Jul 6, 2011

Google+ Me

#Google+ #SecondLife | How Social Networks could be ready to change for the better.

After a much anticipated wait time, I’ve finally been added among the ranks of Google+ users. It seems from all the buzz online through other social media such as Twitter and even Facebook that Google+ has both its ups an downs depending entirely on who you ask.

Take for instance my favorite comic XKCD which essentially states that Google+ is not Facebook but it’s just like Facebook without all the clutter and crap that Facebook has been predominantly known for as of late. I like to think that it represents a bit more that just a Facebook clone.

For starters, there are the better privacy controls over who gets to see what on your profile, albums, etc. For this, Google has introduced the idea of “Circles”, and I believe this is actually quite intuitive for how to manage our digital relationships and, well.. circles. Whereas with Facebook, I’m simply overwhelmed with updates from absolutely everyone in my friends list, with Google+ I can filter out the noise and just look at updates from certain circles, like Friends, Family, Co-Workers, and so on.

I could very well pick apart minor annoyances with Google+ but doing so would seem pointless since it is really a closed test phase and not meant to be entirely bug-free. What I’d like to do is focus a bit more on what I actually enjoy about Google+, hopefully with some pictures to illustrate.


At first, the idea of Circles caught me off guard because I’m an avid user of Facebook, and as such I have grown quite accustomed to having everyone and everything lumped together without much choice in the matter. But when I sat down and got acquainted with how circles work, it was more like a breath of fresh air. You can add your contacts to existing circles, and Google+ starts you out with a few common ones like Friends, Family, etc but there is also the option to create whatever circles you want as well and sort your contacts the way you want.

Edit: Thanks to AlexanderTheBenelli for pointing out the Groups option in Facebook. However, it seems like that option is lost in the clutter on the left side of Facebook which is probably why I hadn't noticed it prior to it being pointed out. With Google+, the Group Circles are the focus of the left side space, and immediately distinguishable.

When you go to your Circles tab on Google+, this is the screen you are greeted with. It’s elegant and clean, with a wonderful drag and drop functionality. I can grab multiple contacts and drag them into a Circle below, or onto the empty circle to create an entirely new circle. When you click on one of your circles, it expands nicely to show the people in that circle, as shown below.

I’m not entirely certain if this workflow logic actually works across multiple web browsers, but for the sake of argument I’m using Firefox Aurora (6.0a2) and it works wonderfully for me. The reason that the circles are relevant is because on the main page (Home) the Stream (or I suppose Feed Wall) is divided up between your circles, so you can filter out what you don’t want in a single click.

The one thing I did start to wonder about when using Circles was what happens when you have a large number of people in a particular circle? I mean, how exactly does that work out when there is clearly a limited amount of space to add on the circle itself? I suspect that there is a sorting routine involved with Circles that shows you the contacts in the circle that you interact with most often up front, and upon clicking the circle itself it will show you the entire list. In this manner, I believe Circles would be contextual and dynamic.



Something I have noticed is the general feel of the Google+ Home page in that it just seems a lot less cluttered. I’m not being bombarded by banner advertising, game requests, or a million other points of absolute drivel that I associate with Facebook. I’m sure it’ll be a matter of time before Google decides to begin cluttering up Google+ with random crap nobody really wants or needs, but I’m truly hoping (if not praying to the technogods) that Google understands that doing so would be one of those things that people would not want. Let’s face it, Google makes their money on advertising based on user habits and zeitgeist data, so it would make perfect sense that they would somehow tie advertising into Google+.

I do believe, however, that Google just might be taking a hint and thinking of ways to passively advertise versus blatantly. There are definitely ways to advertise to people without cramming it down their throats or being intrusive – something I think both Twitter and Facebook both could learn a lesson about. In the context of Twitter, promoted tweets or accounts defy the very nature of earning credibility through merit, not to mention that companies which utilize Twitter for the sole purpose of cramming advertising down my throat, or in the worst case scenario, accounts that toss advertising at you by interrupting your conversations with drivel and spam via keyword bots just aren’t something I enjoy.


When you create a Google+ account (join) it asks if you want to link up your Picasa albums to your Google+ space, and I highly recommend that you do. If you use Blogger or pretty much any other Google owned service that allows you to upload photos, it’s highly likely that you already have a Picasa album space.

When you click on the Photos button, it takes you to a photo section beginning with Photos From Your Circles. Fairly straightforward approach, I’d say. Of course there are the sections for Photos From Your Phone, Photos of You, and Your Albums.

When you click on any of the photos it zooms into a lightbox view that also includes the comments on the side for that photo, where you can also add a comment at will. Below you can see my friend @AdamFrisby striking a “World’s Most Interesting Man” pose for the camera.

When you want to upload a photo, I don’t think it could be made any simpler than how it’s done in Google+. You just click the Upload New Photos button in plain view and you’re presented with a screen that looks like below:

That’s right, Google+ allows for Drag & Drop functionality from your computer to the browser space for upload. For this, I merrily went into my pictures folder and dropped a handful of pictures onto the browser space, where I was immediately greeted with the indicator that it was uploading.


I know in Facebook, when I want to upload photos I have to go through a dialog window (which is the secondary approach by Google+), so I’m relieved to know that Google is thinking forward in this ease of use area in allowing me to simply drag and drop my pictures into the browser window as a main option, and use the dialog window as a fallback instead.

Google Integration

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper Google offering if it didn’t somehow seamlessly integrate with the other Google services that you use. To this point, Google+ shows up on the Google Search page as well with notifications, sharing options, and basic account information when you are logged in.

The notifications number at the top of the screen will give you a number of waiting messages/notifications from your Google+ space, and clicking on it will drop down the notifications space as seen in the picture above. Now, the really cool thing about this is that when you click on any of the notifications, it doesn’t just take you to another page, but instead I’m guessing it AJAX slides the content into the box. Very handy indeed!

Of course the +1 buttons that Google created as their own version of a “Like” button has a bit more meaning and weight in comparison to Facebook. For instance, when you press a +1 button anywhere online, it is keeping track of what you like and using that information to better filter and customize your searches on Google, as well as bring in recommended results from your friends +1 if it applicable. In this manner, I’d say that Google+ definitely has a leg up over Facebook since they essentially dominate the search space online. This type of cross service integration is refreshing for me in that what I am doing in one space has some sort of relevance in others, and maybe even the rest of the world.

I haven’t gotten so far as to really check out whether the other Google services such as Documents, Calendar, etc. have been somehow integrated, but as far as I can tell for the moment, they haven’t. I could, however, see in the near future how being able to share a document from Google Docs to people you select from one of your Circles in Google+ would be beneficial. Even cooler would be the ability to share a video from Youtube to your Google+ Stream. Of course, I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but I can definitely see the potential here.

Slow Death of SEO? (A Side Thought)

I'm adding this section as a side thought after the initial publishing of the article because there are some serious implications with not only Google+ but the integration across the entire web and across multiple media services.

While you could still be optimizing a site with proper keywords and search engine optimization tactics, it is starting to become very clear that the name of the game going forward is flat out merit and level of engagement, not trying to manipulate an automated algorithm or gaming the system, so to speak.

I was in conversation this morning (July 6th, 2011) with Sherry Hall from http://www.pulsepointmedia.net and we both came to a very exciting yet disturbing realization about the future of the web and social networking:

You can't SEO your way out of this.

The integration of the +1 button is not just a clone of the Facebook "Like" button, because it also is tied to the Google Search results and rearranges the results of your search based on the weighted authority of the people who recommended the content most. If I were to search for something like "Metaverse" on Google, normally SEO would ensure some manner of getting a site up the listings, but going forward, SEO becomes a secondary tactic in favor of Level of Engagement and Social Weighted Interest. You're either going to create and present content that others will +1 and Share across the world and network, which in turn weight the ranking average in your favor, or you can stick with SEO tactics and end up on page 10 of the search results.

While SEO is still somewhat valuable, sites and services online will live and die by level of engagement and content merit. This is a revolutionary paradigm shift and definitely worthy of being taken serious.


Multi-user video chat with extra features. That’s about the sum of it. Again, I believe Google+ has a leg up on Facebook, even if we take into account that Facebook would be adding Skype video chat to their service. The reason I say this is because Skype has this nagging business model which tells you that in order to use group video chat you have to pay a subscription fee. Clearly, the fact that Google chat wins in this scenario before Facebook even gets their foot in the door is that what Google+ is offering for free, and as part of the service integrated as Hangouts, I suspect Facebook + Skype will charge a subscription fee to enable. +1 to Google for this bit of one-uppery.


What social media network would be complete without the inclusion of an arcade? Well, from some reading up on the internal website code of Google+ it can be seen than they are already setting up for just such a thing. It would be a natural addition to Google+ to have games integrated, but I’m thinking that there may be more to this down the line. Take into account that Hangouts already have the group video chat built in, as well as Youtube video search and play (which might be something that others can share with each other in a hangout, like a group sharing a video with each other), and I can see that there is a lot of potential for Google Games to be integrated as well in Hangouts where multiplayer games can be initiated among your Friends Circle and everyone is playing against each other. Definitely gives new meaning to “multiplayer” in context to social media games.

I mean, let’s look at it like this: When we play games like Farmville, are we actually playing with or against other players? We can see their pictures in the game, and maybe an NPC represents them, but it’s not really a multiplayer game in the real-time aspect. I suspect Google Games may change this for the better. Even better would be seeing SecondLife integrate with Google+ while the rest of the world is still jumping on the Facebook bandwagon. I wonder if anyone at Linden Lab has a Google+ account yet?


It’s no secret that Google acquired Aardvark, which is essentially a service that people can sign up for in which they volunteer their time to answer questions posed by the community. Along with the underlying framework for Google Games, there seems also to be some preparation for inclusion of Google Questions, or whatever they’re going to rebrand Aardvark as. So not only will you be able to do basic searches in Google, but you could also pose your question to the Google Questions community for an answer from a live person in the network, of course powered by you and me.

Devil’s Advocate

Alright, there has to be a catch somewhere, right? You already knew that you weren’t going to read an entire article from me filled with glowing reviews, glitter and unicorns.

Let’s be honest, shall we?

I’m slightly uneasy about Google consolidating so much of my digital life under one roof. Picasa Albums, Search, Email, Video/Voice Chat, Documents, Calendar, Spreadsheets, and now an entire Social Network built under the premise that all of these services are now working together.

At this point, I’m a bit leery about the privacy issues involved here, but also understand that this very point may be the reason why Google is treading cautiously when individual privacy is concerned. There are a lot of personalized options everywhere for who can and cannot see what you are posting and sharing, and I suspect that they’ll also go with an Opt-In model whenever they introduce methods by which advertisers or third parties can access your Google+ information.

The opt-in model would be much better concerning privacy, and would definitely win Google a truckload of brownie points versus Facebook, who has this ass backwards notion that automatically enabling information sharing to their advertisers and 3rd Parties and making you have to opt-out (assuming you even knew they opted you in in the first place) is a good thing.

One definite place where Google has a real chance at decimating Facebook is simply in user privacy, as well as giving their users control over their own personal information on the social media network.


While I do have concerns about privacy and control over my personal information when using Google+, it seems as though Google thought a few steps ahead and actually have implemented a comprehensive privacy control panel. Just how comprehensive are we talking about here?

They have a section named Data Liberation.

Seriously, Google+ gives you the built-in ability to backup and download everything in your Google+ account, from your Picasa Web Albums, to everything you’ve ever typed in your Streams, and even including getting a JSON file of your Profile information.

I’m actually quite impressed by this bit of security feature available by default. Even though Google is quickly integrating into all aspects of our digital lives, and this makes me a bit uneasy, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. As long as the comprehensive privacy options continue to exist and they all remain opt-in from the start.

[Edit: Thanks, again, to AlexanderTheBenelli  for showing me that Facebook does give the option to download your data, but it's a bulk download versus individualized in Google+

The real question now becomes, how cool would it be if Google+ could be used in conjunction with SecondLife? Unlike Facebook, I don’t think Google really cares if you are sharing your real identity in the services or publicly. You could have that information not visible publicly, and represent your Google+ account as your avatar.  Even better would be if Linden Lab got involved with the upcoming Google Games as a way to integrate SecondLife into Google+ (think Skylight, except for the Cloud Rendering part) where you could log into SL from Google+ and have an adventure with your Friends Circle in various places in SecondLife. Some food for thought there...

The future of social networks may be bright, indeed… but only time will tell if Google+ gets it right.


  1. facebook has been offering a "download all data" feature since October 2010 now - at the same time they introduced 'groups' to your friendlist where you can easily group people into different categories - very, very much like circles.
    Not to rain on anybody's parade here - I <3 google - but it's not all that revolutionary. In fact, it's very very very much like facebook - which is exactly what XKCD was poking fun at ;-)

    I really hope this project has a brighter future than Google Wave (which was technically impressive but too gimmicky) or Google Buzz (which was a badly executed bad idea), but it will be VERY hard to compete with facebook, especially in the area of real-life identities.

  2. @Alex

    Yes, after a bit more digging on Facebook I did eventually find the Download data option, though it's a bulk download it seems, whereas with G+ you can pick and choose what information you want to download. I wouldn't say that G+ is as much like Facebook as you would admit, mainly because G+ is tied to many more services unified, as well as Google Search itself. Considering Google is the search engine defacto for the Internet, I'd say that alone is a pretty revolutionary idea since it holds the power to change a lot more than a Facebook "Like" button would. Of course, I can also cite the Hangout option on G+ as pretty revolutionary since it's offering group video chat for free, and I'm not expecting Skype to offering something similar on Facebook anytime soon since it is directly conflicting with their video Group Chat Subscription model. I think, personally, G+ is what Facebook would have been had they not decided to flood their system and advertise in every conceivable manner. For that, Google is revolutionary for actually believing that people wouldn't want that crap thrown at them constantly. It's a cleaner, less cluttered, and more integrated social network, and I believe as time goes on, more will come to light as to what else will be added.