It’s no secret that Google has been throwing some mud at the wall to see if they can gain traction against Facebook on the social networking front. Namely, Google Buzz which wasn’t a huge success and I’ve been skeptical of Google’s ability to compete against Facebook’s gravity. All of my friends are on Facebook. Plus, Facebook has all of our photographs. That’s a lot of eggs in the Facebook basket. While its possible that we may one day spend less time chatting with our friends and more time working, Facebook is going to have to make a pretty serious mistake for us all to leave. According to their policy, they actually own them.
Google’s recently launched Circles network has me intrigued though. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a great Mashable article that links to some of Googles explanatory videos.
Paul Adams created a very clear presentation about the flaws of existing social networks (ie Facebook) while he was at Google. It explains the importance of privacy to the user. It also explains why the term ‘friends’ is not helpful. In short, he contends that ‘friends’ is too broad and doesn’t allow users to categorize their message by audience. The presentation has been viewed a whopping 670,000 times on Slideshare.
Facebook has a vested interest in complete openness. The network’s model turns on connecting the whole world. They are unapologetically pushing the bounds of individual privacy. As a result, there has been a lot of high-profile resistance to complete openness both publicly and from government watchdogs.
Privacy, and the ability to control it could be Facebook’s Achilles Heel. This is why i’m intrigued by Circles. It’s the biggest weakness in Facebook’s model. At Think!, we believe in the power of passionate communities. These communities center around a common interest and can be simply represented using concentric circles. We don’t believe that the world is one big circle. That’s the old world. We believe that it is one big circle made up of many, many much smaller circles. In these small circles, relevant information is essential and giving people the power to control their message is paramount.
Google Circles lets you categorize people on the way in and on initial appearance its very intuitive and smooth. Facebook Groups goes a little way towards solving the problem. However, many of the privacy settings are well buried, presumably so that people don’t use them. Circles is the complete opposite.
Of course, given their momentum, Facebook could always copy the idea. Interestingly, since he released his presentation and released his book Social Circles, Paul Adams now works at Facebook as their research lead on social.