Why are people scared of Google’s Social Layers?

scaredSince it was announced that Google are building a social layer, and choosing to do things a little differently, into their apps rather than a separate social network there has been criticism and outright rejection of the idea. But, as I have previously said, taking this approach actually makes quite a lot of sense.

TechCrunch reported:

“Google Me will produce an activity stream generated by all Google products. Google Buzz has been rewritten to be the host of it all. And the reason Google Buzz isn’t currently working in Google Apps is because they’ll use the latest Buzz to support the activity stream in Apps…All Google products have been refactored to be part of the activity stream, including Google Docs, etc. They’ll build their social graph around the stream.”

There has been some disappointment to Google taking this direction but it does not need to build a new social network from scratch - it already has one in the form of Google Buzz. It just needs to develop it further. With the rumor that Buzz will form the aggregator for the various social layers it would appear that this development is already on the cards.

Context

Fred Wilson raised the issue of context and likened this approach to FriendFeed. He cites FriendFeed's failure to make a big impression as an indicator that Buzz as an aggregator could fall flat on its face.

He argues that the likes of Twitter have succeeded because of 'social intent' - users visit the site with a specific purpose in mind (a view I touched on a couple of years back) - whereas, FriendFeed failed as there was no specific intent and items appeared out of context.

I replied to his post with the following comment:

"The key difference to FriendFeed here, as I see it, is that each Google product will have its own social layer specifically tied in to that product - the specific social intent as you describe above.

If the reports are accurate then activity from each of those social layers is aggregated separately (allegedly in Buzz) - so Buzz is the equivalent of FF where you can access all of the social interactions from the products you use in one location.

The fact that each app is social in its own context means that you interact at whichever level you choose. Only use Picasa? Fine just interact there - there is no need to dock with the Buzz mothership. Want to use multilpe products and see what's going on in one central location? Cool - head to Buzz.

In my opinion, it offers choice and flexibility."

This layered approach will afford greater flexibility and allow users to choose how they interact socially - there would be no obligation to use Buzz.

Did FriendFeed really fail?

If you look just at the numbers then, perhaps, FriendFeed could be considered to have failed. Adoption rates aren't up there compared to services like Twitter and usage has dropped off significantly. But let's use Fred's argument of context against him: when you consider that FriendFeed was bought lock, stock and barrel by the single biggest player in the social space and many of it's features found their way in to Facebook itself then you have to consider FriendFeed to have been an ultimate success.

One crucial difference between Google Buzz and FriendFeed is that with the latter there was an explicit requirement to go and sign up an account; with Buzz , if you have a GMail account (and presumably an account with any Google application) you will automatically have a Buzz account. Google needs to ensure that Buzz is advertised but not forced down peoples throats.

#newtwitter, Buzz and context

Look at how Buzz currently operates: items shared into the stream are shown in full. Google Reader shares show the full text of the post (on the proviso that the feed itself publishes full text), images and videos are presented inline, etc. By bringing each social object directly into Buzz the context is largely retained. Discussion about a post makes sense as you have the post itself to refer to, Google just has to be careful what content is aggregated and how it is presented.

The new Twitter website is being hailed as a great way to get the most out of discovery on its network. Context is being introduced by showing images, videos and conversation threads right in the site but do we hear concerns that this will break Twitter and remove the social intent? No, we instead hear that it will facilitate easier discussion and discovery and the information is presented all in one place without so much need to leave the network itself.

I ask you, what's the difference?

Image by Scr47chy