Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google Social Researcher Jumps Ship for Facebook

Paul Adams, a senior user experience researcher at Google who was the company’s research lead for social, announced today he will be joining Facebook next year.

The move is especially interesting because Adams had prepared an influential slide deck about the shortcomings of today’s social networks that was widely circulated online as well as within Facebook. Originally presented at the Voices That Matter Web Design Conference in June, “The Real Life Social Network” has been viewed more than 400,000 times since being posted on SlideShare.

For Adams to join the opposition is obviously not a vote of confidence for Google and its much-maligned plans to offer more social products.

Adams, who had spent four years on the Google user experience team, didn’t specify what his new gig at Facebook will be. At Google he had worked on products such as Gmail, Latitude and YouTube, according to his bio. Adams is also the author of the forthcoming book “Social Circles.”

After seeing Adams’s tweet this afternoon, I took some time to replay his 224-slide presentation.

In the last five months, Facebook released a Groups feature that addresses some of the problems Adams identified in online social networking, but his ideas and principles have not gone stale. Adams’s main thesis is that online social networks have not evolved to accurately portray and extend the offline social networks people have had forever. He compares Facebook friend lists and IM chat contacts to the awkwardness of planning a wedding seating chart, where people from all parts of your life come together.

While tools like email exist to help people communicate with those they are most strongly tied to, and services like Facebook help us keep track of our “weak ties,” Adams speaks of a need for a third model of “temporary ties” that recede after a short-term period, like an eBay transaction. He also talks about the opportunity to capitalize on the high degree of influence that friends have on each other’s purchases.

Adams proposes that people will increasingly need to have more than one online profile, and that online social products must be designed with privacy and trust at top of mind. He says well-designed social products must communicate to users the consequences of their actions.

These are interesting principles, but they’re hardly a blueprint for Google’s long-awaited social offerings and upgrades. The big difference is that now Facebookers can go straight to the source rather than being a few of the 400,000 people to view Adams’s ideas and research online.

Please note: As disclosed in my ethics statement, my husband is a part-time researcher on the Facebook user experience team.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work