Thursday 30th June 2011by Jennifer 8. Lee
I got invited to try Google+, which has been written about a lot. Short summary: Facebook should be scared.
The Stream (similar to Facebook) is pretty nice UI/UX. Intuitive icons, clean design. Sparks, the newsy thing (explained by Poynter with a screenshoot above), not so, though it’s where I think the more interesting journalism potential lies. The Sparks design currently is pretty yucky. Inefficient use of real estate. Too much white space between posts and to the right (is that for advertisements?).
I only get three posts before the “jump,” whereas the general use case is someone who is looking to scan really quickly, and wants to see more rather than less, probably at least 5–7 posts probably). I think they should have an expanded view and a collapsed view, where the visual elements can be smaller.
That being said, I think there is a lot of potential there. I’ve often felt there isÂ a sweet spot in the “newsy” space between the furious text-only pace of Twitter and the jumble that is the Facebook Newsfeed.
With regard to Facebook, the idea of a separate “news” (or whatever) tab has often been floated, where you can get serious stuff separate from the personal posts of baby/vacation/cat pictures. It’s often disconcerting to have it all tossed in together on Facebook. But that kind of product change now would be herculean to guide though a bureaucracy now.
Also, like Groups, a news tab would a retrofit to Facebook’s evolution, so wouldn’t Â feel natural. Remember, Facebook started out being about all people, and not entities/institutions. Thus folks created all kinds of workarounds to fake their organizations as people profiles, which Facebook would then quash. It was only in the last few years, due to a clear demand, that Â Facebook allowed Pages to essentially publish a feed rather than being static profiles. And it was really only in the last few months where organizations can adopt the persona of the Page like it was a profile.
What could Sparks do? Well, right now it’s search term-driven â€” which seems like something between Google News Alerts and #hashtags. But I feel that Sparks could potentially set up channels for institutionsidual publications that we could subscribe to, perhaps based on publication profiles?
This is a bit like RSS, and a lot of people are asking about Google Reader integration on Google+. That being said, RSS readers seem to have a natural audience cap of around 15%. I don’t use one. Too wonky. Instead, Twitter kind of became my RSS.
It’s more intuitive for me to follow or subscribe to a publication like The New York Times, TechCrunch, and GoodeReader â€”Â which are already predefined (sometimes granular) interests, than for me to think about random terms I want to search for, which feels more like Google News alerts). I created one on “dinosaurs” just because I had recently been out looking for fossils, and it’s actually a pretty good channel. Apparently WTF makes for an amusing serendipitous channel.
The historic problem for news outlets like The New York Times and NPR on Facebook is they have to judiciously parse out Â the number of posts they put up or readers’ feeds will be flooded, since those posts algorithmically float to the top given their huge follower counts and commenting activity.
Media outlets are not like other consumers brands, so the Facebook fanpage format has been somewhat awkward.
For example,Â Ann Taylor LOFT (which I am a fan of, I buy like 80% of my clothes there) main product is clothing. So LOFT sends out two or three posts a day at most, sometimes it’s a sale announcement. I see it, then I go somewhere else in real life or the Web to buy/consume the stuff. But The New York Times and NPR’s product is information, or stories, or posts. So those posts essentially are their product. Â So the one-size-fits-all approach of Pages has often been hard for media outlets.
Now the problem on Twitter for media brands is that the manpower needed to curate and be clever means many publications just automate it. Many use automated RSS feeds as their Twitter feeds, especially their subfeeds. This usually consist of just the link with the headline, which is not suitableÂ for the 140-character commentary-driven format Twitter. You can tell just with a scan because the headline one are capitalized. And I especially use to hate when Slate’s feed had the ellipses “…” in their feeds, because it was like not even good automation. So, not surprisingly, theseÂ auto feeds do not do well in clickthru rates (except for maybe The Onion), because Twitter users can smell automation.
So, what Google could have in Sparks is the freedom for the publication to post (automatically or not) as much content as they want (since they users are opting in via subscribing), but with a fuller contextual display (videos, images, paragraphs) than the short-form bursty Twitter format. And I can group them: food blogs, tech, MSM, gaming, etc.
This approach can also help answer the questions that publications have, the “how do I get on Google+” as a media outlet. For example, do they create a Google profile? Mashable did.