Though the brutal social networking war has lost the interest of most news outlets, gruesome battles continue to take place behind the scenes as the arms race for users escalates. Facebook’s IPO has left the brand bloodied, and Google has seized on this moment of weakness to bolster their own offering, Google+, in the eyes of consumers. Meanwhile, MySpace seems to be taking a different strategy and reinventing itself as the music discovery service it was originally envisioned as. Shots continue to ring out across the digital ether, and with every blow levied, each social network has just one task ahead of them: Becoming distinct enough from other networks while pulling in more users.
Each social network must figure out how they are going to attract the most users and return visitors. After all, this is how they make their ad revenue, and consequently stay in business to provide their virtual online services. What’s more, any social network must stay on top of their game so to speak. For a social network, there is quite literarily no down time allowed, whatsoever. In order to attract the most users, or any users at all for that matter, each social network must constantly evolve to offer users new features and apps that will keep them coming back to their site. These sites must also occupy their time once the user had logged on.
Tremendously successful social networks that have also pioneered the industry, like Facebook and Twitter, have established their own formula that works and keeps users coming back to their sites day after day, or even more frequently than that. Most social networks have some sort of distinguishing feature that they offer. For instance, Facebook pioneered things like tagging pictures and apps offered to users directly on their site. Twitter distinguished their site with the simplification of tweet updates and introducing celebrity interaction to draw visitors in. In fact, many users of such social networks log on numerous times each day. For the relatively young Google+ social networking site, the distinguishing feature was still somewhat uncertain. Until now.
A New Social Network Objective
Google+ has introduced several distinguishing features, like hangouts and circles. Even with those features, Google+, in its young state, is still looking for that one feature that defines what the site is primarily about – a “killer app” if you will — and why it repeatedly attracts new members and users. Based on recent changes to the G+ platform, it’s looking like they are taking a bold move and painting the network as a place to learn – about industry, businesses, friends and even the world around them.
Rackspace uses G+ to educate their followers about products through videos and blog posts. Tom (the creator of Myspace) uses G+ as an open forum to discuss his ideas about the digital world forming all around us, and showcase his photography. Most recently, there’s the Hang Out With an Olympian Initiative that puts users in direct conversation with athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics. It’s an innovative way to market a social network and one that will have observers on the edge of their seats as they watch whether it’s the ace in the hole for Google+, a network that has been wracked with criticisms from the jump.
This is a very different approach for a social network to take. There has yet to be a social network to focus on education. Pinterest simply focuses on users posting their favorite media to share with followers; there really is not much education in such pop-culture postings. The only thing that comes close to Google+’s focus on users educating each other is The Khan Academy, started by Sal Khan. Through the Khan Academy’s tutorials, the non-profit site focuses specifically on the education of school-aged users. Some would argue that the Khan Academy is not a social network, but regardless, what they and Google+ are trying to accomplish is much different than any other social network currently online.
The interesting aspect of Google+ is that the site is aiming at K-12 students. Social networks such as Facebook require users to be at least 13 years of age, which could put a limit on the educational practices of such social networks. For one reason or another there is a stigma between students and teachers on Facebook that does not allow the two sides of the academic experience to mingle on the social network. Google+ does not have this problem.
With features such as circles and hangout on Google+, it provides the opportunity for all elements of the educational experience to flourish, including teachers and students interacting and not feeling any sort of awkwardness regarding the personal pictures posted just a click away on the weekend. Many people will agree that personal and professional life should not be intertwined in regards to the student and teacher relationship. What is truly great about Google+ in this regard is that teachers and students can easily separate their classroom behavior from their personal behavior. What’s more, there is no age restriction, thus allowing students of all ages to join the social network without any sort of inappropriate undertones.
With such said, the integration of Google+ with education may not be all smooth sailing. While some school districts strictly prohibit Facebook friendships of any kind between teachers and students, many also block any and all Google sites entirely. This is likely backlash from some of the uncensored images that can appear on the Google image search site. Furthermore, a lot of school districts don’t like teachers or students checking their Gmail accounts on school computers. These roadblocks may cause serious problems for Google+’s academic ambitions.
Regardless of the validity of Google’s aspirations to get its social network site, Google+, involved with K-12 education around the country, the reality of such is quite unknown. While it seems like an attractive concept, especially with the success of such educational non-profit sites such as The Khan Academy, there are some obstacles it must overcome. It remains to be seen whether Google actually pulls off the feat of a K-12 integrative educational friendly social networking site. It certainly seems possible with sites like LinkedIn devoted entirely to job networking. Even so, the site will have to over come a few censored roadblocks with certain institutions of education, and perhaps first prove that the site itself is worthy of not being censored. If that can be done, however, there could be some exciting and educationally sound changes coming to social networks in the future.