Stop worrying about the future, and/or worry about the now

Lots of people I talk to seem to spend a LOT of time worrying about ‘the next big thing/development/product/platform/way of working/etc’. Indeed there seem to be people who spend all their time thinking about what will happen in a year’s time rather than dealing with the way that things are at the moment. Of course this, in some cases, is to be expected – someone needs to absorb themselves in considering what is next going to impact our lives but you also need to understand the situation as it currently exists so you can actually get on with things on a day-to-day basis.

The problem is that as far as developments online go, things move pretty quickly. Often people are only just coming to terms with the last ‘big thing’ before 15 other products have popped up, all of which are being touted as the next important development which causes everyone to go into meltdown in trying to figure out how the hell they’re supposed to use whatever it is that is being proffered as the latest miracle solution.

I’m as guilty of getting excited about ‘new stuff’ as the next person. By their very nature people who work with ‘digital stuff’ tend to like progress, development and new ways of working. However too often this can spill over into taking your eye off the ball and not getting to grips with the platforms/products/etc that everyone is using now, if people who you want to reach are using a platform then it is relevant to you and you need to understand how to use it. In this I am talking about people who have a Twitter id but never use it, or have obviously never taken the time to work out how to use it effectively, the organisations who are on Facebook but engage with it in the strange, disconnected, 3rd person-7-times-removed-from-reality of a marketing team adopting the persona of a brand and then still trying to talk to people in something approaching a normal way, or companies who have a blog but have never posted anything worth reading, people who promote a Flickr account for no discernible reason, Youtube channels devoid of content etc etc etc, you get the idea.

What is strange is that these very same people will then doubt the ‘point’ of these platforms, they will claim that they ‘don’t work’ and are perhaps searching for the next big thing because of this perceived lack of effectiveness. However surely it is obvious that if you fail to engage with people/products/platforms then noone is going to want to engage with you. If you never say anything, or anything worth reading/responding to then don’t get frustrated at the channel – it’s not Twitter’s fault that noone is talking to you.

In my opinion it is an almost undeniable truth that with social platforms (and in that I am grouping everything from networks such as Twitter, Google+ and Facebook to content-sharing such as Flickr, Youtube, blogs etc) that you get out what you put in AND these platforms will only work for you if you recognise that they are populated by people and that you have to behave like an actual, real person in order for other actual, real people to respond to you. Of course I’m not suggesting that you should use your personal and organisation’s Twitter IDs in exactly the same tone of language but the tone should be degrees of difference on the same scale rather than coming across as though they are being run by people talking two entirely different languages.

So, what am I saying, in my typically rambling manner?

  • Social platforms are social
  • They’re also populated almost entirely by people (and some spambots)
  • You have to actually use them for people to notice you
    • You also have to use them in a way that is recognisable to other users, how do you use that platform/service/website when you aren’t at work? you should probably use it in a similar way when you are at work too (unless you spend all of your spare time posting naughty photos/videos of yourself or other questionable activities, if you do that then I wouldn’t recommend doing that when you’re at work too, you’ll probably get fired)
  • Stop worrying about whether or not this platform/service will exist next year – if your audience/customers/friends are using it now then, for now, it is relevant.

Some initial thoughts about Google+

Google+, for those of you who have missed it, is the latest attempt by Google to create their own social network. Google+ places itself more-or-less directly between the already established Facebook and Twitter.

Brief summary

It aims to solve some of the privacy concerns that have been voiced by Facebook users through its ‘Circles’ feature and it also aims to replicate the open/conversational nature of Twitter by allowing you to ‘follow’ (not their terminology) anyone who has a profile on Google+. The Circles feature essentially allows you to define groups of users and then choose what content/activity you share with those groups. I started writing a longer explanation but on reflection Google+ as a platform (as with lots of Google’s products) works far better through experience rather than explanation.

Brief moan/warning about social networks

One thing that has struck me of late is the amount of time people invest in some of these platforms (Facebook in particular), using them as address books/photos albums/diaries – which is fine, BUT in almost every case the platform/network provider will claim partial (or complete) ownership of everything you do/say/upload on their network, it’s worrying how many people either don’t realise this or don’t seem to care…or perhaps I just worry too much?

This paragraph from the Guardian’s ‘1 month review‘ struck me as particularly worrying:

“I’m also disappointed by what I’ve learned about the service’s security. Although communications are encrypted, Google’s responses to my questions about government spying on users were not encouraging. The company does not deny that: a) it can record users’ text and video conversations even when they are, in theory, shared by only two people; and b) it will give government agencies the ability to tap these conversations as well. Google has to abide by the law, and it has a track record of resisting overweening government efforts to spy on US citizens”

Anyway, this debate deserves its own post really, the issue of online privacy and ownership of content is huge (in my opinion). Social networks are still such a new concept that we still don’t seem to have decided what is and isn’t acceptable regarding terms of service etc.

Brief thoughts

Google+ works.

Although I’m probably never going to use Hangouts on a day to day basis I can see this feature potentially (maybe) rivalling Skype for easy, free video communication.

Circles is a great feature, much easier than creating a list on Twitter or a Friends Group on Facebook – although it is a little arduous dragging and dropping contacts one-by-one into one or more Circles. It’s very intuitive and a great way to choose how to share content in a more nuanced way than on the other big social networks.

Sparks has great potential but at the moment I think it’s a little too clunky, I’d like to be able to see all my Sparks content in the one place (as you can with contacts in the Stream view) as well as being able to view it by individual category.

Ultimately, for me, I use social networks as a place to have conversations and access content recommended/shared by people I trust/admire/find interesting. I don’t feel comfortable uploading huge collections of photos or video, so those elements of Google+ have absolutely no interest for me and I haven’t looked at them. Google+ seems to make conversations quite easy without the constraints (140 characters) of Twitter. At the moment though there just simply aren’t enough people on Google+ to consider swapping away from Twitter. I also do like Twitter’s brevity – making it ideal to communicate whilst on the move via the many, many (many) mobile apps. Although apparently the Google+ mobile app is also very good, so maybe there is more of a crossover than I’m seeing at the moment.

It’ll also be interesting to see how Google approaches bringing brands/organisations onto the platform, they have already said that they are rushing through development of that aspect of things. I’d also like to see an API opened up to developers, as we have seen with Twitter and Facebook with great success.

So, those are my thoughts, I think as a social network Google+ does have some new and interesting ways of doing things, if the userbase continues to grow at the ridiculous pace we’ve seen since it launched a month ago (20 million users and counting) then it’ll be interesting to see who it starts taking market share from, or whether it’s seen as another complimentary platform that can sit alongside the already established big players.