Are the New Google Profiles the Tipping Point for Social Media Experts?

A couple of weeks ago, Google rolled out revisions to its Profiles pages. Profiles have been around for a long time, but the revision had a “somewhat Facebook-y layout” (Techland). These changes gained more attention when rumors buzzed that Google was going to roll out Circles, its Facebook competitor, at SXSW. An announcement never occurred, but Google isn’t denying that a new social networking site is coming.

It’s obvious why Google would move into this space. While it has Orkut, it never clicked with a North American audience. Being able to provide a social networking platform that can seamlessly integrate Google properties—Picasa, YouTube, Gmail and let’s not forget Google AdWords—is a no-brainer. Taking a page from Facebook, Google could improve what it knows about you and how to target its ads by having a central social networking hub.

However, let’s not forget that Google Buzz and Wave never became the game changers they were predicted to be. A social networking site on par with Facebook is a risk several of order magnitude greater, especially considering how entrenched Facebook is in the lives of so many people.

Could Circles Fragment Social Media Expertise?

Circles could be a huge success. And that has me a little worried about keeping up with all the information that’s out there.

I started working with social media in January 2006. By 2008, it was a major component of my career. Researching new social media tools (“What’s this Twitter?”, “Why is everyone talking about FourSquare?”, “Should we be looking at Quora?”) takes about a lot of my time. And there are still social media sites and tools I’ve never heard of.

It’s one thing to not know all of Vimeo’s options and tools because YouTube is still the top site for online video (although a discussion of volume vs. quality might even things out). But if Circles is a success, it cannot be ignored. And that’s one more site one needs to be an expert on. Could it be too much to stay current with?

This situation reminds me of a time in 1997. I’d taught myself HTML, JavaScript and CSS. A friend recommended I learn something called Active Server Pages (ASP), but I ignored him, thinking I had the full toolbox. By 2000, we saw not only ASP, but PHP, ColdFusion, JSP were common, mainstream tools. Web development had split into front-end and back-end groups. Over time, these groups would split again into even more specialized areas.

Will the same fragmenting of specialities happen with social media? Will we see specialists in:

  • Mirco-blogging (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook updates)
  • Media sharing (Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo)
  • Social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn)
  • Location (FourSquare, Google Places)
  • Informative collaboration (Wikipedia, Yahoo! Answers, Quora)

With more and more questions coming to me about an increasingly broad range of sites, tools and technologies, the emergences of specialities within social media—once a speciality in and of itself—might be inevitable.

What do you think? Are we already seeing the rise of narrow specialists vs. broad generalists in the social media field?

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