Googler’s Take on Social Networking Reveals Chinks in Facebook’s Armor

Paul Adams, lead for User Research for Social at Google, shared a presentation a few days back that was picked up by Venture Beat among others. I am sharing it here along with my own thoughts as I think it deserves a closer look.

Why? Because:

  • Paul currently works on Buzz and YouTube
  • Google is rumored to be working on Google Me, a rival network to Facebook

The Presentation

Key Points

  • A single umbrella group of “Friends” in an online network doesn’t mirror real-life and leads to problems. Support multiple independent groups of friends.
  • Focusing on technology is a wrong strategy. Focus should instead be on Motivation and Goals.
  • Design needs are different for different relationship types – strong ties, weak ties, and temporary ties. One solution doesn’t fit all.
  • Different communication channels are needed for different types of relationships.
  • Role of influencers is over-estimated. Also need to focus on network of person being influenced. Influence works most within close ties.
  • Network should support multiple facets of identity and also anonymity.
  • We think people care less about privacy because they misunderstand complicated privacy settings.
  • People underestimate the size of their audience and persistent nature of their conversations online.

My Thoughts

  • There is no mention of any geeky stuff here – Open ID, standards, protocols, etc. It is refreshing to see truly social insights coming from Google.
  • For each of the problems identified with current online social networks, Paul uses Facebook as an example. Most of them also apply to Google’s Orkut, but Paul chooses to ignore Orkut as if it doesn’t exist.
  • While its heartening to see these insights from Google, their real challenge is for the Product Managers and Head of Social to take what they’ve got and build on this vision.
  • Google needs many more Paul Adams.
  • The critical insight is how Paul (and by extension, Google) thinks that there can be no one size fits all approach to social networking. Facebook users already experience the problems Paul describes by mixing close friends, acquaintances, and online strangers together in common conversations.
  • Taking this forward, Google may well be saying that Buzz is a network designed for your acquaintances and weak ties. And if Google Me were indeed under development, looks like it will be a network designed for close ties – family and close friends – which is how Facebook initially started.
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  • Nice reshare of the presentation. The G in Google may stand for Geeky, but I think they should not be underestimated. They are more than a mess of open protocols and code methods. They have a strong team in place, full of names you don't know, working very hard. There is room for more than one leader in this space, and Google's success does not require Facebook to fail.

  • Thank you and I agree. I try not to underestimate anyone, least of all Google!

    Your last statement is where I believe most of the press coverage becomes misguided.

  • I try not to deal in absolutes. I may not always pick the winner as my favorite, but I try really hard not to call things “dead” or “killers”. I appreciate your thoughts as always.

  • Damian

    really quite good reshare thanks

  • Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
    Curation +1

    On any given day, it's humorous to think of how much new content that's highly relevant slips past my attention. There's too much to do, and never enough time to read about it 🙂

  • notOneSize

    Paul Adams description of Facebooks problems are spot-on. Facebook has some nice features, but I don't use it, and actually, I refuse to log in anymore precisely because my network there is way to broad. Third cousins and people from high school have found me, people I have no connection with, yet I felt bad refusing their invites. Now I have nothing to say to them in common with people I actually choose to associate with, so I say nothing at all, and I don't even want them to know I've logged on, because then their feelings are hurt that I don't respond to them.

  • Re: “Google needs many more Paul Adams.”

    True dat!

  • That GOOG would consider:

    * A single umbrella group of “Friends” in an online network doesn’t mirror real-life and leads to problems. Support multiple independent groups of friends.


    * Network should support multiple facets of identity and also anonymity.

    …puts GOOG leaps and bounds ahead of FB.

    But when GOOG says, “We think people care less about privacy because they misunderstand complicated privacy settings,” GOOG returns in lockstep with FB.

    Assume the customer is a dolt, and you will get only a dolt for a customer.

  • Kiranator

    Google has plenty of them — but Google's PMs and other leadership pretty consistently ignores the research and recommendations of its UE researchers.

  • AndreaF

    Very interesting thoughts.
    One small considerations: it is true that FB's representation is not as good as it should be but to a degree the 'friends' vs 'friends of friends' vs 'public' settings in their privacy controls is similar to the 'strong ties' vs 'weak ties' vs 'temporary ties' representation so actually I think that the bics are there. And the 'personal' vs 'professional', for example is represented by FB vs Linkedin/Xing. So, again, some crude representation of how real life works is already there. Technology needs to catch up to the nuisances of it and people need to be educated on how technology is only a proxy for their real life.
    Looking forward to more segmentation.

  • Yeah, Facebook does have the bricks in place but isn't building the right structure. The demotion of Friend Lists deeper into the navigational menu links on the left, the complicated privacy settings, etc. all are moves towards making a single “Friends” group. It should be the opposite.

  • Monica

    I hate it when my friend's kids want to friend me! I say the eff word entirely too much! good article

  • While facebook is missing some of the things you mention, the one thing it has kept its focus on is simplicity of sharing. If you were to add the things it is 'missing', it would likely lose the simplicity. Perhaps there's room for 2 huge social networks.

  • Gordo

    I think that what he is saying that that people actually care about privacy, but we mistakenly assume they don't care about it because they can't manage complicated privacy settings. At least that is how I read that line. I could be wrong.

  • Your interpretation is correct, Gordo.

  • What's interesting here is that Facebook was moving in this direction when they received a ton of flak for their privacy settings being too complicated. Facebook still allows you to make different “lists” and separate which sections of your profile each list can see. Granted, its still not perfect, but I don't think it would be a difficult for them to implement new variations on it.

  • Google should never be underestimated 🙂

  • Russell

    Developing a system that forces users to constantly stop and think about who they're sharing what with will be too much work for users. Besides, we have a system that is like this already. It's called “email”.

    The simple model of sharing everything with everyone is the beauty of Facebook and even moreso Twitter. You have something you want to share and you share it. With everyone in your social graph. Having to think about which group gets to see what is too much work. Then there's group maintenance. People move in and out of groups all the time. Will google require me to track and maintain that too?

    Great insights in this report but if google follows this literally they'll be missing one of the big value propositions of successful social networks – their simplicity.

  • I cannot tell you how badly i wish I could separate different friends into different “camps” on Facebook. I like to play Mafia Wars which requires 500 friends but I don't want to hear what these 500 people have to say and I don't want them to see my posts. I would also like friends I haven't spoken to in 20 years to be in a different group than the ones I go to church with now. If this is what “Google Me” will do, sign me up.

    Aarn Farmer

  • Mts

    It's shocking that people see this as a breakthrough or that Google had to do very much research to come to these conclusions. Hasn't everyone put something on Facebook only to regret that a parent or relative could also see it?

    Anyone who works with children or has a friend who does (exp. my brother is a teacher), already knows how poorly equipped Facebook is for their personal network of “friends”.

  • From what I am hearing on the street, Google has been seriously shaken by the Open Graph and are doing what they can to divert FB attention back to core so they don't spend cycles on Search.

    And so for me, until I am proven otherwise by Google, I can only consider their current success rate in Social as the benchmark as what they really think and noises about Google ME and decks like this as FUD.

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  • Awesome is the word… !!! the analysis is too gud, but lets see how much of that they could implement in the product and if they incorporate all these also, still can the product look gud, i mean friendly and easy to use..

  • DogsRevolution

    I think it's Facebook that needs more Paul Adams :P.

  • Daniel Endy

    Great points. I saw these issues clearly years ago. I disagree that one social network platform can't handle it all. It's just a matter of allowing users to categorize connections as close, moderate, or moderate, and being able to group users and address posts to certain groups. FB already allows groups. It would be fairly easy to make these changes.

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  • Jannik Lindquist

    In my opinion, Paul Adam is wrong in just about everything he says about Facebook. Yes, all your contacs are called “Friends” on Facebook – but that doesn't mean, that you can't group them. In fact, Facebook offers great options for keeping your groups separate. You can post a status, an image or an album to any given group (or groups) – or you can block any given group (or groups) from seeing a status, an image or an album. Whether you think Facebook's options are complicated is a matter of taste – but it is pretty absurd to deny their existence

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