The trouble with imagining new applications of things we know is that rarely do we see something radically different in our mind's eye. This is confirmed when we ask people to tell us what they want: An answer like a faster horse should be expected, as Mr. Ford suggested.
Incremental change, or tweaks in features to what we're using now is generally easier to imagine.
This may be one of the reasons why my post is there a third option? received pointed criticism in one specific network where early adopters are mostly engineers. Tweaks in features and ways to categorize people are exactly the wrong problem.
Yes, it's important to address ways to make people's lives easier. And this is no ding on engineers, my father was one. They just take the world very literally.
It takes a design approach to see the question differently -- what is the purpose of sorting? Looking for the second best answer, the purpose is not so we have different lists, categories, and groups.
The purpose is so we have a different experience. We get things done differently. The iPhone was not a better BlackBerry. It was a completely different system, with new integration. Think different means Apple employees respect and cultivate great design above all else. Beyond aesthetics.
Which then makes differentiation possible (along with innovation).
You do the job in a totally new way
As we approach the concept of branded pages on a new network, one that is backed by the company that took search to a new level, I do wonder if Google will re-imagine the platform, or just look to bring together a bunch of features, incrementally better (than Facebook).
In the comments, AliCeleste has valid concerns for the brand she represents (slight edits and emphasis mine):
I’m good with all of this, but Facebook has burned me so badly that I need a few things before I get excited:
1. I will be able to listen to those in my circle, not just blast them with updates and hope they comment.
2. There will be no “community pages” or “location pages” or any other crap that may pop up unexpectedly.
3. We can SEARCH in Google+ and it will make sense.
Because honestly, Facebook has been less effective for me than Myspace was. Not because the audience isn’t there – oh no it’s certainly there. But because I can’t sit back and listen to them. I can’t see what else they’re excited about, form profiles, learn about them, and share those findings with others in my company who are far too removed from our audience.
Google+ has an opportunity to beat the pants off of Facebook here – SPECIFICALLY for Brands – because they can provide something clean, uniform, and that works as a two-way listening platform.
You do the job in a completely new way in social networks.
Brand managers do get that. They are under pressure to show results using these new tools. And they are using them as channels because it is the most efficient use of budgets and resources for the way these new media are developed.
The networks are just built in such a way that is not conducive to brands. I brought that up a long time ago. Despite them being the ones envisioned as footing the bill, do social networks see organizations as customers?
Like AliCeleste, many want to do work they're proud of on behalf of brands. Listening is front and fore in that ability to develop content and re-imagine interactions that fit the way a platform is built as a new system.
Platform-based content fluency
How do you know you have a truly new platform? For one, you don't compete at feature level. Because it allows you to do things in a completely different way. Because of this, you have increased signal. Signal is the thing you can do better vs. noise, which ends up being much of the hoops you need to jump through to do it.
When you do something better, especially in the case it solves a real problem, you create a stronger conversation (in the shared inquiry/quest sense of the term). This sets a different cultural tone in the people who engage with that conversation.
They, in turn, have an easier time amplifying the signal vs. the noise, in such a context.
Content fluency is the ability to speak the cultural language prevalent in a platform with the added bonus of the space being designed to help create a context where that conversation is possible (i.e., listening, communicating, observing, and contributing) in a way that makes sense to all parties.
We're still learning to write for the web. We keep forgetting that web copy is not an end in itself, read this, click here, buy this. The point is what we want to say, do, and feel, and how is reading and clicking going to give us that connection.
On both sides of the conversation.