Friday, July 15, 2011

Google+

So, earlier in the week I got my invitation to Google+. Always a fan of the mantra "don't fix what isn't broken" I was far from convinced that it had any chance to make any real inroads against Facebook. My impressions so far:

Good

  • Integration with existing Google technologies.
    • I already use PicasaWeb because I use Blogger. I use Blogger and GChat because I use Gmail. It's easy to see integration with Google Calendar and Blogger itself in the pipeline. 
    • Google+ also integrates iGoogle's +1 search functionality, but I don't find it all that interesting. 
    • The iGoogle user bar at the top of the page now directly lists your Google+ updates, etc and has a "share" button that feels half-implemented as you can paste a link into it, but not directly click on a link and share it. 
    • Google Maps is at least somewhat integrated as when you upload a photo via an Android, it tags it with your current location. However, this too, is only half-implemented. If you leave your Android GPS off (as many do since it's a huge battery drain) the photo is tagged based off of cell-tower triangulation. Trying this out tonight, I found that standing on the East Campus end of the University Ave bridge, I was assumed to be somewhere I had never heard of in Dracut. Good rule of thumb: wrong information is worse than no information!
  • Easier security. The lack of a "Wall" allows you to control exactly what people who can see your profile see. The straightforward "Circles" friend-grouping concept makes it easy to limit who gets to see what. This is a must for public, semi-public, teenage, and alcoholic social networking users.
  • No ads. Yet. Very little requests for personal information for your profile.
  • New.
    • It's generating buzz. No pun intended.
    • The years of Facebook "technical debt" doesn't exist in a product that has been just started from scratch. For example, the Facebook Wall concept is outdated. It has become a place for people to post stuff to your profile you don't want your other friends reading (from inappropriate personal information to stupid requests to run chores). However, since Facebook started as a college networking tool well before the Newsfeed was born, the "Wall" concept grew directly out of those whiteboards those of us in the collegiate world had physically hung to our dorm-room doors. Oh, and networks like MySpace worked that way, too. The Newsfeed, in hindsight, was one of the killer apps in Facebook that killed MySpace.
  • Don't be Evil is Google's Mantra. In addition to being a product from a company we already know a lot about and are interested in, Facebook's repeated (and they aren't dumb, this is on purpose) failures to protect our personal information has turned a lot of people off.
    • The best way to protect your own data is to forsake the Cloud and use something like Diaspora
    • For those people who are not technically inclined and interested in running their own server (or dealing with the TOS violations and addressing complexities in running a webserver out of the home), or for those of us who want to talk to people not so inclined, we have to come to accept the Cloud...with as little evil tied in as possible.
Bad
  • Nobody is on it. This will likely change, but, for example, I only have a few connections on Google+ that I don't already have on Facebook. Therefore, it is rare that I'll want to go through the trouble of posting something twice for the benefit of a few. Facebook is already one-stop for my photo uploads, link-sharing, etc. So far, my Google+ posts have mostly been about...Google+. Without a mass-migration for reasons I don't see yet, I will still be spending far more time on Facebook than Google+
  • It's in Beta. There are important functions, like event invitations, that Google+ doesn't seem to have yet, even though other Google technologies already support this. The lack of an ability to search Google+ posts from an interface fails to fix a chief complaint I have with Facebook and Google's search is their core business!
  • As nice as it is to have all my Google technologies tied together, there is a downside to this. Like the failure that was Google Buzz, sometimes unexpected things happen. I posted a new PicasaWeb album to "Everyone" for my last post on Wamesit Canal, and the photos went straight to Google+! I don't remember seeing an option to not do that.
How-To

Since a chief complaint of Facebook is the lack of ability to control data via Circles, here is how to do it in Facebook. Yes, it's far more complex.

Go to your Friend List.



Click Create a List.


Give it a name, select the relevant people, and save it.



The list will now show up in the left-hand pane of your Edit Friends page where it can be edited. Whenever you add new friends, you can add that person to one or many lists, directly from the accept friend request interface.

Now, back on the main page, we'll post some content. Note the pad-lock button.






You'll see you can make posts visible to friends, friends of friends, the obsolete "Networks" concept from the college-only days, and "customize." Click that.











You'll get the following page, where in addition to excluding certain people or lists of people, you can include certain people or groups:












This concept extends beyond the newsfeed, once you have your friends lists set up. Let's do our profile. Click "Privacy Settings":


Click "Custom"



From here, you can do things like prevent anybody (not people or lists) from posting on your wall or from Friends or Friend Lists being able to see photos others tagged you in:


Finally, when you add photo albums, you can include and exclude certain groups from seeing it.


So yeah, more work, but doable!


I guess in closing, I don't dislike Google+, but I also don't see it taking off without some sort of "killer app" Facebook doesn't have. Facebook tends to move quickly with features, which in this case, may be a good thing. It's often a bad thing because over the years, it's required people to learn how to use an increasingly complex system piece-by-piece as new features come out and old ones get deprecated.


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