Google makes social media interesting again

Google puts their focus on people.

I found myself wondering if Google might be the first company to actually get social media by focusing on the word social and realizing something was lacking in a big way in the world of social networks and technology generally. This was after having watched Andrew Keen’s interview about Google+ with Vic Gundotra (Google’s VP Social) and Bradley Horowitz (VP Product).

(See: Why Google Is Now A Social Company.)

Within the first ten minutes of the interview, as they gave a high level explanation of Google+, they spoke of communication and nuance. They talked about the differences between how people communicate in the real world, face to face, and how they do so online. They spoke about how they want to bridge that gap.

I don’t expect they will any time soon but the simple recognition that there is a big difference, and that online communication is a beggar’s version of real world communication, suggests a number of things, including an implicit acknowledgement that Google has made a big internal change in how they view technology and what is important. (In my last post I referred to how Google had never been a non-tech audience friendly company.)

It also suggests they have an advantage no other online company has: recognition that the time for baubles and wishful thinking is over. It’s time to acknowledge the limitations of digital technology and deliver the goods, as in a true digital model of real world communication, such as its nuances.

Consider all the senses that are in play when communicating in the real world and then consider what is available with technology: sight and sound, both of which are limited.

When I speak to someone in person I have so much more information flooding into my brain and being processed. I see their eyes, facial expressions, their body language and the full environment surrounding them that conditions all of that. I even smell them. I can touch them.

Why are they speaking so quietly? Is it because it is an intimate conversation? You might think so unless you’re able to turn around and see the two people sleeping behind you.

What happens when someone has a camera in front of him? If you’re taking a picture, they pose. In other words, they don’t present themselves; they present how they would like to be perceived.

Almost everyone behaves differently in front of a video camera – some are embarrassed, some act up and some, even professionals, become a presentation. Few people are their usual selves.

What digital communication delivers is a simulacra of the real thing. Communications involves so many things and to date technology has just scratched the surface. Communications isn’t just about exchanging messages; it’s also how those messages are presented.

Appearances to the contrary, technology around social media has been stalled for quite some time. This is partly why we spend so much time discussing the business end of it – market share, revenue models and so on. It has become pretty tedious simply following updated versions of products that add a few more doo-dads and greater capacity.

Google is the first, that I am aware of, that is talking about fundamentally changing not just social media but technology itself. That a company so engineer driven and so artifact focused would announce this kind of change in their approach – in the way they actually view technology, putting the emphasis on people and how we behave rather than the technology – is remarkable.

It also signals a fundamental shift with some absolutely amazing potential.

Suddenly, communications is interesting again.

(Thanks to Jeff Roach for directing me to the interview.)

Creativity can obscure your message

In an age of digital this and that, when many of us live large parts of our lives online, creativity often obfuscates our message.

Obfuscate means to “render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible,” as my dictionary defines it.

It’s not that the creativity we bring to something isn’t imaginative. It’s often very imaginative; very clever and artistic. We may have a wonderful headline and presentation, one full of witty wordplay and inventive images.

But when people are scanning, it can mean your message is missed.

Online (and more often than not, offline too), we tend to have such a short attention span that it is all but non-existent. We glance here and we glance there. Understanding the meaning of something, given these conditions, usually requires that it be obvious. So obvious that it can’t be missed.

The creative presentation of a message puts a layer over top of the meaning. It’s a cognitive barrier. To get and understand the message, we first have to get and understand the creative element.

In most cases, this occurs in a nanosecond. But even that nanosecond can interfere with delivering your message because, given online behaviour, a nanosecond is all the time you have to communicate your meaning.

I’m not saying don’t be creative. Be creative. It’s necessary, online more than ever. But be careful. Sometimes being creative isn’t about cleverness or imagination. Sometimes it’s about finding ways to make something simple and obvious. It often means leaving the paint brushes at home.