June 29, 2011

Aggregation Is Invisible In Google+. Thank Goodness.

The true value of a social network is the product of the people participating and the content being shared. There's no doubt some sort of mathematical program smarter geeks can compile to show just how that works, but it's true. You will participate on one service or another because of what is said and who is saying it. If the content doesn't match your interests, or the people aren't those you care about, there's little pull for you to be there. One corollary to this which evolved over the last three-plus years is that social networks gain power through being the originator of the content. While I once was a major proponent of aggregation products that pulled from many corners of the Web, the value downstream is vastly diluted, and adds to noise. This was a major problem for late adopters of FriendFeed, was immediately a problem for Google Buzz on day one, and is an ongoing problem for Facebook users, who often struggle to find ways to delete specific services' access to their feed and wall.

Google+, at least on day one, has absolutely no way to push content into the site from a third party network. This means you don't see a stream of people's Twitter updates, you don't see their blog posts automatically added, you don't see their Foursquare checkins, their Instagram photos, TurnTable spins or any of the other various update virii that flood most streams. Instead, the site is an open whiteboard for status updates, link sharing and photos, all requiring manual input. The inference, and correct assumption, is that those updates on Google+, were written by the person with specific intent for a specific audience. You don't get that feeling that they posted elsewhere and aren't participating locally - a common complaint on other services, like FriendFeed and Buzz.

At the end of 2009, my two-year fascination with aggregation-centric parlays coming to a close, I said aggregation was better in theory, arguing cross-posting should be reduced. This didn't stop Google Buzz from launching with aggregation at its core a few months later. Unfortunately, the ease at which you could pull in content from third party networks like Twitter meant many people, including Google employees, added these feeds and didn't return. It made for a subpar experience, and initial requests for updates included the ability to mute these services as a whole or from specific users.

I would bet that in time as the Google+ API is completed and released, we could soon see the opportunity for mobile and desktop clients (like Seesmic for example) to write to Google+ as a new service. I am betting Seesmic's Ping.fm is already thinking of how they can make Google+ yet another supported service. But I would push for caution in this. I've seen how the deluge of activity from sites like Twitter (and Facebook if they opened up) can drown the downstream aggregator and help it lose its identity.

Some first users of Google+ today commented about the similarities of it to FriendFeed, with nested comments, lists and real time at the core. But honestly, it's the opposite. FriendFeed launched as a major aggregator, supporting dozens of sites. Google+ starts with just one. It's refreshing.