It was big news this week that in a scant three weeks, Google+ has attracted over 20 million users. This is an impressive by any standard; it likely sets the record for adoption of a new social networking/mass media platform. That stat becomes more remarkable when you realize that it’s still in Beta and isn’t available to the general public (it requires an invite).
It’s important, however, to frame the achievement in the proper context because it has far-reaching implications for social media as a whole.
The reality is that the speed with which Google+ was able to attract members is almost entirely due to the social networks that came before it – chief among them Twitter and Facebook. In turn, Twitter and Facebook can credit platforms like MySpace and Friendster, which can credit CollegeClub and SixDegrees.
The social networks that have come and gone did the heavy lifting required to make the case to someone that isn’t using a social networking platform that the technology has a benefit to them. Metaphorically, it’s the difference between Mining and Recycling.
- Mining: Mining takes a lot of resources both literally and in the metaphorical sense for convincing people that social networking provides them with some sort of benefit. It means finding elements (users) that are scattered all over and wresting them from the pockets they exist in, and refining them (ie indexing/tagging/sorting) so that they can fit into the new product.
- Recycling: Recycling takes far fewer resources because the elements (ie users) are already available and consolidated in one place, it’s just a matter of bringing them in and converting them to something new.
This is the new paradigm for social networking platforms: now that a critical mass of users has been established, they can be poached/converted/assimilated much more easily. All it takes in most cases is a single unique value proposition:
- For MySpace, that meant offering more/better profile customization than CollegeClub or SixDegrees.
- For Facebook, that mean offering more exclusivity (and, ironically, a cleaner interface) than MySpace.
- For Twitter, that meant more mobile accessibility and simplicity than Facebook.
- For Google+, that may mean better/easier privacy management than Facebook.
The dominant players like Facebook and Twitter need to be keenly aware that they continue to serve their users because the barriers to prevent them from leaving are almost nonexistent: once it’s socialized, all the data of our lives can easily be ported elsewhere.