice.

RelevantRelevance

There is concern that the intention could be to move us away from in-stream to in-community discovery but is this the network being purely reactive to usage patterns since the introduction of Communities?

The notion of relevance based on solely on stream activity is a worry to many and we should instead ask if relevance be dynamic (platform, location, time etc.) and we should definitely have the option to apply these filters or not?

Using Google+ search as an example we are able to filter by "best of" or "most recent" - that is a user choice and should be available for the stream should any relevance algorithm be retained. Facebook's Edgerank may be divisive but we at least get a choice.

Choice

The degrees of complexity involved are immense and opinions as to how social networks should operate are as numerous as their users but two factors are paramount: choice and consistency.

We should have a choice as to what we see and where we see it and this choice should be evident wherever we are within a network.

Update: Yonatan Zunger, Google+ Chief Architect, has confirmed that no new relevance algorithm exists and that stream problems were the result of a bug. Glick's statement about bringing relevant posts to the top most likely refers to the way Circle volumes filter content.

Images by Carnie Lewis, runran, darkuncle

Social relevance, algorithms and choice.

From interaction to transaction.Comments

Social networks are continually widening their scope to cover more than our just connections and status updates. As usage expands and we search for ever simpler means of achieving our online goals, how far will the networks go to become everything we need in one place?

Perhaps, more importantly, will the regulators allow them?

Back in 2010 I asked "Are social platforms the next Microsoft?" and then last year "Are social networks a threat to the internet?" meaning that their remit would expand beyond social to encompass other areas thus threatening to usurp companies already operating in those areas.

We've already seen the first steps:

  • Facebook comments and the open graph extending out to the web
  • Twitter eating into its ecosystem by adopting functionality originally offered by third-parties

Despite encroaching on other products and companies, however, these actions are still intrinsically linked to social. Google combining social with the rest of its ecosystem via the social layer started to move beyond this but Google is in the unusual position of already providing non-social services but now linking them with a social aspect. Could this be seen by some as an unfair advantage?

We have already had the case of Peoplebrowsr taking Twitter to court over what it feels is unfair loss of access to the full fire-hose so what would be the reaction of companies like PayPal, for example, if social networks cut out the need for third-party payment services?

Encroachment on the normal web by social networks is already making waves but if those networks extend their remit to other areas is there going to be sufficient ill will to cause an investigation into social practices?

Buy here, pay here

From interaction to transaction

Twitter recently introduced new Twitter Card types including Product which will show info about a product and link out to it on the web. Is it a stretch to imagine that the company could implement its own e-commerce system in future allowing for direct purchase via Twitter itself - perhaps in return for a small fee for each transaction?

Give Twitter your credit card details and cut out the middle man!

A number of third-party platforms already provide for the creation of "storefronts" on Facebook but what if the social network introduced a native system?

Give Facebook your credit card details and cut out the middle man!

Just as Google has created interactive posts which can include a Buy button why couldn't Twitter do the same thing? Currently, Google's interactive posts take you to external pages to complete the transaction but what if social networks decided to own the whole process?

With promoted tweets advertisers are charged on the basis of interactions rather than impressions so why not implement a system to charge per direct sale? Twitter's ad sales are said to be approaching $1 billion a year but inbuilt e-commerce could provide yet another revenue stream.

Give and take

Deep linking from the new Twitter Cards to mobile applications may be seen as the company extending an olive branch to developers by allowing them to build value but what happens when Twitter wants a piece of the resultant action?

European privacy regulators have already investigated Google over the single privacy policy so it is perhaps just a matter of time before social networks over-extend their reach and we hear calls of "monopoly" both from regulators and those services who have built a business on the back of these social platforms.

This post builds on initial thoughts over at Google+ here.

Image cropped from a Brent Moore original

From interaction to transaction.

How Google+ could save RSS.Comments

RSS is dead, long live RSS!

Google Reader logoThe announcement yesterday that Google would be, finally, sunsetting the Google Reader service was met with disappointment, anger and confusion but with a small counterpoint of "it will force innovation".

Some say it might even be the final nail in the RSS coffin.

The focus on Google+, both as a service and an all-encompassing social layer, is being placed firmly in the frame for Reader's demise with Brian Shih, former Google Reader product manager, taking to Quora to give his thoughts on why this is so: social.

Ever since Google killed the social aspect of reader, because of Plus, the writing has been on the wall for the RSS reader with Shih saying:

"Ironically, I think the reason Google always wanted to pull the Reader team off to build these other social products was that the Reader team actually understood social"

Focus

The official announcement justified the move by saying "usage of Google Reader has declined" and that the continuing focus will lead to better products.

Consumption of news and blogs via RSS has declined partly because of a shift towards social news and, for Google Reader specifically, because of that very move by Google: hamstringing their own product in order to migrate people's social activity to Plus.

The decision to streamline services into a cohesive structure and improve the user experience is welcomed but what hasn't happened yet in a number of cases is any move to integrate certain obvious products with Google+.

Blogger has always been an obvious target for integration followed very closely by Reader.

Saving Private RSS

Equally as ironic as social killing Reader, it could also be its saviour - Google+ in particular.

The recent Google+ profile redesign gives us more control over how our information is viewed and compartmentalised. As well as our "links" and "contributor to" sections why not have an option for RSS feeds both for Profiles and Pages?

Any RSS feeds we own could be published on our profile and, when circled, our feed items could automatically be placed into smart "Feeds" Circles displaying just those items from all the authors we follow as a river of news.

Why stop there?

Why not then give us the ability to categorise feeds just as we can create categories for posts within Communities? An RSS "Circle" could then become an amalgam of the best of both Circles and Communities. Could we then even stretch to allowing others to follow our curated RSS streams?

The emphasis is on getting as much data into Google+ as possible in order to generate a wealth of social signals; while Google has resisted adding the ability to auto-post, the social sharing of content from those authors we explicitly follow would be prime example of the good use of such behaviour.

Integrating elements of the technology behind managing RSS feeds, which currently exist in Reader, into Google+ and providing a much easier and more consistent means to re-sharing the content to our Circles fits with the apparent aims and simplifies the processes involved for the end-user.

Confused

Whilst I completely support Google's move to amalgamate services and combine our data to provide a more valuable, streamlined experience the methods employed sometimes seem haphazard and confused.

Integrating RSS feeds into Google+ would not only serve to continue the rich tradition built with Google Reader (thus appeasing current users) but also expose additional users to consuming news via RSS feeds (without, perhaps, even realising it) and meet Google's goals of sharing more data to the social product.

Update

Further discussion on this topic has suggested that Google could/should consider integrating its other news reading application Currents which might easily fit with the more visual direction Google+ is taking.

How Google+ could save RSS.

Is Bing beating Google to the Author Rank punch?Comments

Author Rank coming, YodaIs Google in danger of losing out to Bing in the race to implement a robust relevance engine for content authors?

For over a year, talk of Google Author Rank (based on the search giant's Agent Rank patent) has been fueling speculation of how it might operate and affect search rankings for content authors.

As quoted by AJ Kohn in the seminal article "Author Rank", the patent sets out that:

"The identity of individual agents responsible for content can be used to influence search ratings."

Identifying authors and then associating them with their content (Authorship) is just half the story, however, but many continue to think that Author Rank and Authorship are interchangeable, assuming that setting up Authorship will improve their ranking in search results.

Expertise

The key concept behind Author Rank is that people will be associated with, and ranked on, given topics based on their knowledge or expertise. Ranking involves building reputation and trust using, amongst other things, a combination of peer review, links and citations. Again, from the patent we have:

"an agent should have a higher reputational score ... if the content signed by the agent is frequently referenced by other agents or content"

Not all links are equal as the patent goes on to say that links from those with a higher reputational score will carry greater significance - it is, therefore in the interests of authors to gain the attention of recognised experts in any given field whilst those experts will, obviously, get a high ranking themselves.

Rather than relying on Page Rank content will be linked to the author, anywhere on the web, using a "digital passport" - using an online identity such as a Google+ profile is such a passport: a way of reliably connecting people to their material.

But do we need Authorship?

Bing news authorsGoogle and Bing have different strategies when it comes to providing social data within search results; the former feels that consumers benefit from having their results tailored using social signals whereas the latter presents social data separately from the normal blue links results enabling users to more easily distinguish (and ignore) those social signals.

By creating this distinction between search and social is Bing able to bypass the Authorship stage and dive straight in to Author Rank?

As social results are not included within the main search results there is less of a need to establish an explicit authorship structure to identify authors in a sea of links. Instead, relevant news authors are listed as "People Who Know" in the social sidebar (in a manner not too dissimilar to Google's Knowledge Graph information) implying that these authors - and, consequently, the links listed - are knowledgeable, relevant and topical.

Indeed, on Bing Blogs the addition of news authors was introduced in a post with the following:

"Behind every article is a journalist, writer or author who has worked hard to research and report on a story. These professionals are experts in their fields, sharing the latest news, developing events and information out with the greater world."

This sounds very similar to Google's plans with Bing's sources stated as including "friends you know and experts and enthusiasts you may or may not be familiar with" who frequently write articles related to the search query.

Bing is utilising its partnerships with Facebook and Twitter in conjunction with standard ranking signals to provide extra information from authors who already appear to be ranked based on relevance. The roll-out of Facebook's Graph Search, including the addition of Open Graph data, coupled with an effort from Twitter to make content more discoverable may serve to give Bing even stronger signals on which to base any ranking.

Identity not a factor

While Google is seeking to instil trust in authors by linking them back to a standard identity service (Google+) Bing is relying on a combination of authors producing consistent output and social signals to determine what we might like to see without restricting itself to any single identity scheme.

One doesn't want to accuse Google of fiddling while Rome burns but the latest Agent Rank patent was filed almost two years ago (expanding on an original application from 2005) and is one of the most eagerly anticipated developments in search for content authors.

By taking a different approach Bing is stealing a march and potentially beating Google to the Author Rank punch?

Is Bing beating Google to the Author Rank punch?

Facebook’s updated news feed owes as much to Twitter as it does to Google+

Facebook new news feedMuch has already been written about the new redesign for the Facebook News Feed (and I have purposefully tried to avoid most of it) including the inevitable comparisons to Google+ but that is only natural - Plus is constantly compared to Facebook after all.

I have said a number of times about how products and services will gravitate towards the "social norm" because of trends and customer expectations. Facebook says that the new look is following current trends for cleaner apps and a more visually appealing approach so, to call the new News Feed a Google+ clone is too short-sighted.

Conformity

Just as with individuals, products and services are influenced both by competitors and current prevailing themes; when writing about social influence recently I stated:

Normative conformity is compliance with the influence of others so that we may be liked and accepted. There is no guarantee that there will be an attitudinal shift but there will be a behavioural shift to conform with the social norms of the influencing group.

For products and services conformity means adapting to current fashions and the whims of your customers; since the rise of services such as Instagram and Pinterest the fashion has been for an increasingly visual web resulting in images and videos taking priority over the written word.

Competitors constantly influence each other - Google+ recently rolled out new profile pages with larger cover photos, for example, just as Facebook, Twitter and App.Net have all done before.

#f5f5f5; border: 1px solid #e0e0e0;">"Conforming to social norms creates a degree of homogeneity with periods of innovation being short-lived" (Tweetable)

Clean and consistent

Rather than just copy Google+ (a service currently in the ascendancy) Facebook has taken a leaf from Twitter's book in designing a simplified and unified experience. Twitter sought to make the core user experience with its network across all platforms as consistent as possible and Facebook has followed suit whilst realising that a "mobile look" is cleaner than the existing web site.

Despite redesigning both desktop and mobile versions of its service a number of times Google has not yet achieved parity between them with key functionality not being available for smartphones or tablets - the mobile versions also differ between platforms (iOS and Android) and devices (phones or tablets) giving rise to a sometimes frustrating and fractured experience.

Inevitable

In such a competitive sector as social it is inevitable that services will respond to trends and consumer demands in an attempt to maintain a high user base - frequently this means becoming more like a dominant competitor. Conforming to social norms creates a degree of homogeneity with periods of innovation being short-lived.

This time it is Facebook playing catch up, next time it will be Twitter or Google or someone else seeking to be in vogue or meet consumer demands.

Facebook’s updated news feed owes as much to Twitter as it does to Google+

Authorship, identity and the wider web.Comments

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance” - Eric Schmidt.

idWhen Google's Search Plus Your World (SPYW) first launched the company was taken to task over unduly prioritising Google hosted content - probably rightly so - and had to back down a degree or two.

With Authorship tied to Google+ it seems that we are heading back in that direction so the company have to be careful or might find themselves back in the firing line of the regulators.

Putting a face to the name

As has been said before, Google is trying to remove the faceless nature of the web with Authorship. While it is currently seen as having a quasi-SEO benefit - an author's image next to an item in a sea of blue links makes it pop out - a lot of this advantage will be lost once more "authors" sign up.

By attempting to use Authorship as a "quality" measure, we are outsourcing an element of trust: recognising that content is linked to a verified account provides an impression as to its quality.

qualityThe act of just connecting an account to content, however, is not strictly a demonstration of quality but it is a demonstration of the author's willingness to be publicly and visibly linked to that content as if to say "I'm proud of this" or "I'm right, this is the result you want."

Whether, on the whole, we can infer any degree of quality from this scheme remains to be seen but the implied threat within Schmidt's statement above means that we see a fundamental shift in the way SEO operates: those that don't sign up to Authorship being penalised rather than those that do seeing a benefit.

Branding

Trust, reputation, identity - content creators will be (and already are) relying on Authorship to help establish personal branding, but by limiting the "verified" accounts for Authorship to Google+ is too restrictive on different levels.

While we have the ability to search with or without social signals and, currently search on Plus is separate from traditional blue links, introducing greater emphasis on Google based signals could get them in more trouble with the regulators.

Monopoly

Google has a monopoly on AuthorshipEnabling content creators to visibly connect their work to an online identity via Authorship is a fantastic idea and someone does indeed need to tackle the faceless nature of the web but maybe Google should think about opening Authorship to avoid the inevitable cries of "monopoly!"

As mentioned above, Authorship (and the concept of Author Rank) could be seen as having an implied SEO threat if you do not have a Google+ profile: no profile = poor search engine visibility, but is that really the case?

A post by Ruud Hein at Search Engine People tries to flesh out this statement by saying that a "verified online profile" doesn't just have to mean a Google+ profile. While nothing in Schmidt's statement precludes the use of other identity providers, the current reality is that Google+ is the only option available.

What if...

What ifWhat if Authorship, and consequently its associated Google Juice, wasn't solely reliant on a G+ profile and that other, trusted identification systems were permitted?

Should Google allow us to establish Authorship with a Twitter profile, for example? Perhaps Twitter could extend the verification process (maybe even for a small fee) to become more trusted - who we are, what we do, what is our field, etc. and this could then be relied upon by Google to establish a meaningful identity that we can hang Authorship upon.

What if academics, professors, researchers, etc. could use their EDU credentials as the basis of a trusted identity for the purposes of Authorship? How about business professionals using their LinkedIn profile?

Any web-wide system needs to be as inclusive as possible to both work and be seen as reliable or trustworthy.

tl;dr

Google should be applauded for trying to standardise, or make sense, of identity on the web so that we have a system we can trust - Authorship is such a system. However, being both a "search provider" and a "service provider" can lead to potential conflicts of interest which need to be resolved.

Images by Daniel*1977, aithom2, urbanwide, libraryman (cropped)

Authorship, identity and the wider web.

Is Google building its own influence measurement system?Comments

ViralEver since it first started ranking pages Google has been in the influence business - the influence of content.

Gaining content influence has been the role of SEO but, regardless of how often Google re-writes the rules and modifies the algorithms, this can be gamed.

A new way is needed.

Influence measurement

For a while now, I have been saying that data hosts such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are better placed to gauge influence due to having full access to data within their own environment.

Is Google putting together the building blocks of an internal influence measurement system? By combining data compiled from different sources Google can paint an accurate picture of who we are, what we like and what we do within its ecosystem.

The combination of numerous, disparate privacy policies into the single privacy policy last year combined with the creation of Google+ as a "social glue" and an identity service gave Google an ideal starting point for looking at us rather than our content.

Consider these elements and how they all help Google paint a picture:

  • Page Rank
  • Authorship
  • Author Rank
  • Analytics, and now
  • Virality

As Bill Slawski advises, a patent granted to Google in December last year details how Google could use the "content propagation likelihood" - or, how well things spread - of items (here called entities) you share, endorse, comment on etc. to determine what content could be placed before a user. According to the abstract:

A user’s content propagation likelihood is computed using weighted measures of various ways in which an entity can spread through a social network. A user’s content propagation likelihood may also be set for a given vertical (e.g., music, sports, etc.) and/or a given media type (e.g., images, videos, etc.) that pertains to the particular user.

I have said elsewhere that "virality is an extension of influence" and, considering the possible extension to topic and media type, fits with the relevance criteria I outlined in The 3 R's of Influence.

No score

Of course, unlike influence measurement systems such as Klout and Kred, Google will not be labelling us with a score (at least not one that's publicly visible) - instead, our "rating" will be seen in SERPs, in suggested user lists and even for alternative content views on Plus should Google ever wish to explore this avenue.

As I wrote in 'Influence redefined':

We cannot rely on a single system to calculate influence for all and we also cannot rely on a single score to reflect our own influence and reputation across the whole social web; moving to service specific grading may be a viable alternative.

Google will employ any internal influence measuring system as a means to ensure that users, and their connections, continue to see the most relevant information based on all the data available across its product base.

tl;dr

Is Google building it's own influence engine? Based on all the existing and potential elements that could be brought to bear, absolutely! What is certain, however, is that it will be unrecognisable from any existing influence measurement system if it is even visible to the end user at all.

Image by John Harwood

Is Google building its own influence measurement system?

Facebook Graph Search – half way there.

Social networks are crammed full of data about our likes, interests and connections but all too often this is not available in any useful, reliable or easy accessible state. Is that about to change?

Graph Search

Search within our social networks has historically been poor, even Google+ launched without it until Google deemed it ready for public consumption.

Twitter search is still limited to a short period despite the acquisition of Summize and, as far as Facebook search goes it been a case of the less said the better.

Due to a number of privacy concerns and other issues, such as the recent fracas over the Instagram Terms of Service, Facebook has been coming in for a lot of flak - some warranted but much unjustified. Many people have decided that the just don't trust Facebook and that's that!

When App.net launched it promised to be "what Twitter could have been" and, with the controversy over ongoing changes to the APIs, became a hotbed of anti-Twitter sentiment. Similarly, Google+ seems to be harbouring an unhealthy dose of anti-Facebook rhetoric again much of which is unjustified.

People don't trust Facebook.

So Facebook is asking its users to trust each other and has been building a tool which allows us to do just this.

As anticipated, Facebook announced a new search product which formed the third of "three pillars of Facebook" namely: the newsfeed, Timeline and, now, Graph Search.

Graph search is exactly as its name suggests: a search of the Facebook social graph allowing us to find information shared with us so far encompassing people, photos, places and interests while all relating back to the privacy settings for each piece of information. It is planned that mobile, post data and the Open Graph will be indexed in future but this will take a while to complete.

My initial reactions were that the Graph Search beta content was a promising start but that will not be fully realised until the extra data - especially from the Open Graph - is included.

Playing catch-up

Yes, Facebook is playing catch-up to Google on search but as Google is originally a search company so you would expect that.

Does Facebook have to beat Google at its own game? Absolutely not!

In order to succeed with Graph Search, Facebook has to make a system that works well for Facebook users which:

  1. makes use of the connections between them
  2. uses the search queries/results to improve the experience
  3. is good enough to make users want to use it rather than jumping out for a web search

Google is blurring the lines between a traditional web search and a search of the social graph but we still have two places we can instigate this which gives us two different sets of results (Google Search and Plus).

Google web search is a blue links list which is now personalised based on our interests, data provided from other Google products thanks to the single privacy policy and the actions of others (+1s) but it is still primarily a blue links search. For those who have not yet upgraded to Plus then it is still only a blue links resource.

Facebook does not have a blue links engine - so has to partner with Bing - but is not (yet) interested in having one. Instead, the blue giant is using the power of the networkto find stuff using recommendations and trust - Facebook is not building a search engine but a "trust engine".

Yes, Google is also building this based on sharing and +1s but when you have two search locations returning different results from different data sets then something needs to change there as well.

Half wayHalf way

Graph search appears to be pretty powerful and fast and is not limited to friends but also public information which you would expect - anything visible to us can be returned via a search. It is not designed to give us a definitive list of "plumbers in Yourtown" (as would be exposed by a web search) but instead "plumbers in Yourtown which people have used and would recommend" - it builds on the relationships we have with those we are connected to and the trust we can place in their experience.

Graph Search is half way as the data held on Facebook itself is only half the story; people will be liking pages and services across the "normal web" and taking other Open Graph actions which help to flesh out their interests, likes and opinions. Once all of this data has been indexed Facebook will really be able to flesh out the trust engine.

I have stated previously:

Facebook has no need to build a full search engine as the indexing of external content is crowd-sourced to its users with likes and frictionless sharing.

As Zuckerberg said during the announcement, he doesn't expect people to come to Facebook just to perform a search when they are used to blue link sites and may not even be regular Facebook users. What he does hope it will be is a valuable resource for those people who are already on the site and want some information while they are there.

Admittedly, Facebook will also be able to mine that search data in order to further identify our likes and intentions which will, no doubt, increase the ability to target us more effectively with relevant advertising even if there are no plans to immediately monetise Graph Search itself.

Good enough, but when?

As with other features Facebook has included, Graph Search doesn't have to beat the likes of Google but be just good enough to catch the majority of users and save them the need of going elsewhere.

Zuckerberg admitted that this is not something that will roll out overnight but the key will be how quickly they can release something, how reliable it is and then how long it takes to introduce Open Graph data.

With the talk of "years of work" Facebook can, however, be seen to be in it for the long haul - just like Google with Plus.

A version of this post originally appeared at Google+

Image by mtsofan

Facebook Graph Search – half way there.

With Google+ Communities social goes full circle.Comments

Social networking on the Internet has been around longer than most realise, albeit not in the form most currently associate with it. Bulletin board services and, later, forums formed the bulk of our social interaction even before the days of messaging applications and was inherently interest based.

Instant messaging began the obsession with connecting to people which continued through to the social networks we know and love today.

Communities

Interests

Social has moved on from the early days of Facebook and Twitter with an increasing noise to signal ratio meaning that it is getting ever harder to find quality within the mass of information.

Users have been crying out for ways to manage their interests with existing solutions not coming up to scratch; I have long said the social network that works out how to manage the interest graph will find itself in a very strong position.

It makes sense that we should try to manage our time online in accordance with our interests, as I have mentioned before that:

Apart from family and existing friends ... the interest graph is actually the primary driver behind expanding the social graph.

Our social networks need to reflect the implicit groups brought together by shared interests or circumstance rather than the continual reliance on explicit user lists.

Twitter is iterating the #discover tab to better facilitate discovery and it is being increasingly personalised but this falls short of the true interest based discussion that I proposed in Going Beyond the Hashtag.

There have been a couple of instances of Twitter "event pages" for NASCAR and the London Olympics but that feature appears to have gone quiet. As I wrote previously:

Events pages give a curated stream specific to a topic or event using "a combination of algorithms and curation"

The key here is that event pages stream to their own timeline so are as close to my concept of channels as any network had previously achieved.

Communities

CommunitiesThe launch of Google+ Communities is a direct recognition by a major player that we need the ability to focus on topics as well as people. We have already had the ability to use hashtags and saved searches but these are treated as second class data.

Communities are given equal prominence to the Stream and, unlike saved searches, treated in a similar way to Circles allowing us to share directly to a community from anywhere, including a +1 button out on the "normal web".

Google+ was launched under the auspices of being "real world sharing rethought for the web" with Circles intended as the means to segregate our contacts enabling us to target specific groups with matching content but, as we know, people are multi-faceted and this type of grouping is not sufficient even with tight management of our Circles.

Shared circles were designed to enable us to share groups, primarily with a similar focus, with others but, as each person is free to customise the shared Circle in their own way, there is no guarantee of a consistent community via this method. Even though the Circle members might have been collected in relation to a given topic we are still adding them as individuals along with all their facets.

CategoriesOld tricks?

Communities are forums for the social age.

A community is focused on a topic rather than on the individuals which contribute to it and, in creating them, Google has turned the social web full circle.

Each community is, in essence, a forum dedicated to a specific interest but with the advantage of being located within our existing social environment which facilitates easier sharing. The addition of categories - to guide conversation and create sub-topics - is directly akin to sub-forums and we are able to filter by these categories to restrict the view to exactly what we need.

My primary argument for content channels was to keep focused content out of the primary stream thus reducing the noise for others. Communities, acting as forums, achieve this perfectly whilst allowing for all posts made to also show on you profile should it be viewed directly - exactly as I proposed it would operate for tweets.

Communities and social gravity

While the community itself is topic focused it is inevitable that some communities will initially be more popular due to their owner or members being influencers. The success of these groups to stay popular and, indeed, of smaller groups to attain more popularity will be subject to the principles of social gravity.

As discussed, social gravity is a property of groups as well as individuals with the relationships and engagement between members just as important as the content they post although this must obviously stay focused, consistent and accessible.

What next?

Communities are given greater prominence than saved searches and assist in removing unwanted noise but they are still separate from the stream and create a divided environments which deflects attention - I'm not sure if this is ideal.

As stated above, Communities are treated more like Circles but, in my opinion, this does not go far enough and we should be able to integrate their contents into our main feed if we wish using a volume slider to control the amount of posts seen.

After Google announced that 135 million people are active in the stream alone a worry is that many will migrate their activity solely to communities - possibly private ones - thus reducing visible activity and reinforcing the misconception that Plus is a ghost town. By allowing user to integrate Community posts into their main view this might be avoided.

By taking a step back from the person oriented perspective so prevalent on the social web Google has, in one day, made its social network far more usable and appealing.

Along with Hangouts, Communities will provide genuine differentiation on the social web.

With Google+ Communities social goes full circle.

Influence redefined.Comments

Is it time to forget the numbers game in favour of a more meaningful measurement of our social influence and should this be service specific?

If a tree falls in the woodsWhen I wrote "The 3 R's of Influence" I suggested that the true measure of influence is a combination of reach, reputation and relevance.

Reputation is closely linked to identity and has, interestingly, been touched on elsewhere with regards to the Google patent for multiple identities or pseudonyms. Relevance is obvious - people will interact more with content that is relevant to their interests and current circumstances such as time or location.

Which leaves reach

Reach is a literal figure - an idealised "potential", a social pyramid scheme.

I wrote that:

Our reach is a combination of our direct first level connections and those secondary connections exposed to our content by re-shares, retweets, etc.

The important word here is "exposed" but this is often overlooked in the quest for quantitative scores rather than qualitative.

Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder, has remarked that reach on it's own isn't enough and that, perhaps, a new statistic should be used to more accurately measure influence on Twitter such as retweets.

We know that the number of followers isn't a reliable metric and reach on its own is an incongruous statistic. Klout attempts to nulify the impact of pure numbers by examining the ratio of engagement to audience - penalising those who amass followers without also increasing engagement - but even this isn't enough.

Just because someone retweets your content and they have 1000 followers, it doesn't mean that all those 1000 followers are effectivly "reached" by your tweet.

Visibility and exposure are key here - someone can only be influenced by something if they read it which is why Williams states the dream metric "is how many people saw your tweet". This means that they must be online and have had the initial tweet or any retweets visible in their timelines whilst "active" on the service.

If a tree falls in the woods...

Measuring

Since the acquisition of Trendly we have been waiting for Twitter to roll out first-party tweet analytics but this has only materialised for advertisers. I proposed that:

influence cannot be accurately measured externally from the data source as there is a limit to what can be gleaned from what is publicly available. The service hosting the data (be it Twitter, Facebook or Google) has a better understanding of exactly what happens to that data including other factors such as link tracking.

Williams suggests that part of the reason Twitter has been aggressively policing access to the API might be to ensure that it gets better data as it has been unable to effectively measure activity due to the use of third party clients.

The introduction of the built-in t.co URL shortening service enhances the ability to track reactions to tweets. Even if a tweet does not receive any replies or retweets Twitter is able to count the number of clicks the shortened address receives and, therefore, gain an indication of its popularity. This is an ideal source of data to feed the #discover tab and could contribute to an individuals influence on the site as well as providing useful metrics for advertisers.

Twitter Card

Twitter Cards

The rise in social curation has lead to a number of curators becoming "social stars" in their own right with large followings and high influence scores. All too often this celebrity is at the expense of the content creator as links are wrapped in increasing levels of URL shorteners with no attribution provided.

Frequently, a curators tweets are reshared by their audience without those followers even visiting the link simply due to the "reputation" of the curator. The curator's influence is increased with no reference to those creating the content.

Twitter Cards will change this.

A quick test has shown that Twitter Cards will resolve the shortened URLs and still display the card information associated with the link which includes the Twitter username of the author, potentially increasing the likelihood of the originating author being followed rather than the curator.

It remains to be seen if Twitter Cards will provide any SEO benefits but I would imagine that having the rich snippet text associated with each tweet will enhance the effect of each external back link generated in this manner.

Time for change

We cannot rely on a single system to calculate influence for all and we also cannot rely on a single score to reflect our own influence and reputation across the whole social web; moving to service specific grading may be a viable alternative.

Each service host is far better placed to measure true activity within its own walls so, while they may not disappear completely, follower numbers might only contribute to an influence score for that particular network based on a wider range of factors.

Is it time for a change?

Influence redefined.

Online maps need standardised addressing.Comments

Another iPhone launch, another scandal - if it's not antenna-gate then it's scratch-gate or map-gate.

Apple Maps has its problems, even the most ardent of Apple apologetics can admit, but is it all Apple's fault?

As I have said before, iOS is in a period of transition:

"Dropping Google Maps and going for an in-house solution is brave and an illustration of things to come but there was too little time to realistically do anything with it."

Fingers have been pointed and Apple's data suppliers have been quick to say that it's not their fault and that their data is good - it's how Apple are using it.

Each individual data set from each supplier is, most likely, very good quality but the problem Apple faces is combining these data sets from disparate sources when there appears to be no reliable addressing standard for online mapping.

It's bigger than Apple

Google may have had years to hone its data but the search giant is not unaffected by some of the exact issues that currently plague Apple.

It appears that businesses, at least, are added purely by address - where's the problem with that you ask until you realise that there are problems with long addresses.

Take my village as an example; I live in a village just outside a main town where the address is in the format:

Whatever Street
Village Name
Town Name
County
Post Code

Unfortunately, online mapping solutions tend to ignore the Village Name line so generate issues with shops and businesses being placed in the wrong town or village, especially if the street name is the same.

High Street, Milton Regis, Sittingbourne, Kent effectively becomes equivalent to High Street, Sittingbourne, Kent.

Apple Maps
When viewing Milton Regis High Street on Apple Maps you are presented with a number of business that are in Sittingbourne and not Milton Regis. It even lists a couple that are in nearby Sheerness.

Google Maps

A comparison view using Google Maps shows a number of businesses in their correct locations but there are still a couple (circled) that are being shown on the wrong High Street.

To the point

Turn by turn navigation in Apple Maps is among the best I have used on a phone when driving point to point between known, and accurate, locations. Finding a specific location via its post code (rather than address) is always reliable so it is surprising that businesses etc. are not initially positioned via these known fixed points and then fine tuned using the address details.

Once data providers can agree on a standard format for their data and mapping applications can find the best way to interpret that data then the online mapping experience for all will be greatly improved regardless of the platform.

Online maps need standardised addressing.

Social media and the needs of the self.Comments

The social web is a place of conflict and excess where we can both hide behind usernames and computer screens to be feared and hated or present ourselves as masters of our art to be loved and revered. What part does 'the mind' play in our social interactions? 

When I wrote that participation on different types of social service may be constrained by our own vanity Will Berard directed me to a post where he compares our behaviour and needs on social networks to our needs and wants with regards to food.

While the side of our social interactions governed by vanity is, generally, undesirable it can be said to mirror our food consumption habits where we are repeatedly brought back by our cravings:

very much like eating, nature chose its wiring in the most basic fashion, associating the reward not with the actual thing that's good for you (a healthy, balanced intake of calories/meaningful construction of social relationship), but with a "shortcut" that works just as well (the taste of sweet/fatty foods, or superficial social validation).

This connection and our attitude toward the rewards from social media immediately brought to mind the battle fought within ourselves in Sigmund Freud's model of the psyche.

The Freudian mind

MindFreud proposed that the mind is composed of three 'constructs': the id, the ego and the super-ego which control aspects of our behaviour and are often in conflict.

The id

The unorganized part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives. It is unconscious by definition and drive us according to the pleasure principle as we seek short-term, instant gratification.

The ego

The ego acts in accordance with the reality principle and serves to satisfy the needs of the id in realistic ways. It looks for longer term satisfaction and sets up defensive mechanisms to keep us from harm. It is very much the piggy-in-the-middle, coping with the real world around us whilst trying to temper the animalistic urges of the id and the ideals of the super-ego

The super-ego

The super-ego strives for perfection and is our narcissistic drive. It aims for us to realise the image of ourselves that we want to become and introduces a sense of guilt when we do not achieve it.

The social mind

We can equate each of Freud's constructs with elements of our conduct on social services:

  • Id - instant gratification, the need for Likes, +1s and ReTweets, the desire for "affection" regardless of the consequences - "everybody friend me"
  • Ego - longer term planning, building a community to act as a foundation from which we can achieve those Likes and ReTweet's, having to interact with those in our community and relate to them as individuals so as to maintain those friendships
  • Super-ego - the part that only wants to talk about ourselves, the aspect that drives us to create, to blog so that we can achieve the state of perfection in our craft irrespective of others

As in our offline lives, we must achieve a balance in order to function within the generally accepted "rules" of the social web. We cannot endlessly seek out new friends online to satisfy the needs of our psyche so how can we relate all this to our normal relationships?

What of Dunbar?

Our ancestors had a physical need to gather in trusted groups for more effective hunting and greater protection. Base instinctual needs of these groups were consistent with the id-controlled mind: eat, reproduce, survive - all requiring instant solutions. As they evolved and settled so survival became easier and the relationships between individuals altered and started to become more social than functional.

The relative luxury of modern life and technology means that we no longer have this physical need for grouping (although as a species we still need to reproduce) but, instead, we have more a mental need to connect to avoid the psychological and emotional effects of isolation - we are social animals after all.

As children we are born with an id-controlled mind, instinct tells us to feed, to grow, to survive. As we become more cognisant so we learn, and are taught, that society demands the more ego-driven approach to social interaction and we each undergo our own mini evolution.

As we have previously seen, our capacity to create strong, intimate bonds doesn't scale and our relationships are more fleeting the larger our social circles extend. Consequently, the type of connections we establish with others via a social network will resonate with a different aspect of our personality.

Our closest relationships, described by Dunbar as existing within the smaller Circles of Acquaintanceship, are regulated very much by the ego as we seek to make and maintain those friendships by empathising with others, tolerating their views and interacting with them as equals.
Circles of Acquaintanceship

On a more frivolous note we can cast the net of our informal connections much wider and achieve the core, instinctive needs of the id via these extended connections; the selfishness of wanting others to like us (receiving +1s, and ReTweets) allows us to cultivate this form of affection without offering anything in response.

Our vanity sometimes gets the better of us and the super-ego takes over which triggers the notion that some may not wish to be absorbed by a topic and lose their sense of self. In such a scenario it is felt that the super-ego hits a wall and the id is denied direct gratification.

Platforms

It is the role of the ego to show us that "social gratification" can be achieved in a controlled, measured way without the bingeing and any subsequent feeling of guilt (thus placating the id) and that by volunteering ourselves to the greater good we can, potentially, achieve a sense of perfection by using the platform of the topic to improve on our creative skills but within its framework.

The different social platforms available will serve to feed the requirements of each aspect of our psyche:

  • the quick-fire social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) supply instant gratification with Likes, +1s etc. and the selfish gathering of as many friends as possible or gloating over a high Klout score
  • blogs are traditionally the realm of the super-ego where we exist in our self-made playground to do what we will and perfect our vision of ourselves - or at least our works.
  • the new breed of service such as Branch and Medium, however, serve to bring us back to the rational ego, the middle ground where we can still hone our craft and receive the plaudits of our peers but in a more controlled, and less narcissistic, environment.

It is undesirable to obsess over follower numbers, influence measurement and number of re-shares so, while these things can be useful, we should aim to keep the id in check and not let them govern our social experience. Similarly, it is good to write and share our opinion but the narcissisic super-ego must not be allowed to control our behaviour or we will find our 'friends' drifting away.

Evolution

As individuals, and as a species, we have gone from the instinct driven, id-controlled behaviour once essential to the survival of our ancestors to the more ego-controlled mindset required by modern society. We are still, however, at the mercy of both our instinctual urges and the perfection of self required by Freud's super-ego.

As we try to resist the base urges of the id and achieve a sense of ease with stepping out of the limelight then, perhaps, we can truly say that both we, and the social web, have truly evolved.

Social media and the needs of the self.

Microsoft adhering to the social norm.

When Google announced it was consolidating numerous individual privacy policies for products across its ecosystem into one single policy there was significant public outcry claiming that the company would be collecting more data and abusing user's privacy.

Google's Single Privacy Policy: much ado about nothing?

At the time, I wrote that the change was "much ado about nothing" and that I failed to understand the strength of feeling over the issue but others didn't agree. In an attempt to feed on the prevailing sentiment Microsoft criticised the move and tried to tempt users back to its own products as they worked to "keep you safe and secure online" and "give you control over your data".

How times have changed.

Just over a year ago I wrote that "competition is the social driver" and that product choices are often influenced by the expectation of the user:

"PC v Mac, Android v iPhone, the browser wars – it’s not just about stealing features from the competition. Once a feature exists on one platform the consumer comes to expect it no matter what they are using. Popular functionality becomes the de facto industry standard by virtue of demand – if your platform doesn’t have it your customers will want to know why."

Whether it is a specific function within your favourite social network or a feature on your smartphone consumer expectation means that, to a degree, products must adhere to the "social norm" in order to stay competitive. The Apple v Samsung patent spat illustrates that the latter realised this early and needed to adapt to keep pace with the iPhone. Apple have also conformed by enhancing certain functionality such as the notification tray to keep pace with Android.

Competitive advantage

A specific product choice, design feature or, even, policy change can give the company adopting it a competitive advantage; Google realised this and implemented the single privacy policy in order to utilise "the whole person" across its products rather than working with isolated facets of our online lives. It would seem that Microsoft has now come to the same conclusion.

News that an update to the Microsoft Services Agreement now allows the company to utilise data from individual products (such as SkyDrive or Hotmail) across all services in its cloud has prompted a call of hypocrisy as Microsoft seeks to emulate the very actions that Google were lambasted for.

Adapt or else

The unexpected success of the Google+ social spine and its connection with the knowledge graph, combined with the continuing power of social entities such as Facebook and Twitter, means that Microsoft must also adapt; it would appear that to do so has required a full 180 degree turn on the subject of a combined privacy policy.

Context and relevance are now the key drivers for the web so the ability to tailor user experience based on interests, connections and activity is an absolute requirement.

This move is not, however, hypocrisy but a realisation that functionality must shift towards the social norm in order to stay relevant and competitive. Unfortunately, opportunistic statements designed to benefit from the problems of others can sometimes come back to haunt you.

Image by Sean MacEntee

Microsoft adhering to the social norm.

Is Google+ about to allow multiple post attachments?

Does the Chrome "share to Google+" option indicate an upcoming ability to add multiple attachment types to posts?

One of the common requests when posting on Google+ is the ability to add multiple attachment types such as a link and additional images. Currently it is an either/or situation but is that about to change?

The latest update to Chrome for iOS introduced sharing to Google+ but, interestingly, the sharing dialog also appear to permit
attaching images as well as the linked site.

The results of attempting this are, at present, inconsistent but show promise; let's look at what happens.

On the web

Somewhat disappointingly, attaching images via the Chrome share seems to take priority over the actual shared link when viewing the post via the web page:

On mobile

Viewing the post via the G+ application for iOS, however, is a completely different story. The post on mobile not only includes the shared link but also adds the additional images to the one included in the rich snippet so that you can swipe between them within the mobile interface as though you had initially shared multiple images on a normal post:


iOS image from snippet   iOS attached image
 

iOS shared link

Things to come?

Whether this is an anomaly brought about by an irregularity of the Chrome sharing feature or, indeed, a precursor to Google+ posts with multiple attachment types remains to be seen. In any event, the ability to add multiple attachments types to any post - be they multiple resolved links, images or videos - should be introduced to provide a better user experience.

Is Google+ about to allow multiple post attachments?

Is Twitter the web’s best public identity service?

Are there wider implications from Twitter's decision to cut services off from "find your friends" and do they affect the legitimacy of Twitter as a means of identification?

idRobinson Meyer argues in a post at The Atlantic that there are bigger civic implications of Twitter's API restrictions such as removing "find your friends" access for Instagram and Tumblr.

He states that a primary purpose of a social network is to identify you as a user and by restricting access for external services your very identity is being marginalised.

Identity

Google+ made a very public showing of being an "identity service" and not just a social network (hence the initial requirement to use your real name) and Facebook has been all about who you are right from its conception, in fact it is a core premise and would not work in the same way without it.

Facebook and Google+ provide the ability to restrict access to parts of your content and profile based on permissions levels you grant to specific groups whereas Twitter is all or nothing - you're all public or you're all private, there is no half way house.

Meyer maintains that the open nature of Twitter makes it the best social identity to be used across the web but is this really the case? Does restricting access to parts of your life on other services make their "social identity" any less trustworthy?

Twitter allows the creation of accounts with any name you like, pseudonyms, joke accounts etc. so, from an identity perspective, this is unsuitable for authenticating you as a specific individual across the web.

Trust

I have written before that trust is key to establishing a reliable, consistent online identity (and identity service) and without a real names policy it can be hard to ascribe the same level of trust to all accounts. I compared the major social networks' approach in October last year:

Facebook cares who you are because it relies on your identity for the links you create with others, with brands, with sites across the web via the Like button - it cares because it wants to advertise to you in a meaningful way and to encourage you to spend with these advertisers and spend time on the site earning it money by playing games etc. Facebook relies on your identity as that is how others find you and are persuaded to join the service in the first place - by friending people they know.

Google cares about the connections you create and the content you interact with so that you can be better targeted for advertising. It doesn't necessarily care 'who' you are as long as it can build a picture of your use. It does, however, care that you are not tainting its services with undesirable content so will prefer to track who you are.

Twitter doesn't care who you are - it cares that you are signed in and tweeting - ideally interacting with promoted content.

It would seem that Twitter is the least trustworthy of the main social networks with regards to defining who you are  and, therefore,  not best placed to be used as the basis of a web-wide identity service regardless of how transparent your feed may be.

Who are you?

The removal of find your friends may prevent users from replicating their social graphs across multiple services but does it actually negate Twitter as a means of identification? Ultimately, this has no bearing on that aspect.

Meyer's concern is, presumably, that third-party services may no longer want - or be able - to permit users to "sign in with Twitter" - although this is not actually stated in the post.  I would argue, however, that those third-parties could not risk losing sign-ups if this option was no longer available. I doubt Twitter would want to block this portion of its API due to the potential benefits of having data fed back from those third-parties services.

With no guarantee you are who you say you are, Twitter is not a desirable solution to establishing a consistent online identity with or without the ability to find your friends.

Image by Daniel*1977

Is Twitter the web’s best public identity service?

The Future of Social Networks.

Brian Chappell of Ignite Social Media asked 21 social media practitioners and pundits, myself included, for their thoughts on a few issues around the current state of social media and what may be coming up in future. The brief survey featured the three questions below:

1. Do you think social networking has hit a saturation point and peaked in user interest?

2. Compared to what happened to MySpace, what do you think is the future of Facebook?

3. For businesses and brands that are just starting to ramp up in 2012, what new social networking trends do you see going forward?

The responses were varied (especially with regards to the future of Facebook) and created a real exercise in "compare and contrast" but some common themes did appear and I would urge you to read the full post should you get the chance.

My own answers were as follows:

Don't fear the future1. Saturation point

Social networking has been taking another upturn recently with more mainstream media uses coming to light. TV news channels using Google+ hangouts, more brands including references to Facebook pages in their offline advertisements and huge adoption of Twitter for ease of thought gathering are all-seeing an uptick in consumer interest, which I can only see increasing over the next 12 months.

Social is also starting to combine with our offline lives so that where we are, who we are with, what we are doing, etc., will all have new context and, perhaps, influence our behaviour. Products like Google Now in Android Jelly Bean are at the forefront of the next wave in social.

2. On Facebook

While MySpace wasn’t the first social network, it was the service that first saw widespread adoption and recognition but the Internet and technology as a whole was not in a position to match its potential. Social was still in its infancy and was isolated from the rest of our lives. Facebook has the advantage of existing in a social age where our lives are so closely tied to the Internet. Facebook may have to change and adjust but it is in a much stronger position where it can react to market pressures and stay relevant.

3. What's next?

Social adoption is virtually ubiquitous but the next challenge is social discovery. A simple feed or stream is no longer enough and users are requiring something more advanced. They are looking to actually discover useful information, interesting people and more via social. We are already seeing a shift away from the social graph and towards the interest graph and this will continue as users are more interested in using social as a source of news and information.

It was a privilege to be asked to take part and I may come back to these questions later but, for now, you can find the Ignite Social Media post here:

The Future of Social Networks as Interpreted by 21 Social Media Practitioners

Image by Andrew Coulter Enright

The Future of Social Networks.

Have we moved the goalposts?

GoalpostsYesterday's post asking if Google+ had "made it" prompted an interesting discussion with responses ranging from the positive to the contrary, including that it is "still broken" and an absence of mainstream media in some areas means it hasn't.

Things have changed over the past few years and what was required to succeed perhaps no longer applies. Facebook and Twitter were not just working to gain credence for themselves but were also working to gain credence for "social" as a whole.

We may have had the likes of Friendster and MySpace, and they may have been quite cultish in their own right, but social did not become recognised as a useful medium in the mainstream until Facebook and Twitter put it there.

Now, the hard work is done and we live in a society which accepts interactions on social networks as valid. It is, therefore, easier for new networks to gain public acceptance without, necessarily, the need for adoption by mainstream media.

Yes, there are still loose ends and there is still a perception problem with Google+ (although I'm going to refer to this as not seeing the bigger picture from now on) but ever more people are "upgrading to Plus" and making their own assumptions about the service to fit their requirements.

The internet has evolved; we now live in "social times" and there is no longer the need to swim upstream and fight the current as the goalposts have moved.

Image by  Paul Bratcher Photography.

Have we moved the goalposts?