Paul Adams is the Senior User Experience Researcher at Google. He posted a presentation on Slideshare that is providing a glimpse at the philosophy behind the rumored “Facebook killer” that Google is working on. This presentation indicates some fundamental differences between its view of social networks and the way in which Facebook is currently implemented.
The title of the presentation is “The Real Life Social Network” and it exposes some fundamental differences between the way our relationships exist in real life versus the way they are modeled on Facebook (or pretty much any other social network for that matter). Given Google’s specialty – writing algorithms that model relationships – it’s easy to see how their background in search algorithms has imprinted the thinking in this presentation.
One fundamental design flaw with most social networking applications is that they force us to into using one generic group of “friends.” Adams says his research indicates that people actually have between four and six groups of relationships. When they examined 342 groups that people used to describe their real life networks, only 15% actually contained the word “friend” at all! Furthermore, 61% of the names were unique, which means that there is not a lot of common ground in terms of how we categorize our real life networks.
Not all connections are created equal. Adams talks extensively about “strong” and “weak” ties between people. Strong ties exist among family and close friends and tend to be in the single digits. Weak ties make up the remainder of our relationships, which caps out at around 150 (see Dunbar’s Number). Any connections beyond that are classified as temporary connections.
While it seems almost too easy to assault Facebook for privacy concerns, Adams does so by tying it in with the concepts of groups and connections. If it’s true that we have these different relationship groups and that the strength of our connections within each of these groups varies, then it logically follows that our desires for and expectations of privacy will differ greatly as well. It will be important, not to mention challenging, to support these different models in a way that is easy for people to understand and implement.
The interactions between these different groups and different types of connections is a complicated dynamic that, according to Adams, is greatly oversimplified in current social networking applications. Presumably, this document is a sneak peak at Google’s major push toward a new platform that aims to end the threat Facebook poses to Google in the form of social search. They’ve clearly identified three major weaknesses that they plan to exploit.