Google Running in Circles – Chris Messina and the G Social Network

With news that Google’s new venture into the Social Media landscape in a product rumored to be called Google Cirlces, aided by internet concept designer Chris Messina, I thought I’d take a look back at the The Social Agent work he did for Mozilla

Late last fall, from late November through December 2009, I worked with Mozilla Labs on a concept series that envisions what the future of a more social browser might look like. Working with the Mozilla Labs team, I produced a series of mockups and written pieces that were designed to first layout a future scenario for what I call “pop computing” — an era when computing is cheap, facile, and a part of the everyday environment.

— Chris Messina

via The Social Agent – Mozilla Labs – Chris Messina.

Here is his video summary of the main concept work he did.

As it turns out there is a rather explicit report that Chris is not part of any Google product team (quoting him), and that there is at least at this point amid Google denials not a Google Circles to present anytime soon. Though in thinking along with whatever Google Circles will eventually bring – and we read that it is meant to assess connections to others by an importance or trust factor so that it will not suffer the same clumsy issues of intimacy gradation that paralyzes Facebook growth – it seems worthwhile to note how much “trust” plays in Chris’s thinking. A Google social network, armed with its forays into universal login IDs and browser personalization, would be all about creating that seamless trust authority that a browser already possesses, and mobilizing it.

The one thing that is missing from this great calculation as I hear it being discussed and experimented on is the way that the web actually fractures identities, and that is what gives it its power to imagine and do. Much of the attempt to monetize the web has been about ways of corralling behaviors under one great personal ID, securing it, than freeing it up as much as possible under that umbrella. But there is at the heart of identification itself, as the web presents it, the ability to split off from oneself, to be other. The REAL social network innovation would be one that not only trades on invisible trust architectures like the user agent of the browser, but is able to fracture and facilitate one’s ID in a de-centralizing fashion.

Continued Thoughts

…what do I mean by this? It is pretty well known that a primary drive of internet expansion is not just how it connects us with others, but also the varied and segmented ways in which it does so asymmetrically. Actual avatars are only one aspect of this, it is more how all of the social media forms not only have an inside and an outside (friends or not friends, followed or not followed), but also an anonymous vector by which we explore and engage the space. It can be something as simple as our Facebook profile pic, or as complex as a LinkedIn resume. But the proliferation of media and uses I suggest falls right upon this capacity, the ability to not be totalized.

There are very good reasons why commerce wants to totalize and universalize users. It is after all their supposedly consolidated finances and agentized behaviors that one wants most effectively to harness. And there have been some very productive consequences of these moves towards universalization, a transparency of communication in many of the media, an ethic of representation. The problem is that anonymity, or more importantly fractured or spectrum-identity, has to some degree come to be seen only an interference in this universalizing process, affiliated as it is with spam and crime. Really though, if there was to be a social network solution 2.0, it is one that will embrace this real and kerneled propensity of internet exchange itself. I believe the autonomies of identities have to become more soap-bubbled and linked in a more de-centered fashion. The key comes back to the notion of “trust” and the architectures it is buried in, and this requires asymmetry.

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The Environment of the Question: Quora

Quora’s Clean Room of Answers

Chris Brogan has dipped into Quora and found the water pleasant.

I think I finally understand Quora, the social question and answer site. The part I understand is the appeal to users. Essentially, it’s a site where you browse around for questions you think you can answer, and/or you view interesting answers.

That last part was what hooked me. I stumbled into answers by AOL’s former co-founder and CEO, Steve Case. Holy cats. All kinds of people had asked really hard questions of Steve, and he took the time to answer them, and now me, just stumbling into it, had all kinds of amazing information about the heyday, the decline, and everything in between, about AOL.

How Quora COULD Get Interesting.

I too have been exploring, taking my cue from the Mashable article Why Quora Will Never Be as Big as Twitter. It was a brilliant title and subject. Well of course it won’t be as big as Twitter, but even being in the same breath certainly makes it very interesting. Maybe interesting for Mashites, but still…My own path into Quora was less question browsing, or people noting (certainly a huge potential draw for the site) rather was question asking. At the time I was working on some marketing strategy and among problems I was having was remembering an Excel formula and process I learned about a year ago. I loved the jump-right-in question bar at the top – which incidentally functions as a topic search not something immediately apparent – and within hours got informed attempts to find a solution, and a sense of comradery among the users. Question answering is a particular kind of social interaction which (when best) the dignity of the questioner and the answerer is affirmed. A great germinating basis for a social network interchange.

My brief experience there lead me to some over all impressions of the site in terms of its feel, the distinct sense I got that it was a genuine “space”, almost a clean room of answering. Much of this is captured in the comment I left over at Chris Brogan’s:

What I find most interesting, or perhaps, what is most suggestive for growth, is that there is a very strong interaction aesthetic there that they have been successful in establishing. It is just this kind of thing that promotes an anchored community of users and growth, a real sense of environment. Part of it is the simple, clean aesthetic (in vogue these days), and part of it is the rigorous testing for reading comprehension before asking a question, high language standards (without much exclusionary snobbery) and the repeated emphasis on grammar, distinguishing it from a vast number of other internet spaces. These thresholds which seem pretty firmly monitored – a grammatical use of “concatenate” in an Excel question I had (?!) was edited by a etymology maven – and then re-edited after a check with with the OED, coupled with the UI, create the dictionary-of-questions feel that really might be appropriated and fused to other media and resources.

That seems to be the double path: build a sense of community with committed users expressing an aesthetic, and make the result harvestable and linkable by other media services. Will it be long before Quora questions top Google organic searches?

If this can be coupled with the brush-with-knowledge experience of knowledge celebrities that Chris found so striking, and the Twitter-like tunneling into the interesting lives of otherwise sealed-off persons, there is room for huge development here. I do think though that this requires the upkeep of its already rigorous pruning, at the language and content level. This vine needs to be cut back continuously to produce the very sweet fruit required for social media wine.

Addendum (1/13): And more Quora love from SocialMouths.


a war between the “photo” and the “word”: Facebook v. Google

The Picture and A Thousand Words

Piper Jaffray tech analyst Gene Munster among the Facebook bulls. He just gave an interview to Bloomberg TV which must have made any Googlers listening cringe.” “Google has given up on social. Facebook owns the social graph, Google can’t replicate it, and that race is over. Google is just going to continue improving search instead of trying to compete head-on with Facebook. Facebook is the place in Silicon Valley where all the rockstars want to work. Facebook is Google five years ago, and Google is Microsoft.”

Google vs Facebook In Social, Innovation, and Growth Foo forum at WebmasterWorld.

This is my natural response to the question of Google and the social:

The “social” war between Facebook and Google (and the ad dollars involved) really strikes me as the war between the “photographic” and the “lexical”. Facebook wouldn’t be what it is without the “face”, and Google without the search term. Which of these are more social? The face one would have to say at first blush. But the face lacks depth and breadth of contextual communication. So FB is attempting to lexify (is that a word?) its database with interests and likes, and Google trying to find in-roads into human relationships (Places, email – already established). Facebook has one huge problem though, the “social” often has strong anti-commerce assumptions.

I should add that Twitter as a (largely) lexical medium really seems poised here at the front line between between Google and Facebook, between search and social ties. It possesses the lexcial dimension to open up and expand social, affect-bound media, and yet the potential for social bonds to be brought to bear on data-rich, search contexts.