I have never been one to write about the latest new web-based gadget, especially not before it has launched.  You, my readers, told me the last time that I asked, that social media gizmos were not something that you wanted to hear about. But the announcement of google+ has me more excited about a web tool than I have been in a long time.

It’s not just because I see a strong competitor for facebook, a platform I dislike.  There is a philosophy behind this new platform that is far stronger than the elements of their presentation.

To understand why google+ is so important we have to take a long look at what is wrong with the tools we have now.  As many of you know I have been building a reputation consulting very small businesses on how to use these various tools to promote themselves.  My methods are a bit unorthodox, partly because I have sought a much deeper understanding of community – what it is and how it forms.  My experiences over 20+ years as a community activist in St Paul have taught me a lot, both from very skilled people I’ve worked with and my own direct experience making mistakes learning what works.

Community is not a casual thing. While there is a lot of debate, sociologists generally point to four essential elements – membership, influence, integration, and shared emotional connection.  If you haven’t seen these you may want to read up on it.  I don’t think that many people who make arguments about community have the background to understand this topic.

Social media tools rarely have all of these elements in place.  People, being what we are, can form a strong community just about anywhere – but in an imperfect area the odds are stacked against you.  Any business or organization that wants to create community needs a better chance than our current tools give us.

That’s why I divide up the social media tools into Contact, Content, and Community – which is to say use each of the tools like twitter, facebook, etsy, and so on as effectively as possible based on their strength.  Community, a real sense of ownership, can be created in a defined space such as this humble blog (thank you, everyone!) but often it comes in a much more intimate setting of the real world – which is very true for bars and restaurants, the businesses I work with the most.

This long prelude gets me back to why google+ is exciting as a concept.  On facebook sharing of information is very non-exclusive, which is to say that membership is very weak and emotional connection is shallow.  Facebook makes an excellent point of Contact and can be useful for sharing Content, but it fails as a center of Community.  It’s not as bad as twitter, however, where time dependence and lack of threading makes it a very useful point of Contact (ie, a place to meet) but little else.

The new tool promised by google+ seems to have all of the elements of community available to users, and I advise going through the very hip Prezi intro on it.  The details show that it has room for more shallow semi-communities, which I have in the past called “scenes” and they appear to call “hangouts”, separating them out from tighter communities.  Users can define their own communities and share information only with that group.  It’s not a huge leap from facebook by any stretch – but it is clearly set up to be something much more personal and powerful than facebook simply because it understands Community.

It appears that updates can be set up something like a user-defined newspaper, where people can organize the “news” into their own sections – such as family, friends, knitting buddies, neighborhood, and (this is where my consulting comes in) stores and restaurants that they like to visit.  That simple organizational step would make it possible for people to sort the barrage of information they receive, make better sense of it, and thus allow the businesses with their events and specials (the content they provide) to be much more effective.

In short, when people can define who they talk to about what we can leverage our Content into a much stronger sense of Community, which is what we want. Contact points?  We already have those all over (in the case of google, a search engine is an excellent one).

So, I am excited about a new product for once.  I hope that one of you, my readers, can invite me to join google+ (hint!) so that I can write more about it (stronger hint!).  I would be forever grateful for the chance (how strong do these hints have to be?).