TechWeb

Facebook Vs. Google+: Room For Both

Sep 26, 2011 (10:09 AM EDT)

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Last week's general rollout of the Google+ product confirmed that Google+ is here to stay. Has Facebook, with its angst-inducing new round of interface tweaks, thrown more users at Google+? Probably. But does it mean doom or at least second fiddle for Facebook? Should enterprise IT re-evaluate which social media platform to support for marketing and other customers? Certainly not.

Social media is here to stay and IT needs to be actively involved in steering it. But the notion that there's some kind of Highlander rule, where there can only be one, is Dilbert-like nonsense that IT needs to get over. "We need to standardize!" is the rallying cry of IT bureaucrats everywhere. And yes, some degree of standardization is necessary. But reducing customer choice is anathema to a truly service-based IT organization. Where's the balance? And, more importantly, what are the real business needs driving both standardization and customer choice?

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I think that fascist standardization comes from two things that are no longer as relevant to IT. First, in the old days, IT was allowed to have an incredibly tight span of control over the organization's technology portfolio.

This was probably a good thing back then, because technology was a lot more of a fragile artifact. It was easy to break, there were no common APIs, and, without the Internet, there was no need to interface with the Internet.

Tightly scripted and arcane EDI between the mainframes of business partners was happening, to be sure. And god help the IT department if it didn't work.

That massive responsibility allowed IT to justify the tight span of control.

But now? We've gone from "systems analyst" to "business analyst," and many business analysts reside in line of business departments, not in IT. That tight span of control is gone, baby, gone. And it's probably a good thing: IT isn't qualified to steer the strategy of the broader organization.

Second, in the old days, IT was essentially the sole source of support to the organization. That tight span of control meant that IT was also responsible to fix or support the technology. If that tech didn't come in through IT, the hammer of IT justice would come down on you and you'd end up "unsupported".

But today, with the tight span of control greatly diminished, it means that, more than ever, line of business has much greater influence on the technologies that are used at the organization. Can you say "the consumerization of IT?"

Non-fascist Standardization is really about sustainability of a given technology or product. It's really, or should be about reducing risk to the organization overall. And in the context of today's technology market, sustainability is really about market share, vendor viability, and product flexibility. I think we'll all agree that Facebook and Google meet the first two tests. But: Google+ currently fails on the flexibility test, because its API is anemic. Troy Tolle, CTO of Digital Chalk, who frequently uses APIs in his work, said to me this morning that he's not impressed. "There's a total of three methods," he says, and no way to use the API to post to Google+ yet.

Why is this important to IT? Well, IT shouldn't be focusing on whether the organization should "standardize" on Facebook or Google+. IT should be focusing on the pragmatics of enabling important social media platforms.

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Specifically, in this case, IT should be talking to customers about their needs. In many cases, a basic need of professional marketing or corporate communications is social media aggregation. Trouble is, without a robust API, aggregation of Google+ into an aggregator like TweetDeck just ain't gonna happen. Some may say, "well, Twitter owns TweetDeck, why would they integrate Google+?" True, but HootSuite, which is by and large one of my favorite social media aggregators, doesn't support Google+ either. It's the top requested feature on the company's customer feedback idea list, but--my guess is that, like Tolle, they're just not impressed enough with the API yet.

Based on Google's track record for opening up their apps to APIs, it would make sense that they'll improve the Google+ API in the coming weeks. But when advising your customers, at the moment, you'll want to let them know that real media aggregation can't be available right now, and that if it's important to them, they may want to wait to jump on Google+.

Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at jf@feldman.org or at @_jfeldman.