… and then along came Google+

I was challenged by friends recently to explain why the new social media tool from Google – Google+ – was such a good thing, and why I was raving about it so much [you can look at these two posts on my “Thought grazing …” site for evidence of my raving – first post and second post]. Google+ is not perfect … but it’s heading in the right direction and in this post, I’ll pick-up on what I posted earlier today “Blogging for family and friends – before Google+” and hope to explain why I feel it’s looking as if it could meet the use case I defined even better than I suggested Posterous already did.

So the use case is this. You want to have an online space where you share photos, or videos, where you plan projects or where you discuss issues, or just share ideas (and “stuff” in general) in a private and controlled way. Of course you might also wish to share stuff more widely, to the world, or just to groups of people who you feel might be interested in the material. Simple eh!

Well after a couple of false starts Google looks to have produced a tool that meets the use case I want. Currently it allows links to YouTube and Picasweb media (both Google tools), and links to other web pages which you can then comment upon and share with people who are in Circles that you have defined. These posts then appear in your Stream which you can tailor so that you can decide which posts from which Circles you see.

It makes sense to have a strategy for how you populate Circles with your Contacts, four are pre-defined for you – family, friends, following and acquaintances – and most people initially setup other socially related circles – college friends, extended family, a circle of trust (of course), but then begin to realise that often Circles can also be used for a purpose, or an interest – photography, walking, reunion. Here is where the strength of the Circle becomes evident because your Contacts then start appearing in more than one Circle, and you post according to the interest rather than to people.

At this point it’s worth noting that the Desktop version of Google+ (especially when run through the Chrome browser) is far more feature rich than the Mobile (Android or iPhone) and that the iPad version is currently a bit of a disappointment. All the comments below relate to using the Desktop version although quite a lot of them can be done from a phone or a tablet.

So having populated your Family or Friends Circle how do you go about sharing some pictures or a video. You can do this by uploading them to YouTube or Picasaweb from your “Share what’s new …” pane. An upload is by default private and is only visible to the Circle(s) you share it with. [NB You should switch off the ability to re-share a post to ensure your original privacy intentions are maintained.] The same is true of a link (a URL) which you wish to share – one way of getting chain “funnies” out of your email inbox!

But that’s not all, you can create some Sparks – say “Top Gear” – and every time you click-on that item you will get the most recent set of information on that topic. Then there are Hangouts where you can do a video-call with up to 10 people at the same time, or Huddles where you can do group chats – multi-point chatting, and then there are Games including it would appear – Angry Birds.

An easy to follow beginners guide (in pictures) to Google+ is available here, another one (in text) is available here. Perhaps the most complete resource on using Google+ is available here.

I never realised how difficult it is to transmit in words your enthusiasm for something. No doubt this blog post fails on a number of scores. I’ve posted on numerous occasions on Google+ why I was so enthusiastic  – a few of them are inserted below.

On Auguest 11th, I wrote …

“OK, I’ve decided that I should give some leadership to getting take-up by the family (to be then followed by friends) on Google+ by sharing some photos through Google+, rather than uploading them into Picasaweb and then sharing them from there. They are still accessible there, it’s just that a) the quality of the images uploaded this way is better, b) the amount of photos that can be stored is unlimited (when uploaded through Google+) and c) that it encourages comments to be added to the images. The pictures become more “social” therefore, in other words I get some feedback on the photos themselves, which I would welcome!

To all of you who have had invitations from me, please consider now signing-up, and creating a Google Account. You don’t need to use Gmail, but it is a much better email system than any of the others, particularly when you pair it with using Chrome as your browser.

Google+ is still on a pilot beta release but after one month of use I can confidently say it’s stable and not causing me any problems, although it’s a shame that the iPhone/iPad application hasn’t been released yet. That however need not concern those of you with these devices because IT DOES work on the iPhone/iPad – I’ve been using it. If you’ve an Android phone (eg Gail) then there’s an app available now, so it will be a much better experience at the moment for you. Look for the Google+ app in the Android App Store (or whatever it’s called).

[UPDATE: The iPhone seems now to have an App, just the iPad to go, but I’ve downloaded it on to my iPad to see how it looks. FURTHER UPDATE: The iPhone app is now working on the iPad.]

So please give it a go, if you need some help/assistance please drop me a line – I’ve got the time 🙂

If you haven’t had an invitation, or would like me to re-send the invitation I sent earlier, please let me know, either by emailing me or by adding a Comment to this post.”

On August 4th, I wrote …

“Is Google+ at mini-stall point?

One problem of letting the geeks loose first is that they do the stress-testing then get impatient when their requests for changes, added features are not implemented immediately. Have faith fellow geeks/nerds, this is still so much better than Facebook – it has a decent mail/chat/video system linked to it; the photo albums are integrated yet can stand alone too; there are some awesome new features connected with group video-chat and shared YouTube “sessions”; circles are just so much better than Fb groups and there’s all that integration with the other Google apps yet to come.

The other problem is that non-Geeks can’t see the added-value. That’s wh the email from a circle to a non-G+ user Is such a winner, and such a clever way to extend the community of users to non-traditional social media users. So post the holiday snaps to a circle and relies can add their comments after they’ve received a link in their inbox. They then think of getting their own Google account …. and so it grows! Brilliant!”

On August 3rd, I wrote …

“Forgive me for stating the obvious in a post, but the little pull-down arrow tab in both posts and comments is really neat! It was first brought to my attention by +Mike Ellis when I was having a duh! moment a couple of weeks back, but I didn’t think too much about it until this morning when I was able to go and delete a comment from a post that was just plain dumb (having been meant to be the comment that accompanied a share – the problems of the m.googleplus i/f on the iPad), and just now when I thought I’d look at how to disable re-shares of a post. It’s so easy, just pull down the menu in the post and click; look – you can also disable comments too!

Why would I want to disable a re-share, or disable comments? Well apart from the obvious privacy issue for certain posts, there’s also the thing that +Anne Marie Cunningham tackled me on which was the break between the original post, and it’s comments, and the comments that were made on the original post. By disabling comments it prevents inadvertent commenting “in the wrong place”.

Now, like probably 1mill (at least) of the G+ users I’m about to setup my “Circle of Trust” – can’t imagine why I hadn’t thought of that one before. In fact, I’m surprised that Google didn’t think about it. Of course I’ll disable re-sharing when I post to that Circle, because do I really trust them?”

Google+ is still not openly available – you need an invite, but I’ve got more than enough to offer to family and friends!