Mailbag: Google+ & Social Media Edition

A graduate student at Indiana University emailed in with these questions. 

Could you introduce yourself briefly?

I’m Michael Cervieri, creator of the Future Journalism Project. I used to teach media and technology at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and at the university’s School of International and Public Affairs. In my non-FJP life I run a media technology firm with my brother Peter.

Do you like using other social media platforms other than Tumblr? What is your feeling about social media?

Tumblr’s the primary platform I engage with, then Twitter, and then Google+ and Facebook about equally… Which is to say not very much. Through the FJP I’m also playing with Pinterest and Storify.

What do I think about social media? For my personal use it’s a bit of a time suck and I have to remind myself to step away from it, head outdoors and wrap my mind around something more substantive than the flurry of information I find myself in.

For professional use it’s integral to the FJP’s ability to build audiences and engage with them. I can’t think of how we would be able to accomplish what we do without it.

Societally, I’m a big believer in tools and platforms that allow people to connect, organize and share information. Social media increases the speed with which people can do so more than any other tool in history. This is great.

My fear with it though is that people will increasingly build information silos around themselves and only hear and expose themselves to information that they want to hear, and from a partisan perspective from which they’d like to hear it.

Do you use Google+ to communicate with your friends or family members? What is your feeling about Google+ Compared with other social media platforms?

Yes, but not very much. When I signed up for G+ I purposefully put people in Circles who I was not exposed to on other platforms. When it launched I thought of almost as a social media reset button where you could start from scratch and, for me, that was a good thing.

I like its feature set and think it great in developing conversations. There are only so many places though that you can spend your time online and G+ remains probably third on my list of places to engage.

After Google+ launched it was criticized for being a clone of Facebook. What do you think of that? And what features of Google+ do you think are unique compared with Facebook?

I wouldn’t call it a clone. Instead, I think social media has a distinct, baseline feature set.

Obviously, Facebook already had them and equally obvious was that if Google was going to launch a social network it would need those specifics as well. Circles, though was an innovation. So too what they’re doing with Hangouts.

I think Google and Facebook are pushing each other to innovate and become better. This is a good thing.

Google+ Hangouts platform opens to independent developers this week. Is that a way for Google to get more out of its chat feature? Do you think is that an imitation to Facebook?

I think any time you can open your platform for third party developers to work and interact with it you’ll see an explosion of innovation and use cases that weren’t previously thought of before. I don’t think it’s an imitation of Facebook. I think it’s a recognition that opening up APIs to third party developers is something every platform needs to do if it wants to be sustainable.

The competition between social media websites is increasingly fierce. What areas do you think products of Google+ should enhance in the future?

I think it’s just further refining what they currently have. For example, they just announced that with Hangouts they’re going to allow for larger audiences rather than the previous 10 maximum that they could handle. Previously, the integrated Google Docs into Hangouts to ease onlnie collaboration.

That said, I think it’s important to think of Google as an online identity system more than as a social network. Or at least to give its desire to be an online identity system equal weight to its being a social network. That’s how its chairman Eric Schmidt described it last summer.

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