"Follow" Networks and The Creep Factor – Why It Isn’t a Facebook Play

As I was setting up an account for my wife to be able to post to this blog today, I created a Google+ profile for her. She knew, and will probably even use it – some day. However, there’s something I just can’t get passed, and that’s that I’m a little creeped out by the fact that just about anyone can follow her on Google+. The stalker factor is a real risk with systems that allow follow-type relationships. It’s going to be a really tough battle for Google to get passed this without any sort of 2-way friend relationship like Facebook if they want a mass audience. I’m starting to think that’s not what they’re going for.

Marshall Kirkpatrick had a great post where he mentioned that Google+ could be Google’s move to try and make Facebook a more open environment. I suggested it made some sense – a closed environment is a good way to compete with an open one (and vice-versa), however there’s one flaw to some of this – Facebook actually isn’t that closed. I can make my posts public there, just like Google+. Facebook’s API is one of the most accessible APIs I’ve come across. Facebook has given users almost 100% control of what apps have access to about them. Facebook even preempted Google by almost a year in having a way to backup your data to your own machine if you like. (See Louis Gray’s backup of his Facebook data here) David Recordon, Senior Open Programs Manager at Facebook, confirmed that point, pointing out that Google+ actually validates Google’s own open strategy, not just Facebook’s:

“One thing I appreciate is how Google is now developing skin in the game for when they try to design these decentralized protocols. These sorts of standards are honestly hard to get right and only come out successful when they follow real products. It’s been frustrating to see “Google invents open standard ” for the past two years without an appreciation for what it takes to make work at scale. And by “scale” I don’t mean anything to do with bits on the wire.”

In a sense, I see Google and Facebook working together, on 2 different planes to open up the social landscape. I don’t see them competing necessarily – Google is too open for that to be the case. On Google anyone can follow anyone – the relationships aren’t always 2-way, and this is a very popular feature amongst users of Twitter, which include the early adopter base, the tech blogs, and the media. Google+ has a follow model, similar to Twitter’s – not a friend model like Facebook’s. Again – there’s that stalker factor again. If you’re worried about stalkers, Facebook is just a much more secure and private environment to protect from that. It’s simply a lot harder to have a stalker on Facebook than it is on Google+ or Twitter.

Instead, I see Google competing more with Twitter and other more open follow-centric networks. It’s a different type of social graph than Facebook’s. For that reason I just can’t see my wife, or my daughter, or any of my kids or less tech-savvy friends using Google+ unless they adopt a more private 2-way friending model. It’s simply too risky. As a husband and father, I’m just not sure I can trust suggesting it to my wife and children and not have them expose something they’re not supposed to expose. I’m already seeing the problem of people trying to figure out what Circles do what, and people unknowingly posting things as public when they don’t mean to. On Facebook that all defaults as your friends only. That’s the advantage to Facebook – you can trust, for the most part (key words), that what you post will only be seen by those you specifically have friended. I don’t think Google should be scared of that, either.

The fact is, as it now stands, Google and Facebook just aren’t competitors at the moment, and they shouldn’t see each other as such. I know originally I said “Facebook should be shaking in their boots” (although I still stand by the fact that Google beat Facebook to encompassing the entire web experience – that will change though) – my hope is that at least got Facebook’s attention just in case Google does decide to go for those more intimate types of relationships (which they very well could), but for now, the way it is set up, that just isn’t going to be happen. Instead, I think it is Twitter that should really be paying attention, and let’s hope they do try to compete. The competition is a healthy one. Twitter has quite the competition though!

In the end, yes, this is a battle for your social graph. I do think there are different types of social graphs though, and the battle right now is over the less personalized graph and the more public information. If you do compare it to Facebook, perhaps Facebook Pages and the fan-to-Page relationship is the real social graph you should be looking at as competition. At the same time, will Google ever go after the more intimate relationships that are less educated on privacy? That’s hard to say, but I’m starting to feel Facebook isn’t the comparison right now.

If you’re looking for “one network to rule them all”, at the moment I don’t think there is such a thing. In reality, the “one network to rule them all” of the future probably won’t even be Google or Facebook. In the future, you’ll pull your social graphs from both services, and put them into your own more personalized network on the various sites you visit on the web (like Facebook Connect). In the end, in ad-focused networks like Google and Facebook, that is what they would prefer to see anyway – your social graph, from their networks, across all the websites on the internet. Each product experience will have its own reasons to choose which networks those connections come from.

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11 thoughts on “"Follow" Networks and The Creep Factor – Why It Isn’t a Facebook Play

  1. Jesse, I'm replying here and on Google + as well. It's typically masculine in my view, of you to welcome all this openess and the fact that everyone can follow you on Google+, but then not welcome it for your wife. Double standards? Plus now you can see why someone like me prefers to use my online name of Technogran because as a female I do admit that you feel that you have to be more 'incognito' when online. Do remember that she can easily 'block' anyone she pleases, and use the circles wisely to only post updates to who she chooses. Surely as long as she keeps her updates to only certain people, then its as private as anywhere else? I always state Jesse, if you wan't to stay private, don't use the internet at all because once you begin to socialise on here, its all up for grabs by anyone in my view. 

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  2. “Past” is preposition, “passed” is history. You've confused them twice in the first paragraph. It's very difficult to get past that paragraph with those errors in place.

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  3. As I mentioned on Google, my wife can do what she wants – I wouldn't still
    be married (11 years!) if I thought otherwise. I'm simply stating what my
    advice to her and my kids would be.

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  4. Good catch, but it's an anthill not a mountain. Get over it and move on! 🙂 Do you stop driving on roads because they are littered?

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  5. The problem isn't a follow vs. friend model. The problem is simply one of expectation management.

    On Facebook, you kind of expect things to be private. For anybody to see your posts at all, you have to go through a somewhat convoluted process of friending them, and having them friend you back. Thus, people expect things they post there to be private, even when they're sometimes not (and notice how many people screw this up too).

    With a Twitter model on the other hand, everybody fully expects everything to be fully public. In fact, it's somewhat unexpected and jarring when you find a private Twitter feed. With this in mind, people still manage to use it, and to use it effectively. The types of things shared tend to be the same though.

    So the question isn't a matter of whether it's a friend or follow, but whether or not the user is going into it with that public vs. private expectation correctly in advance. Either way works, the disconnect in the user's mind is when they expect one way but it actually comes out in the other way.

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  6. It is true, you are able to block anybody and if you are WISE when posting stuff, only people that are in your circles will be able to see them if that's what you are worried about. Of course, this comes with the responsibility that you don't make the mistake of posting it publicly. If that does happen, though, that's your fault, not Google's and certainly not the fault of Google+. It goes back to the saying “Guns don't kill people, people kill people”. The only way the bullet leaves the barrel is if you pull the trigger. If you happen to fire it with the safeties off it's because you didn't verify that they were engaged before you squeezed…

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  7. I would have thought that, for someone who spends a goodly amount of their time writing, making a mistake like that would be unacceptable. Personally I find spelling and grammatical errors jarring when read.

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  8. Spelling is in the eye of the writer, not the beholder. Please don't be
    rude. You may unfollow if you don't like my spelling (and I'm actually
    purposely leaving it in just to annoy you now).

    Like

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