The Hybrid Social Network is coming - and you're probably already using it

The social network is in trouble. It has been for some time. Breaches of trust and data leaks. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Twitter and Fake News. Google+ has even been shut down early - not due to lack of users (somehow) but because of data leaks. Who knows what is about to happen with Instagram, if the issues from its parent company spread further.

There are supposed saviors on the horizon. Mastodon. Discord. Closed networks around specific interests, thought to reduce the chances of bad actors. But these closed networks have a significant problem - they are not about you. An interest group is about the shared interest. Facebook is about posting your selfies and giving your own story a place to be seen. If Facebook fades, we will still need a place to feed our narcissism.

Thankfully, this may already be happening right under our noses.

2019 may be the year of the hybrid network. A hybrid network takes the personal elements of ‘traditional’ social networks and combines them with the interest-based focus of closed networks. It is a place of specific interest, but with the people you know and love in real life. The easiest way to understand it is as a social element added to the products you already know and love.
Google is (ironically enough considering their bad history with social elements in their products and the up-coming demise of Google+) in a superb position from which to introduce the hybrid network to their products. And this time, they actually have a chance to get it right. 

Admittedly, Google doesn't have a great history with this sort of thing...

Take Google Photos, for example, it is a product that has proven so good that it has become unusual even among non-techy people (or ‘normals’) to find anyone who doesn’t use the free backup service. The service already has a sharing option from which you can disseminate your baby pictures and you can create shared collections with anyone else who has an account linked to the service. All Google need do is add a ‘stream’ of some kind to which users can post those same pictures and they have an instant Instagram competitor within Photos itself. Keep it private, just between friends, or make it public or just never use it. Whatever. But the option would really open things up.

The same thing could spread to other Google products. Want to share news stories with your friends? Have a social stream within Google News and make use of the excellent ‘full coverage’ feature to fact-check your uncle’s fake news from within the service. Youtube comments are already a mess and have been forever. Add in a social stream and see what sort of videos your friends are sharing. While you’re at it, why not add an option so you only see comments on videos from people you actually know? Are you one of the three people in the world using Youtube Music over Spotify? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a social stream there where you can see the tunes your friends are recommending? The same with the new Google Podcasts service. Google Maps already has a robust review system. Wouldn’t it be nice to easily find the places your friends are saying are worth a visit?

The point is, general social networks have given themselves a bad reputation. What we need is a hybrid network, where we already trust the main product and the social element is just an added bonus. We should be able to share things as an additional option, not the main point of the service. The social element has to add to the value, not be the value.


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