Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Necessary Evils: Google+ Becoming a Social Platform

Google+ is a great place to have engaging, high-quality conversations these days, although most of them seem to be about Google+ itself.

But the invite-only service lacks many standard features of social networks, such as the capability to import posts that originated elsewhere, its own share buttons distributed around the Web, and a way to connect users’ Google+ identities to other Web services.

Becoming an interoperable social networking platform, rather than just a Web site and mobile app, would dilute the Google+ conversation, but in some ways it seems unavoidable.

Google+ would soon become a place that people updated simultaneously with their Twitter and Facebook. It would be full of automated posts generated by news feeds. It would have business accounts instead of mainly personal accounts (this is already happening). It would have games. It would get spammed up. But it would be a more integrated part of a wider group of people’s experiences, rather than an island unto and obsessed with itself.

A lot of this stuff will happen naturally with APIs and time. But some of it, like contact importing and full syndication, is based on formal relationships. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday, in a conversation with journalists at the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, that he’d “love to have deeper integration with Twitter and Facebook,” according to Reuters. However, Google’s relations with both Twitter and Facebook have soured recently.

Google previously had a syndication deal for Twitter’s fire hose of tweets, which was the main source for its real-time search engine. But when it wasn’t renewed, the real-time site over the weekend turned into an embarrassing 404 error page. And Google and Facebook’s protracted fight over exporting and importing contacts has been well-documented.

Both Facebook and Twitter themselves have had problems establishing their identities as social networking platforms. Twitter has had ongoing trust issues with developers as it has slowly extended its own features onto their turf and selectively bought some third-party products. And not to be too blunt, but the main accomplishment of the Facebook platform has been fueling the ascent of Zynga.

Both Facebook and Twitter seem to be having more luck as identity providers allowing other sites to connect their users’ accounts to people they already know, and rigging up the Web with social plug-ins and share buttons. Google has provided something similar with a mostly forgotten product called Google Friend Connect that’s obviously due for a refresh.

So yes, Google+ is just a start, with limited features and a limited audience. But the combination of those two things turns out to be extremely engaging. It’s possible that Google will find ingenious ways to grow the product and avoid the pitfalls of other platforms, but for current users it’s probably a good idea to enjoy it while it lasts.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald