The 3 Social Networks within Google+ and The Part You Play

by Rod Dunne on February 13, 2012

in Innovation

You thought Google+ was just one social network, right? Technology-wise it’s all bundled in as one application – true. But the ecology of this knowledge network contains 3 different hidden networks we all overlook. I’ll show you the 3 hidden networks, the part you & your collaborators play in this and why you should even care… especially if you’re doing business on G+.

Newsflash: You’ve seen the 3 networks before

Thing is, these 3 collaborative networks were/are a key part of the Linux landscape.

Bear with me on this – I’m going to show the connection between Linux and Google+ in terms of the collaborative networks that are involved. I’ll assume you’ve heard of Linux. It’s an open source operating system popular with Webmasters in particular.

Linux was developed by a network of innovators (a core innovators network). These developers collaborated in a self-organized way, crowd-sourcing to work towards a common goal. This network of people included testers, developers, documentation writers, etc.

A second learning network built up around the Linux system. One example is Debian which used the core Linux kernel, where teams learnt how to use it and then improve upon it for their customers. This learning network also branched off into consulting & training services all built around improving expertise in those working with Linux.

Finally, the third network circling both of these is those people with an interest in Linux. Simply put, these are the end-users of Linux (web masters, businesses, ISPs, etc.) Their interest focuses on information gathering (news, etc.) rather than learning for the most part.

These are the 3 knowledge networks: A collaboration network core, surrounded by a learning network, all contained within an interest network. The sum of the 3 parts is what’s called a knowledge network.

The 3 Social Networks within Google+

Click to Enlarge

Connecting the Linux ecology to the Google+ ecology

Still with me? You might be struggling to see how these 3 networks form any part of Google+. The 3 layers are not distinct social networks in themselves. They meld seamlessly between the G+ environment and all the circles and interactions that are building up.

Here’s how the 3 layers co-exist in Google+:

Layer 1: The Innovators network – cyber-teams collaborating to build products & services

This comprises of, but is not limited to, the following networks of collaborators:

  • The network of Google+ development teams & community managers – building the engine.
  • 3rd party development teams building on top of the network (e.g. add-on creators like
  • Networks of teams powered by G+ building products and services. E.G.
    - Writers working on crowd-sourced pieces, collaborating via G+ & Google Docs
    - Musicians working on collaborative songs powered by G+ chat, discussions & hangouts (e.g. The Electro Musician – Music Producers Collective)
    - Consultancy teams swarming to deliver creative work (e.g. Glia the Social Glue).

Layer 2: The learning network – Communities sharing a common interest, practice and knowledge

This network is more ephemeral in Google+.

Fans of photography will have seen how posts, circles, threads and hangouts can revolve around sharing knowledge. Sometimes it’s a pro-photographer sharing some expertise and the comment trail proceeds as individuals learn from peers. This is your learning network of mentors and mentees. Sharing experience, building knowhow.

There are other skills and areas of expertise throughout Google+ that have similar networks of engaging individuals sharing their time and knowledge, often informally, with others. This can be in posts, threads, comment trails, discussions and hangouts. This is why I said it was ephemeral.

Layer 3: The interest network – Networks of individuals with shared interests but who don’t actually work on anything together

This for many is the default type of interactions experienced. Many users of Google+ search, read and comment upon areas of interest they have (e.g. politics, news, gadgets, etc.). Resharing posts is just another way of letting others know what interests you.

This network can’t be defined as a learning network though as it’s more simply about common interests, having fun and not building any form of expertise. Also, no product or service results from participation so you couldn’t call it an innovators network.

Why should I care about this, Rod?

Good question, thanks for asking.

The reason this is important is because the survival of our beloved Google+ depends on the 3 networks overall ecology being able to thrive, change and balance just to survive.

  • A stagnant social network consisting simply of interest network participants would become tiresome pretty quickly. You’d start wondering after a while “what is the point of spending time on G+? What am I getting out of it?” It’d just be endless reshares of memes (cough).
  • The presence of a learning network means many users start seeing benefits from participation, and peer-recognition from mentoring others. This is the value-added benefit for most.
  • The innovators network is also key to the entire knowledge networks survival. The social network has to change and adapt to how users are using Google+. It becomes better and draws us in to keep coming back. Darwin’s theory of evolution is often butchered down to the sound bite – “the survival of the fittest”. That’s implies the biggest & strongest survive. Wrong!!! He actually said that those creatures who can change the fastest (evolution) will be the one to survive. And that’s what every social network needs to do. Evolve.

“We gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, $hit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it” – Collateral

So is an interest network really still necessary? Damn sure it is. If nobody is interested, then nobody turns up. Shows over folks. Also, even folks in learning & innovator networks participate in interest networks. We are not tied to one of the 3 networks and swap between the 3 transparently.

Why should my business care, Rod?

Another good question, thanks for asking and your additional patience.

If you have a business using Google+ as part of your social strategy then you need to consider how you can be involved in ALL THREE networks – innovation, learning & interest.

Most businesses just focus on the interest network. Treating G+ users that circle them almost like a fan base. “Hey Doug, send out those quarterly results in a G+ post will ya”.

Informative, but NOT interesting for most. Fail. Make your posts interesting and don’t just chuck up link bait (a post with no intro; just a title and link to your website article) as that’s not engaging in the slightest.

Get involved in the learning network. Engage those who circle your business. Find out their questions, problems and thoughts. Provide answers, solutions and insights. This is your business feedback loop. A continuous improvement plan for business & users.

Feeling brave? Take the leap into the innovators network. TV channels doing on-air hangouts – innovative and engaging. Consultancy teams using G+ posts, discussions & hangouts to create everything from white papers to open source software – innovative and beneficial. Musicians who’ve never met in person creating songs collaboratively via Google+ – an innovative use of G+ tools to power your output (products/services).


Ecology matters. Having the big picture of the landscape of life in Google+ should show you where the opportunities to learn and innovate are for you to get more out of your time online. After all, Darwin would have wanted you to evolve and venture into all 3 collaborative networks to continue innovating, learning & discovering new interests.

- To read more about Collaborative Knowledge Networks you could read Swarm Creativity by Peter Gloor of MIT
- The Google Plus website 

Author Rod Dunne...

Blog owner and sole writer Rod DunneI am the owner and sole writer on This is my personal blog detailing troubleshooting tips for small businesses. Posts are based upon 2 decades in consultancy & innovation management within startups/maturing companies.

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{ 1 comment }

Gideon Rosenblatt February 16, 2012 at 7:32 pm

I really like this way of looking at this, Rod. It’s interesting to take the networks you’ve outlined and see them as a kind of continuum of engagement, or pyramid of engagement. The base is interest. Then you move to active co-learning with others. Then you move to actually doing – innovating, as you say.

I like how you point out that all of this can co-exist within the network at the same time seamlessly without us really noticing.

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