Social Fatigue: How Google+ could dilute social. The return of the niche.

With the hype of Google+ fading we should brace ourselves for it to renew itself when the product officially launches. I’ve been critical of Google’s lack of design as a source of many of its product failures. It seems that they have invested more deeply in visual design for Google+ although I remain unimpressed by much of their infrastructure design. The array of Google apps seems like a messy afterthought. I don’t mean that they’re bad products but the compounding of them and the assumption that everyone will find them useful feels like an even more convoluted version of Microsoft’s mess of business applications. (Note the tangent, let’s move on.)

The tidal wave of techies declaring Facebook and Twitter as defeated by Google+ only highlights that many people just didn’t like these services all that much. I too think G+ does a lot of things better than the aforementioned. The problem for me at the moment is that it won’t replace either Facebook or Twitter. While I do feel Facebook is stagnant it also represents connections with real people I know. I always thought this was the true value purpose of Facebook and I’ve rarely ever friended anyone I haven’t actually met face to face. Twitter in conjunction with the Flipboard iPad app has made Twitter really work for me in terms of consumption. Google+ has devised a way to have the best of real friends and real interests. Both Twitter and Facebook already had these capabilities yet Google takes a rare win for design in making Circles of who you’re following their main differentiation. Even so I now have 3 social networking services open daily. The end result is that I just look at Facebook and Twitter a little less.

Google+ highlights the need for focus in social networking. I believe it hasn’t succeeded in creating a new and truly meaningful social paradigm. The shortcoming of the major social networks is in their generalism. For celebrities and those with existing notoriety their experience is extremely skewed when analysing social networks. Their every mediocre share will get response giving them an unrealistic idea of the service’s usefulness to the general public.

For the rest of us the burden of conversation and focus is placed squarely on the user. This is especially true of Google+ which will undoubtably appeal to a certain type of user but nowhere near everyone. For meaningful interactions to exist for all users in a social network the burden of focus must rest with that social network. Facebook and Twitter can be entry points but are ill-suited for the niche space. Niche may appear too small and unprofitable compared with the general approach.

It seems that over a decade ago there were more meaningful interactions online. Livejournal was the combination of diary, network and the feed. It wasn’t penetrated by marketing and the conversations were very real. Today we have mundane snippets of conversation on Facebook and mostly just watch conversations of Twitter’s elite with little acknowledgement. Why does this feel so shallow? Because Facebook and Twitter are not where we should be going to have real conversations. Blogs serve a great function for discussion but are not very well networked. The point is that we shouldn’t look to the hegemons to manage our real conversations.

When I want to discus music I go on Rdio playlists. The conversations often elicit incredible feedback. I don’t personally know anyone I’m conversing with. Rdio seems itself a reluctant social network. Yet it has a very specific niche and provides just enough tools for people to communicate. Rdio should embrace the fact that many of their users want to talk to each other about music and nurture it. It’s such a unique premise because users are paying for access (to music). A social network you have to pay for? Why would that work? Because focus works. People actually can be heard. I’d imagine scores of people lose interest in Twitter when their Tweets elicit no feedback. It’s not the fault of the user rather it’s the natural defect of a social network that tries to be everything to everyone.

When people talk about who rules social networking I think we’re only at the very beginning of that discussion and there’s room for many networks to play. I see dedicated networks for cooking, movies, science etc. These networks have existed in primitive forms since the inception of the web. Web forums were a good example and great starting point. I have seen the sprouting of other networks. Perhaps VC investors don’t yet see the need to invest in more networks. I think the situation is actually opposite. The web will evolve in a great leap when niche social becomes as ubiquitous as Facebook.

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