creep – Stay N Alive

"Follow" Networks and The Creep Factor – Why It Isn’t a Facebook Play

As I was setting up an account for my wife to be able to post to this blog today, I created a Google+ profile for her. She knew, and will probably even use it – some day. However, there’s something I just can’t get passed, and that’s that I’m a little creeped out by the fact that just about anyone can follow her on Google+. The stalker factor is a real risk with systems that allow follow-type relationships. It’s going to be a really tough battle for Google to get passed this without any sort of 2-way friend relationship like Facebook if they want a mass audience. I’m starting to think that’s not what they’re going for.

Marshall Kirkpatrick had a great post where he mentioned that Google+ could be Google’s move to try and make Facebook a more open environment. I suggested it made some sense – a closed environment is a good way to compete with an open one (and vice-versa), however there’s one flaw to some of this – Facebook actually isn’t that closed. I can make my posts public there, just like Google+. Facebook’s API is one of the most accessible APIs I’ve come across. Facebook has given users almost 100% control of what apps have access to about them. Facebook even preempted Google by almost a year in having a way to backup your data to your own machine if you like. (See Louis Gray’s backup of his Facebook data here) David Recordon, Senior Open Programs Manager at Facebook, confirmed that point, pointing out that Google+ actually validates Google’s own open strategy, not just Facebook’s:

“One thing I appreciate is how Google is now developing skin in the game for when they try to design these decentralized protocols. These sorts of standards are honestly hard to get right and only come out successful when they follow real products. It’s been frustrating to see “Google invents open standard ” for the past two years without an appreciation for what it takes to make work at scale. And by “scale” I don’t mean anything to do with bits on the wire.”

In a sense, I see Google and Facebook working together, on 2 different planes to open up the social landscape. I don’t see them competing necessarily – Google is too open for that to be the case. On Google anyone can follow anyone – the relationships aren’t always 2-way, and this is a very popular feature amongst users of Twitter, which include the early adopter base, the tech blogs, and the media. Google+ has a follow model, similar to Twitter’s – not a friend model like Facebook’s. Again – there’s that stalker factor again. If you’re worried about stalkers, Facebook is just a much more secure and private environment to protect from that. It’s simply a lot harder to have a stalker on Facebook than it is on Google+ or Twitter.

Instead, I see Google competing more with Twitter and other more open follow-centric networks. It’s a different type of social graph than Facebook’s. For that reason I just can’t see my wife, or my daughter, or any of my kids or less tech-savvy friends using Google+ unless they adopt a more private 2-way friending model. It’s simply too risky. As a husband and father, I’m just not sure I can trust suggesting it to my wife and children and not have them expose something they’re not supposed to expose. I’m already seeing the problem of people trying to figure out what Circles do what, and people unknowingly posting things as public when they don’t mean to. On Facebook that all defaults as your friends only. That’s the advantage to Facebook – you can trust, for the most part (key words), that what you post will only be seen by those you specifically have friended. I don’t think Google should be scared of that, either.

The fact is, as it now stands, Google and Facebook just aren’t competitors at the moment, and they shouldn’t see each other as such. I know originally I said “Facebook should be shaking in their boots” (although I still stand by the fact that Google beat Facebook to encompassing the entire web experience – that will change though) – my hope is that at least got Facebook’s attention just in case Google does decide to go for those more intimate types of relationships (which they very well could), but for now, the way it is set up, that just isn’t going to be happen. Instead, I think it is Twitter that should really be paying attention, and let’s hope they do try to compete. The competition is a healthy one. Twitter has quite the competition though!

In the end, yes, this is a battle for your social graph. I do think there are different types of social graphs though, and the battle right now is over the less personalized graph and the more public information. If you do compare it to Facebook, perhaps Facebook Pages and the fan-to-Page relationship is the real social graph you should be looking at as competition. At the same time, will Google ever go after the more intimate relationships that are less educated on privacy? That’s hard to say, but I’m starting to feel Facebook isn’t the comparison right now.

If you’re looking for “one network to rule them all”, at the moment I don’t think there is such a thing. In reality, the “one network to rule them all” of the future probably won’t even be Google or Facebook. In the future, you’ll pull your social graphs from both services, and put them into your own more personalized network on the various sites you visit on the web (like Facebook Connect). In the end, in ad-focused networks like Google and Facebook, that is what they would prefer to see anyway – your social graph, from their networks, across all the websites on the internet. Each product experience will have its own reasons to choose which networks those connections come from.