The social web has become very good at simulating the offline social experience, with one powerful exception. Until recently, most social networks have been driven by the false assumption that people want to share everything with everyone in their networks.
Enter Paul Adams, the former Senior User Experience Researcher at Google. Adams systematically analyzed the way that people share things online and offline. His research (or his team’s research, as he humbly states) has become very popular in the marketing and sociology communities, laying the groundwork for Google+’s circles, among other things. But the finding that is most relevant to my point, and perhaps the most intuitive, is this: People don’t naturally share with everyone in their social sphere. They share specific things with specific people and groups.
And still, many social media platforms have failed to accommodate this simple fact. Google+ has used this failure as a foothold to differentiate itself from the rest. As my hero David Armano stated earlier this week:
To many users of various social networks, [Google+] comes as welcome addition to those managing multiple spheres of connections and wish to interact with them differently vs. using a broad brush for everything.
For communicators working in social media, this difference is one that cannot be ignored.
The Human Approach
At this point, Google+ does not have a “hide from” or “block” option anywhere on its site. Why? Because all of your contacts are, by default, excluded from seeing each post. It’s up to you to choose who to share them with. You can decide which circles and friends you think would find it interesting, and include them accordingly. Facebook, however, naturally includes all of your contacts by default. It places any alternatives deep in the background, under the assumption that you want to share your message with everybody. It’s up to you to specify otherwise.
My example describes a potentially-offensive video, but only to amplify my point. There are countless other instances in which it may only be necessary to show something to a select group of people. If you have a writing draft that you would like to be proofread and edited. If you are organizing a specialty event. If you have anything that is relevant to one or two social circles and not the others.
To this point, hiding and blocking people is very, very rare on social networks. And rightfully so. On Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube, Hemingway would have most likely just put the video up and hoped for the best. Most services, such as LinkedIn and YouTube, don’t even have the option of hiding. Nobody ever wants to hide or block something from other people. In real life, if we want to show a movie to a specific group of friends, we simply decide which friends to show it to. Everyone else in your life is naturally excluded.
The lesson is this: Facebook and Twitter have proven that people love to broadcast things they share to all of their friends. But equally so, there are instances in which people only want to share certain things with certain circles. This is where Google+ excels, and where all the others fail.
Both Are Practical
I don’t wish to be too hard on the idea of natural inclusion, as both methods have their strengths and weaknesses. For communicators and those who work in social media, it’s important to recognize that natural inclusion and natural exclusion are two different animals.
|Natural Exclusion||Natural Inclusion|
|Ex: Google+, in-person meetings, email, phone, Groupon/LivingSocial||Ex: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Foursquare, Tumblr,|
|Narrowcasting – Messages are only shared with a small, special interest circle of friends.||Broadcasting – Messages are shared with everybody in your network, regardless of your relationship to them.|
|High Quality Interest — Shared messages are likely to resonate strongly with the people they’re shared with. They will resonate even stronger when people are aware that it was specially shared with them.||Low Quality Interest – Shared messages may not be on target. And since there are many messages being broadcasted, the message is less likely to stand out above the rest.|
|Low Exposure — Messages will reach fewer people, resulting in fewer impressions.||High Exposure — Messages will reach mass amounts of people, resulting in maximum impressions.|
|Confidence — Sharers can be more confident that the shared message will be accepted by those who they’re sharing it with.||Shooting Without Aiming – Sharers can’t always be sure that the shared message will be received well by everyone. Their social desirability may thus be on the line.|
|“Message” here refers to anything that can be shared, be it video, a status, an article or a website.|
In sum, Google+’s natural exclusion results in quality-over-quantity narrowcasting. The natural inclusion of Facebook and the others provides for a quantity-over-quality broadcasting capability.
Theory vs. Practice
To emphasize the differences between Google+ and other social media platforms, this article makes some strong generalizations. At the moment, Google+ indeed defaults to natural inclusion until the user removes the option (no pun intended). However, by making this decision central to the sharing process (and highly visible), Google+ is the closest thing we have to true natural exclusion in social media.
To Facebook’s credit, they also include an option to “Make this visible to…,” allowing for natural exclusion like Google+. However, it is tucked away deep within the padlock icon next to their “Share” button, making it clear that their priority is ensuring a naturally inclusive sharing experience. After all, making “the world more open” is central to their mission statement.
How do you think Google+ will change the social media landscape, if at all? Do you think other services will eventually allow for natural exclusion?
Links in this Article
- Paul Adams on Google+
- The Real Life Social Network v2 – SlideShare – By Paul Adams
- Tweet by Paul Adam (@padday)
- Google Figures Out Humans – Logic+Emotion – By David Armano
- YMCA by the Village People – Watch on YouTube
- Public health insurance option – Wikipedia
- Facebook’s Insignia and the Company’s Ultimate Mission – Mashable – By Ben Parr