Saturday, July 02, 2011

Paul Adams' Real Life Social Network

Google+, the new online social hub
There have been a lot of recent discussions regarding the release of Google+, the new information sharing service from the feverish mandarins of Mountain View.

Naturally, it has drawn a lot of comparisons to the gorilla in the social networking space, Facebook. Pundits and analysts are wondering how it will impact other tools like Skype, Twitter, and Tumblr.

To understand how these emerging services are struggling to cope with modeling our relationships and the accompanying flows of information, it is instructive to review Paul Adams' Real Life Social Network slideshow.

Paul Adams was formerly on the Google user experience team, and now works for Facebook. (When asked what he thought about Google+, Adams wrote "Seeing Google+ in public is like bumping into an ex-girlfriend.") Although Andy Hertzfeld is widely credited for his interaction design and implementation work on the Circles editor (sharing is controlled within Google+ using the concept of social circles), he inherited the model from Adams, according to TechCrunch's Alexia Tsotsis.

Adams explores at length the complexities of managing multiple independent groups of friends, strong vs weak vs temporary ties, the Dunbar number, influence, and the role of multiple identities in self-representation. He also throws in a discussion of privacy. It turns out there are many subtle and multi-dimensional challenges of modelling real-world relationships.

While Adams criticizes Facebook's broad default sharing approach, I rather enjoy the unpredictable confluence of my different social groups. I view the increased granular control over information provided by Google+ with ambivalence -- even though I know this attitude is problematic.

Check out Adams' slideshow:

The Real Life Social Network v2

Amusingly,  I found that my first 24 hours of activity on Google+ mostly consisted of replicating my existing Facebook and Twitter lists (Arguably the Circles functionality already existed in Facebook via lists, but the latter interface is awkward and inconvenient to use).

I found the naming choice of 'Circles' to be rich in unintended meaning. It immediately made me think of Eli Pariser's Filter Bubble. When I judiciously choose how my information is shared and retrieved, instead of ingesting, and disseminating it across a variety of sources -- and when everyone else does this too -- aren't we contributing to Pariser's problem? Aren't we trapping ourselves by design into bubbles of self-interested information? Is this the end of serendipity?

I really like the integration with the other products in the Google platform; I think this integration will give Google+ a much greater uptake than the ill-fated Wave or the annoying Buzz releases -- Google+ ties everything together. The next piece of functionality I'd like to see -- though I'm not sure how likely it is to come about -- is an integration of the flow with external sources, so I can arbitrarily choose to post on Google+, or Facebook, or Twitter, or some arbitrary combination of channels...

Adams' book on the subject (presumably drawn from the same materials as the slideshow) Social Circles: How offline relationships influence online behavior and what it means for design and marketing (Voices That Matter), is due to be published in August.

Apparently Google is legally preventing Adams from publishing the book even though "The book contains no proprietary information, it is based almost entirely on research from 3rd parties (mostly universities) and any Google research referenced is already in the public domain."

Very interesting! He's working on a new work called 'Grouped'. We'll see how that turns out.