Why Google+ Is Really For Sharing Knowledge, Not Social Networking

July 20th, 2011

Everyone, including possibly even the Google+ team, is currently thinking that Google+ is a Twitter and Facebook competitor. But I think in fact, Google+ is for something entirely different.

Google+ is not really for socializing; it’s for sharing knowledge. That’s what makes it different from other social networks. It supports more flexible access permissions on content, longer form content, threaded conversations, and soon it will integrate deeply with search.

In many ways, Google+ is a potential replacement for the Blogosphere, which always suffered from the lack of an integrated commenting and search infrastructure. Blog posts and the conversations that emerge around them are fragmented around the Web, but in Google+ they are all in one place. More importantly, in Google+ the conversation around each post is something you can watch growing in real-time.

I don’t think all bloggers will move to Google+, because it certainly lacks the power or customization potential of a WordPress or Moveable Type for example, but there’s certainly a chance that good portion of lightweight blogging market share may go there.

As such, Google+ may be more competitive with lightweight blogging services like Tumblr and Posterous, and with knowledge sharing and Q&A services like Quora, than with Twitter or Facebook.

But that’s just the beginning. By combining Google+ with Google Search, a new synthesis is possible that could make both the static Web and the real-time Stream better. This could be the next evolution of Google’s “organize the world’s information” mission. And this is nothing like Twitter or Facebook: It’s a totally different value proposition.

What happens when Google connects the power of their search engine and their massive compute capabilities with Google+? Both Google+ and Google search will become smarter. This is the Holy Grail of social search that we’ve all been talking about for years.

Google started out with a mission to “organize the world’s information,” and Google+ provides them with a new way to accomplish this. I think this is actually Google’s core competency, and what could be Google+’s unique role in the ecosystem.

Knowledge is not merely information, it is organized information. Google organizes the Web’s information via a search index, but with the addition of Google+ it can start to use the Stream to organize the Web, and vice-versa.

By connecting Google+ and Google Search, Google can figure out what Web resources are important to whom, by looking at the conversations around them. And it can figure out what conversations are important to whom by looking at the Web content and people they cite.

Most importantly, by capturing all this content and conversation in an environment where it can be analyzed, Google, can data-mine to learn things. Like who is interested in what, who is an expert at what, who influences whom, who is influential about what, and which content is relevant to various people or topics.

This will make Google’s graph much richer – and it will also enable Google to begin to do some new things with their graph: things like helping to guide people to conversations they are interested in, helping to connect similar or related conversations, helping people get answers more productively, helping to distribute content to the right people.

The reason Google has the potential to do this better than anyone else is not their Search engine; it’s their backend, which effectively is the world’s largest and most powerful supercomputer.

Google has unmatched computing capacity, and unmatched data to compute on. They are in the best position to do massively distributed computations that combine search analytics, social analytics, and machine learning on both the static Web and the real-time Web (“The Stream”).

With the addition of Google+ to Google, the Web is going to get a lot smarter, and Google’s original mission may evolve from “organize the world’s information” to “organize the world’s intelligence.”

But what’s important to note here, is that Google+ is for doing smart things with knowledge – not necessarily fun things. Sure, Google+ can be used to share the same viral videos that one shares in other places too, but what makes Google+ different is the control it gives around sharing, and the discussions that emerge.

Currently using Google+ requires quite a bit of thought. It’s not easy to figure out. There are many features that are hard to find, or that don’t quite make sense, or are simply non-obvious. At this stage it is still probably not ready for mainstream consumer use. And so the people who are making the most use of it are early-adopter types. This in turn affects the content that is being shared there. It’s pretty brainy in general.

But even once Google+ irons out its wrinkles, it may never be a replacement for the social fun of Facebook or the utility of Twitter.

Google+ is no match for Facebook at Facebook’s core value proposition: socializing. Facebook is way ahead of everyone on that front. Here’s why Facebook does not have to worry about Google+.

But at the same time, Facebook is unlikely to be able to compete with Google+ for knowledge. Google+ has the advantage of being combined with all the other Google products – especially Search – and the power of the Google supercomputer behind it. Facebook doesn’t have anything equivalent.

Google+ is also no match for Twitter at what Twitter does best: enabling everyone to keep up, via short notifications. In fact, Google+ is very hard to keep up with. Their content streams are full of massive posts that take time to read, and long threads that take up a lot of space on the page. It’s not easy to quickly scan and see what’s going on. And Google+’s notification system, while useful, simply cannot scale to notifying every user of thousands of things a day – at least not in current form – it would be extremely overwhelming.

So there are very clear distinctions here. Google+ is a very different kind of animal from Facebook and Twitter; each service has certain talents that make them unique from the others. There is a possible future in which they really don’t compete: they could each play a different but complementary role.