Friday, August 5, 2011

In Social Media, Just Like In Presidential Elections, It's About A Choice

Someone added me to a group on Facebook yesterday -- which I didn't even think was possible, since my privacy settings there are akin to "I was never here." Very annoying. So annoying that I not only left that group, but the small handful of others I had joined, for one reason or another, primarily fellowship for whomever was the admin, because I don't participate in any FB reindeer games anyway.

But that transaction clarified one of the important, deep philosophical differences between FB and G+ (and all the other non-FB's I venture to say). And my own relationship with FB -- indifference, but a "need" to be there -- may not be as atypical as I imagine. Throwing more and more water on little fires that crop up here and there spotlight what could be fundamentally different dynamics at competing social networks, and over time that can have a material negative impact on what had been a monopoly.

One of the interesting aspects of the G+ era is that Google is unlikely to walk away, even if signups level off. We'll only know where the tipping point was (not when it is), but clearly this can be the un-Facebook in pointed and in subtle ways. It is inconceivable on G+ (I hope it is) that anyone, even someone in your most trusted circle, could associate you with something unilaterally. Shoot, there isn't even anything generic to join or be part of on G+, since every connection and group and gathering is ad hoc, and controlled by the participants 100%.

On FB, when you are committed, that becomes part of your identity. So the inevitable ramification effect of (say) doing someone a solid by saying you like their silly little fan page is to nail your signed confession of heresy to the church door, John Proctor-style. And if someone -- how, I still wonder? -- can say John is a member of this or that group, what control do I actually have on my persona?

That's just unacceptable.

The big battle in social media is over online ID. The winning entity has to allow people to control that in every sense of the word. It isn't rocket science, and being fast and loose around the edges won't cut it in a world where people have real choices.

Is this on the radar yet for hundreds of millions of people? Remains to be seen. But multiply identity crises x10 or x100 and it could be.

For the next year or so it would not surprise me if the social paradigm is broken if only an incremental way, given FB's momentum: We could very well have two viable, "all purpose" social networks co-existing for the first time in internet history. And the dividing line won't be over internal communications, sharing, apps, games or any other commodity features.

It will be over who gets to decide what on the most important thing about your online life. Which means, the most important thing in your life.