To create a Google account, you have to also create a Google+ account. Yesterday, a report from the Wall Street Journal on the efficacy of this devious plan “broke.” I use quotations because this has been obvious to even casual observers for awhile now. Slowly but surely since the launch of Google+ last spring, Google proper has been integrating the social network more and more tightly into its other products. Want a YouTube account? It’s tied to your G+ profile. Want a Gmail address? That’s part of your G+ identity.
None of this is new or surprising. Google has made it clear it plans to give you one identity that connects all of your various product uses across its platform in an effort to unify your scattered Web presence. It’s good and it’s bad for reasons you don’t need explained to you anymore.
But the larger takeaway from this is that what we’re seeing from Google and Google+ – and other networks – is that the wall between social media and the Web at large is crumbling. Rapidly. There used to be a way to distinguish between a website and a social network. Each offered a certain type of information, each had separate functions, each were visually distinct.
This isn’t really the case anymore, and it’s probably time we accept it for two reasons.
First, this is the way big names in Web have decided we’re going to do this. Google isn’t the only one that’s overhauling how its platform works and introducing a social element that ties our “personal” selves into its entire product – it’s just that Google did Web back when the social network wasn’t really a thing yet, so it’s disorienting, jarring; it feels wrong. But Bing search is hugely integrated with Facebook. And Facebook itself is doing the same thing, just in reverse. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that Facebook will do search (“We do a billion queries a day and we’re not even trying”), and the overwhelming presence of the Facebook Connect and Share buttons on (nearly) any and every website should tell you a lot about how social networks have leaked out into the Web at large.
It’s not only platforms. Online news publications now act like hybrids between Internet-formatted newspapers and social networks. And it’s working: Lolcat-covered BuzzFeed just raised $19.3 million in venture capital. “We have the senior management, board, and investors we need to build the next great media company: Socially native, tech enabled, with massive scale. We are all focused on that big goal and raised this capital to move even faster,” said Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s co-founder and CEO, in a statement. Since bringing on editor in chief Ben Smith a year ago, the site has exploded to become the go-to for a very digitally aware and constantly consuming generation.
“I think BuzzFeed has proven that you can build a meaningful venture-sized business by using [the "social advertising/story unit"] model,” BuzzFeed with NEA partner Patrick Kerins said recently. “It’s turned heads, including at big companies in the Valley. BuzzFeed has eschewed the normal display stuff, and its success has resulted in a lot more of that type of format being tried by other online publishers. And one of the things we wanted to make sure of was that we raised enough capital to keep BuzzFeed on the cutting edge.”
The site has a post update counter on its page for goodness sake – something Facebook first made popular. It’s not alone either; tech industry news aggregation site Techmeme recently launched this feature as well.
But the Internet – or The Man, as we can call it now – isn’t entirely to blame. The second reason, which is hugely responsible for these networks doing what they’re doing, is our own behavior. We are living on the Internet: Connected devices in the U.S. now outnumber actual people. With our lives this connected to the Web and Internet-based products, how can social elements not seep into them more and more? The Web is the social Web, and any barriers that used to divide the two are being torn down as we speak.