Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook; all offer different ways to use social networks and yet there are very few reasons to choose one over the other. None of them seem complete and it seems pretty hard to order them in absolute terms. Here are my thoughts on why this is so.
People on social networks can be classified into three categories – Producers, Consumers and Influencers.
The Producer, as the the name suggests, produce content. These are the sort of people that are on top of things. Voracious readers consuming a lot of information or people producing the news that the world is interested in (think celebrities, politicians etc.). These are the sort of people that would have been in the limelight even if there were no social networks. They have opinions and are not afraid to voice them. They need a pedestal to stand and deliver a speech to who-so-ever is interested in listening. The world is their audience and they look at social networks to play sport. They are not thinking of a particular person or group as their target audience, when they like, tweet or plus one a link. They are all for the world, at large. So typically, they do not want to be bothered by friend requests and permission settings. They want to let everyone who is interested in listening, follow them, and let their tweets be completely public. A bull-horn in a crowded market is what they are looking for. Enter Twitter. Seems like the ideal market. But how many producers are out there that are articulate enough to express their opinions in 140 characters or less? It might not even be about articulation, it may just be that 140 characters is just too less. For example, expressing a thought process, by definition, has to be verbose. The Harsha Bhogles and Sidins of the world are the elite few who can say a lot in 140 characters. The rest of the folk are forced to use work arounds like TwitLonger or Bitly. But, at the end of the day, that is what they are – work arounds. Enter Google Plus. You are not obligated to reply to friend requests AND you are not limited by 140 characters! I think this sets the ideal stage for The Producer to arrive. So Google Plus would (or should) look attractive to the Producer.
The Consumer is a passive listener on social networks. His real world is outside these networks. In fact more often than not, it is outside the Internet. He looks at the Internet like a newspaper. News, information, gossip, all there to be consumed. The discussion of these topics, for him, happens outside, in the real world. What he is looking for, is an unobtrusive way to observe the world of Producers. Twitter with its unlimited and ubiquitous software clients provides him the ideal channel to do this. A lot of short messages that he can quickly skim through for the gist of what is being said and getting into the details (thanks to the bitly’s of the world) if need be, is just what the doctor ordered. Google Plus is a little too verbose, there is no Summary => Content structure by design. Skimming though 100 tweets is far less tiresome that skimming though the same amount of Google Plus feeds. So Twitter, according to me, is suited for the Consumer.
The Influencer is somewhere in-between. He is not the original Producer, nor is he a passive Consumer. He feels that a sufficient percentage of his network would benefit from the gyan that he just got by reading a blog post or a news article. Re-tweeting, is his favorite feature. But in-spite of having a feature that he can connect to immediately, Twitter does not win here. The reason is that Twitter, as we discussed above, is a Producers’ market. It is designed for attracting passive consumers eagerly looking for few and far between Producers. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the list of people you are following on Twitter and see how many of them are in your network. Put in another way, there are very few people in your first circle, who can make it to the list of people you want to follow. So, their (re)tweets never reach you. Similarly, your (re)tweets wont reach them. This means, there is little or no point in re-tweeting on Twitter unless you have a strong klout. Besides, the Twitter platform is not well suited for having a conversation. This is a very important feature, especially when there is no single authority on the topic being discussed. Enter Facebook. By making every connection go through a two way hand-shake, the Facebook platform has created a setup where everyone would be atleast in the 2nd circle of everyone else in their network (friend’s list). Also, by relegating experts to fan pages, it has made most conversations 3rd party-ish and casual in nature. Add to it a world class discussion feature and you have a winner! So the influencers (aka re-tweeters), are going to be attracted most to the Facebook platform.
The Google Plus Paradox
You could argue that an amalgamation of all three would not look very different from today’s Google Plus. But such a network would have the “chicken-and-egg” problem to overcome. Being attractive to the Producers is good, but then who would they preach to, if there are not enough Consumers and Influencers? However, Google Plus, in particular, did not have this problem. With Google already being as big as it was, you would have expected that they would take the cake and eat it too. But here is the problem: having a follow model (rather than the 2-way handshake) for building connections also means that discussions are a low priority. However, that is not the case with Google Plus. In fact, just because anybody can follow you, it also means that anybody can comment on your tweets (or posts). And therein lies the problem. Sure there are setting to disallow people from commenting, but then that is not the natural thing to do. Also, thinking about restrictions makes it look more like the comments section on a blog, rather than a discussion. So most comments are spam or go un-answered by the Producer. So, in a sense, by trying to be all-in-one, Google Plus runs the risk of being neither-here-nor-there!
So, there you have it, different platforms for different people. The good or the bad part (depending on the way you look at it) is that no platform can cater to all kinds of people at the same time. Atleast I don’t think so. Invariably, there are features that cater to one kind of people and are not conducive to the other two. So, every social network of the future, will have to make a choice of who they want to cater to most, bet big on them and hope the other two categories will follow. And since many of us wear different hats at different times, we benefit most by being on all three platforms.