The back & forth between Google & Facebook has been talked about a lot in terms of copying lately. Users (and sometimes journalists) from both camps point out who is copying what and from whom.

Copying is not really the issue. The ideas for features we see on Facebook and G+ are not particularly novel. I think anyone focused on building a social network would come up with most of these features we've seen over the last 8 years or so. If the ideas aren't so important, than what is? It's really about the subtle and delicate combination of both community (users) and UI (how the site works for them), and both emphasis (what does the site encourage users to do) & execution (does it do it well, so users know and conform to the patterns of behavior suggested by the site). When you look at the ideas for features on a social network, it's important to look beyond those ideas and see what they'll mean for humanity when those ideas are arranged in a very deliberate, delicate balance through perfect emphasis & execution. It's this that results in the growth or decline of a social network.

And if there's one word for brings that altogether, that's probably vision. That's why two smart guys:+Robert Scoble and +Mike Elgan recently had a debate over whether Facebook truly has vision, or whether Zuckerberg is just throwing things at the wall to see what will work. But maybe Google's throwing things at the wall as well?

I'd suggest that you can't really say whether a company has vision based on the public display of a few failed products. (Elgan's example of a company with vision, Apple, has had failed products as well, after all.) And you can't really say a company has no vision, even if their vision changes, like Facebook's did from "efficient communication" in the early part of their ascendance to "a platform for sharing" which is what I think they're focused on now. It is possible, of course, to have an evolving vision. (As I argued here,, in an earlier piece about Twitter & Facebook.)

In this video I've shared, Steve Jobs contrasts "copying" with "stealing." He uses these terms (quoting Picasso), to suggest that stealing means to have vision: to see not just great ideas, but to arrange them in a way an artist would, to realize and present something that touches our deepest humanity. This may sound a little heady, but we are talking about social networks here. Why do you think people spend so much time on sites like G+, Facebook and Twitter? They really speak to our deepest needs, and, our souls, even.

Jobs also notes in the video that the users & creators of the original Macintosh were artists & scientists (systematic acquirers of knowledge): musicians, poets, artists, zoologists, and historians. When you put these kind of people in a room, and deep level thinking takes place -- when a vision is revealed (even a shared vision, I don't believe in the idea that visions must come from a single individual), then you get something special.

So if you're a fan of Facebook or G+ -- you might want to ask yourself, what's the vision behind it? And what kind of behavior does the site encourage? What kind of person is a site encouraging you to be, according to the design of its network? Here I'm suggesting that every site has a "vision" -- and some are better than others. Some may be so clouded, that you could argue they have no vision. It's really just another way of describing things.

Right now, I'm a little tired. Rough day over here. But I'll end here -- what's the current "vision" of G+?

Google+ encourages our intellectual nature through long form posting (most blogs do this). It promotes the open & empathetic side of our nature by encouraging the sharing of content and highlights positive reinforcement through recognition. It encourages us to post and seek out quality by rewarding people for "shares" and giving visible credit for them. G+ also invites us to be thoughtful of others not just by using the + [name] to recognize them, but also through the concept of circles which makes us think of our audience when we write. That's what wise people do when they talk -- they consider their audience. Finally, G+ encourages us to meet people in a public square and interact, if one so desires.

As a platform for interaction -- a social network -- G+ is simple, open and flexible, but it encourages more complex thought and interaction. All this is helped along by the fact -- probably out of necessity -- that G+ was created with an 18 & up restriction. I think it's also pertinent to note how the community has built ad-on tools to "shape" the vision put forth by the site itself. I'm not talking about Chrome extensions (though they could be examples as well). I'm talking about third party sites that show "top" and "suggested' users. This also extends to user behavior where so many posts on G+ are about actually recommendations of who one should circle.

Finally, I suspect that Google's "brand" reputation among intellectuals and their 18 & up restriction -- these two things alone -- may have been a key element that's allowed this community to flourish. And that begs the questoin -- is what we are experiencing and using a "vision" Google had? Or is it vision they're discovering? Or is it neither...? Many inventions surprise & mystify their inventors. Does the delicate balance of Google's feature set & UI encourage the behavior I've described? Or is the greatest "feature" of Google+ right now the users themselves?
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