For consumers of content tags, or #tags, serve two primary functions:
The Follow function: To follow news of interest (e.g. a column with #lbl tweets showing latest updates from the race without me having to follow it live on TV), and
The Filter function: To filter out specific content from the stream for various reasons, such as
to either avoid listening news before we want to (match scores, movie spoilers), or
to avoid getting drowned in updates during big events (SXSW, Google IO, WWDC, IPL, SuperBowl tweets taking over the timeline for brief periods), or
to remove news from the timeline that we’re not at all uninterested in.
Content & platform companies all love the follow function, and have tried to make it as easy as possible for users to access it.
It’s understandable. Apart from allowing easy search, this also presents a straightforward way of targeting advertising to users based on interests. This ability to show relevant advertising – Specialized Shivs to users following IronMan world championships, and the latestBAAS to developers following Google IO – is extremely valuable to these companies.
The filter function, on the other hand, is almost universally neglected. None of the content consumption platforms that I use – Twitter, Google+, WordPress and Pocket – offer any easy built-in way of filtering out content. All of them make it trivially easy to follow specifically-tagged content using tags or #tags.
A large number of popular 3rd party Twitter clients have the feature to filter out specific content, indicating the strength of user demand for the filter function. That 3rd party clients have this feature, also indicates that technical complexity isn’t the reason holding back content platforms themselves from providing this function.
Users want to cut out noise & irrelevant info from their content streams, yet none of the content serving companies make it easy for them.
Are there any technical, UX, business, or legal reasons for most content companies not providing filtering functions, or is it just a conscious, unfortunate, neglect of end user needs?
One of the earliest feature requests of Google+ users was for an ability to define the default home stream / circle. Seems like the G+ team introduced this feature without publicity sometime over the holiday period (or maybe I missed all the publicity being away from the Internet for almost a fortnight).
I just discovered this feature a moment ago when browsing through some circle specific timeline. Google+ now allows users to define how many posts from any particular circle appear on their home timeline:
Click on the circle link in the left navigation bar to go to that circle’s stream. Once there, you get a slider on the top left of content section to define how many posts appear in the home timeline.
On that slider, Google+ offers 4 sets of options for each circle’s stream:
Glad to have some way of controlling the behaviour of my home stream. Now that it’s here, it’d be great if G+ provides this filtering function on user basis as well, along with the circle-basis it does now.
Now for a note of small concern – when you visit a circle’s page, you realise that the default setting for filtering is ‘Most Posts’, which means some posts may never appear on your home timeline (which is the only one most of us check). While this may be fine if a user knowingly chooses that option, but having it enabled by default means that users may never see certain posts on their timeline, without knowing it could happen.
This is similar to what Facebook regularly does, and is regularly criticised for by G+ users. Would be a pity if Google decided to go down that route without informing users first.
Most social media users and application developers I know have one big issue against Google+: lack of an API to write posts to it via 3rd party tools.
While most might feel this is a big drawback, and someone even called it derisively as the ‘stalker API’, I think this not releasing ‘write’ APIs is a very conscious, strategic decision based on the learning from Buzz.
When Google released Buzz, it allowed people to connect some of their existing social networks to buzz and auto-post updates from those networks onto buzz. The problem with this was that most people just enabled that auto-connect and forgot about buzz. Their tweets, reader shares, talk statuses and flickr photos were auto-buzzed, but they never bothered to go in and actively interact there. Add to it the fact that most people who would have read a user’s updates were already following them on other social networks. So, once the followers realised that the users were only cross-posting content there, even they didn’t have any incentive to read the updates there. End result: a zombie network where everyone was ‘posting’ (sometimes even without knowing), and no one was reading.
Google has learnt from that experience and thus this reluctance to provide any ‘write’ APIs. Google also learnt something else from that experience – APIs can be used as a tactical tool to position the network in the market and amongst users.
And this is where its ‘read’ APIs come: assisting, ever so slightly, in making G+ the core content host for its user base.
Using a read-only API, people can auto-post their G+ posts on other social networks, or even list & link them on their blogs and websites. More importantly, using an image-reading API (which Google accidentally announced earlier today), I can use G+ as my photo host for any photos I post on twitter, my blog or almost anywhere else. The 3rd party twitter clients like Seismic, Tweetdeck and Gravity can now integrate G+ image previews using the upcoming API.
So we have a situation where users can’t auto-publish content from other networks to G+ (and thus need to be really active here to have an active stream), but they can use content from G+ to post to other networks (thus reducing, ever so slightly, their active participation on those networks).
Why wouldn’t Google want that?
I’m sure that Google also realises that most people are set in their ways and, without any 3rd party tool integration, will be reluctant to use Google+. And thus, the ‘write’ APIs will come some day. Google is just ensuring that G+ has enough active members using it as the (or a) primary network before it releases those APIs to lure in more users.
Yesterday, TC broke the story about Google being in talks to acquire Katango. Since Facebook brought out the smart-list update, Google would want to respond and Katanga’s platform might just be an easy ticket.
However, the thought of FB & Katanga’s automatic listing/grouping together of people reminded me of something interesting that LinkedIn had unveiled earlier this year but got lost after an initial spurt of coverage: InMaps.
Isn’t that InMap, with its ‘Professional Networks’ just a smart grouping of my contacts into Circles? Exactly what Google wants to do with Katango and Facebook has already done with smartlists.
That information – professional association networks – is not very valuable to me (I know my professional circles) but possibly a gold mine for LinkedIn and anyone it may want to share it with. Wonder what’s keeping LinkedIn from tapping into this data and providing features like ‘Professional Circles’ – give people a platform to share & discuss within relevant circles – that might help develop LI as a better social network rather than the ‘just a job site’ that it is fast becoming.
Even more, however unlikely, what is preventing LinkedIn from making money from allowing sharing of these network links with either G+ or FB? (Only user initiated, of course). Or refining the algorithms to pro-actively suggest recruits to companies based not just on keyword match, but network affinity of current/past hires as well.
Basically, at a time when both Google & Facebook are using these features to enhance their networks, why is LinkedIn not pushing it? Specially, as far as I know, it was the first to launch the feature.
In this feature war between Facebook & Google+, the consensus amongst industry followers seems to be:
Consumer is clear winner and Twitter is clear loser, everything else is still up for grabs.
Well, I’ll go out on a limb and say that I feel Twitter will be a winnertoo. And my explanation for that is that good old KISS principle works everywhere – in this feature-cluttered fight for social network dominance too. And in that space – for a ‘simple’ social network – there is still no competition for Twitter.
The feature battle between FB and G+ is developing them both into powerful, yet increasingly complex, properties. This is good for users like me and the people I read – we are all technologically adept, willing to trade simplicity & a little time for more powerful features and more control over what we see / read / do.
Yet, that is not what everyone wants. Many, if not most, people just want simplicity.
People like my girlfriend. Her primary network is Twitter – she loves its simplicity in her time-starved life – and the second one is Facebook – because it has an interface she’s familiar with and because that’s where most of her friends & family are, i.e. the network effect.
People like Om Malik, who wrote a short but insightful post earlier today about increasingly feeling social network fatigue and how increasing complexity was adding to it. Twitter should pick up this punch line from his post and use in all their advertisements:
I use Twitter all the time because it is simpler, easier, real-time and always on!
People who Mike Elgan quite nicely categorised here (read that full post, it’s good):
Most Facebook users just want to interact with family and friends. They don’t want to learn anything. They don’t want a more powerful platform. They don’t want Facebook to be more like Google+.
For these people, the increasing complexity of features and controls on Facebook is causing a dissonance.
Why Twitter wins?
Simply because for the first set of people above – like Om and my girlfriend, who are always pressed for time and attention – Twitter provides a clean, single timeline that they can read and update. No likes or +1s, no separate profiles to update, no privacy controls, no circles, groups or smart-lists for sharing, no albums, apps & games. Just one timeline – simple.
The fact that of all three social networks, it is the best integrated and easiest to use on mobile helps it even more.
My hunch is, that for these people who crave simplicity – Twitter will start taking over as their primary social network. Yes, people will still stay on Facebook, many will even join G+ – but Twitter will become their primary network, with cross-posting apps their tool to update the other networks.
And that, will be a big win for Twitter.
Twitter will never be as big and ubiquitous as Facebook already is, or G+ wants to be. Yet, it has a community that is highly involved and committed. These, time-starved individuals, looking for an online community where they can feel comfortable – will not just join it, they’ll love it and commit to it in a manner they never did to Facebook.
Also, though their numbers might be small, these are the people who advertisers value a lot – people with short attention spans but good money to spend. They also happen to be the same people who are hardest to reach through old media TV & print advertisements.
Result: an increase in the ‘quality’ of users on twitter – both from their contribution to the interactions on the network as well as their value to the advertisers. Or in other words – a win for Twitter.
I have this thing about watching a TED talk every day. I even gave it one of those catchy phrases:
‘TED talk a day keeps senses awake’
Anyway, one of the two talks I saw today (a repeat) was about Mr. Splashy Pants by +Alexis Ohanian:
On this second viewing of the video, I finally got the real lesson of his talk: The biggest hurdle to organisations using social media successfully for serious causes is not that they are not media savvy. The biggest hurdle is that they take themselves and their cause too seriously.
A grim face, shocking footage and a serious message can help them gather sympathy and possibly some donations. Yet, such a message rarely helps develop a tsunami of support that a campaign like Splashy Pants can generate through social media.
People like sharing quirky, fun things. They share it even more if these quirky fun things are connected to a good cause.
No one, other than people already committed to a cause, want to consistently swamp their friends & followers with grim videos and messages for donation.