Google social researcher leaves for Facebook

Faith Merino · December 21, 2010 · Short URL:

Paul Adams worked on Buzz, Latitude, YouTube, and Gmail

Another Googler has dumped Google for Facebook, but this one may sting a little more than the others.  Paul Adams, Google’s research lead for social, announced Monday evening via Twitter that he is leaving Google for Facebook.  “After 4 years in the awesome Google UX team it’s time for a change + I’m excited to be joining Facebook in the New Year,” Adams tweeted.

At Google, Adams worked on Buzz, YouTube, Latitude, and Gmail, and he also authored the forthcoming book, “Social Circles.”  Some may also remember him from a highly influential slide presentation that he delivered at the Voices That Matter Web Design conference. 

The presentation, called “The Real Life Social Network,” pointed out some key problems with Facebook and social media in general (see below).  Chiefly, we are lumping all of our friends into one mass online, while offline we go about our social lives very differently, careful not to mix certain groups of people.

In the presentation, Adams explained that part of his research meant questioning real people about how they use social networks, and he gave an example of a woman named Debbie who was a swim instructor and had friended a number of her students on Facebook.  She also commented on other peoples’ pictures, such as suggestive photos from a rowdy bar.  Adams said that halfway through the interview, Debbie suddenly realized that her students could see those pictures and was “angry with the system” for letting it happen.

This would probably make Debbie the only person on Facebook to not know that that’s why you don’t friend students or their parents.  Having nannied and babysat in my college days, I learned that lesson a long time ago.  

Long story short, Adams’ slide presentation was made public and widely circulated throughout the Web and even on Facebook.  The presentation was viewed over 400,000 times on Slide Share, and shortly after it first appeared, Facebook created Facebook Groups, which employees at the company have denied was a result of the presentation.  It seems likely that Facebook saw this problem a while ago—off the top of my head I can think of several startups that have been created around this very idea of separating your different social lives.

But as VentureBeat pointed out in a recent story, David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect,” questioned Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about the idea of people lumping all of their friends together in one space online and whether that could pose a problem of sharing too much with too many.  Zuckerberg replied staunchly: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

But Adams’ presentation went into other topics in social media, like the ever-evolving social Web and the increasing use of social connection to static websites.  Adams predicts that as the Web continues to evolve, users will need more than one profile and new social media will need to be designed with privacy as the main concern.


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