Like it or not, social networking is here to stay - and not just as a forum for people to sound off or share life’s update. Social networking sites, armed with far more data than any of us probably realizes, are tagging along with us for our daily strolls through the Internet - listening to our music, reading our favorite blogs, watching our favorite videos and shopping for that special something.
Yes, I realize that the idea sounds very creepy and I’ll admit that I get a bit weirded out thinking about some of the possibilities. But after a chat with Gigya CEO Patrick Salyer last week, I started thinking about the role that each of us plays in managing our individual online identities, keeping some things private but also sharing key things with key people simply by the way we choose to log-in to a site.
Salyer and I were actually talking about the first release of the Google+ API, a limited usage toolkit that admittedly doesn’t do much for a company like Gigya, which provides the social tools that allow people to share, “Like” or even post a comment directly from a Web page. For Salyer, the excitement is around forthcoming releases of the API and the ability for people to post information to their Google-Plus streams the same way they can post to their Facebook news feeds today.
The growth in Google+ since its launch has been significantly faster than that of Facebook, the site it's most often compared to. And while Google+ itself doesn’t have a userbase to rival Facebook’s (yet), it does bring with it the power of circles and specialized posting, as well as the huge pool of Google account holders who could easily join the network just by using their existing log-in credentials.
Customized sharingIn other words, Google+ is providing a sneak peek at the power of customized sharing. Here’s an example: I may share a blog post about a tech news event with my “Tech Friends” Circle on Google+ and skip my less techie “Fantasy Football” circle. By contrast, the viral video of a great catch in a weekend football game could be shared with the football crew, as well as the members of my “Poker guys” circle, who might also appreciate the video.
The thing to remember is that I am the one who’s in control over who sees particular postings, instead of just putting it out there for all to see. And even though Facebook has now introduced Lists to group certain friends into certain groups, it may be too late for Facebook’s most active members. Like me, Salyer says his Facebook friend count is hovering around 1,000 people and the idea of going back and categorizing them now feels like a major chore. I know exactly what he means when he says that these Facebook Lists needed to be part of the site from the beginning, as Circles have been with Google+.
But that’s only the beginning of where social networking is headed, he said.
As our commitments to social networking grows, the identities we have on these sites varies. I’m a professional on LinkedIn, for example. I post interesting news stories on Google+ and Twitter but don’t offer much commentary. But on Facebook, I let my hair down (the hair I have left, that is) and post about everything from funny images to pics of the kids to random rants about some event during my day. You can imagine the power - and flexibility - that will come with the ability to manage those identities and the type of content I link to them.
As a heavy user of social networking sites, I admit to being maybe a bit too carefree about how I share sometimes. So, there is something to be said for signing in to a news site such as the New York Times using my Google+ and LinkedIn identities, instead of creating a new user name and password for that site only. By doing so, I can share news stories that are relevant in my professional networks. Likewise, I can use my Facebook identity to log in to ESPN.com so I can share easily with my Facebook audience and even engage in some sports trash talk that I would likely avoid with potential employers on LinkedIn.
The Google NetworkAs for Google, there’s one more cool/creepy thing to consider. Google has ties to a lot of other online sites and tools such as YouTube, Blogger, Google Maps and GMail. As such, the ability to share between those sites and customized social networking groups makes the information more relevant for everyone involved.
Yes, that includes search.
During our conversation, Salyer made a reference to the power of customization that stopped me in my tracks. He suggested that, as social networks learn over time which sites I visit most, the Google search algorithm could be tweaked to further enhance my search results to give priority to sites that I frequent most.
Certainly, no one is suggesting that’s happening today, especially as Google responds in Washington to federal inquiries about manipulating search results to better favor its own sites. Still, Salyer says there’s “a ton of value for users and enormous value for websites... It goes back to distribution.”
As much as Google’s search results drive traffic back to individual web sites, Facebook - through sharing by its members - now rivals the search giant as a driver of traffic back to specific sites. It’s easy to see how Google could take back some of the lost dominance as an Internet traffic driver by opening the floodgates on Google+, as well as its API.
Taking it slowBut taking that too-fast approach leaves it at risk of looking like Facebook during its latest update. Facebook introduced so much, so fast, that users are still trying to catch their breath as they figure out the new features and what they should care about. The users are confused and frustrated and that’s creating an open-door opportunity for Google to jump in to highlight the differences between the two.
Google is moving slow - rolling out the API in phases and initially welcoming people to Google+ on an invitation-only basis. This approach gives people the chance to get used to the system and customize it to meet their own needs.
And once Google finishes opening its API and companies like Gigya can get the Google+ ecosystem built into its sharing tools, the potential for Google+ to grow even beyond what it is now becomes even greater.
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