Ten Big Adds for Google + (Updated)

I have been seeing scores of posts with peoples’ opinions on what Google + needs to make it better and, for the most part, I find I disagree with them. But Martin Bryant’s post over at The Next Web  has the first list that actually notes improvements that make sense. To me, anyway. I really don’t care whether I can watch a TV program with my virtual friends on the + network.

From a lawyer’s perspective, Bryant’s suggestions would make the service a lot more business-friendly. His first, search, is a necessity. There is no way to search posts within Google +, which seems odd coming from a search giant. Why not? Wouldn’t it be great to search within Google + to find others discussing the same issues of interest to you, or sharing content you want to see? The second, improved sharing, is also needed – I struggle with sharing from the mobile applications. I am using + on both Android and iOS, and while the dedicated Android app is better, it still lacks the ability to reshare another post or get the full “link” sharing experience of the desktop. Since people seem to spend more time on their mobiles these days, improved sharing with a mobile bent would be most welcome.

Shared circles - like Groups in Friendfeed for those familiar with the concept – would be a great place for like-minded professionals to read, share AND comment on industry-related topics. And, of course, document collaboration is high on the list of most workers. Wave had it, why not +? Combine the document collaboration feature with the Hangout group video chat feature, and I think you would have a real business winner on your hands.

Instant translation and a log of your activity would also serve + well – I would like to be able to go back over the actions I have taken on + to track stuff that I liked or commented on and translation seems vital in our internationally connected world. While I am less concerned with connecting + with Twitter and Facebook, it might help initially to stave off the sense on + that it is completely unconnected to your family and friends (most of my tech friends are on + already).

It’s great that you can edit posts once you post them, but how about being able to save posts as drafts in order to prevent loss on system failures? This would make + a more effective “blogging” platform – a one-stop shop that could challenge Tumblr, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Integrating audio and maps into + would also be a, well, plus. But if you are going to get into some of the less business-worthy adds, I have one that Bryant doesn’t mention – how about getting Google Music incorporated into +? Two great services that would DEFINITELY taste great together.

Thanks Martin for the very nice list. Google, are you listening?

UPDATED: If you use Chrome (and you should) and need translation help right away, consider using the Helper for Google+ extension created by Misha M. Kupriyanov – you can get it at http://bit.ly/gplushelper . You’re welcome.

Google + = The Sum Of Its Parts

Well, that wasn’t long. O.k., in tech years, its like so 1965 to be two days after the first wave, but still. Definitely not as long as I had to wait for Wave. I have been playing around with Google + for a few hours now. And I am desperately hoping: (a) it catches on with the mainstream; (b) it maintains its clean, uncluttered look and feel; (c) it actually becomes a viable alternative to Facebook.

Reading the negative tech reviews will yield a bevy of criticisms for how + has been rolled out, the signup and invite process, the bugs with connecting this account or that account. But that is the stuff of beta / invite-burdened new apps. Once inside, it is a compelling mix indeed.

The social application is really a sum of many parts, some new, some old. Looking back over the past few months and the little upgrades Google has rolled out to Profiles, +1, and Gmail, you can really see the path to Google +. First, the new. Circles – a means of grouping friends, borrows public streams from Twitter, Friend Groups from Facebook, but adds something new – the ability to post only to the circle. This promotes privacy and more fine-grained sharing – you can freely share with friends circle that which you might not want to share with your family or work circles. The clever animations when you create and add to Circles and the ease of use of the system are nice tweaks. +1 to Google on its circle implementation.

Next, the stream. Think Facebook News Feed meets Friendfeed here. The stream is content created and shared by the people you follow (filtered by circles if you wish). The Friendfeed element comes from posts popping back to the top of the stream when new comments or +1′s are added to the post, as well as the ability to mute or hide a post in the stream. Some commenting edits can only be accomplished after the post is shared, which is tricky. But what do you expect from a beta?

Photos are integrated with Picasa. Tags can be applied by anyone, which isn’t great, but you have the ability to approve or reject a photo tag, which makes up for the privacy breach. The photo tab now includes both your own Picasa albums and photos shared by your friends on Google+.

Sparks assist you in starting a thread on a particular topic within a circle. Go to the Sparks tab and it gives you topics of general interest, which you can then follow. Sparks are private to you, unless of course you share them with your circle(s). I am following the Soccer spark.

Hangout is also new. It is a super-cool video chat that can pull in anyone in a particular circle. Great controls, plus the ability to watch YouTube videos as a group within the sub-app – very fun and, of course, social.

You going mobile? Well, your options are a native app on Android, or a very nicely executed web app on iOS. The mobile Google + incorporates a great group chat called Huddle, up to 50 people! That might get a bit unwieldy, but it could have worked well in the large conference / training session I ran today. ;)

How about the old? Well, your Google Profile, Picasa Web Albums as noted above, Google Chat and Gmail are all easily accessible and highly integrated with Google +. You can get notification of actions on posts and other information in Gmail, like Buzz. Or not. You can quickly shift to Google chat via a button in the left sidebar of Google +. Your home stream, pics, profile and circles are easily accessible from buttons right along the top and slightly to the left. And, like Android, notifications are obvious, but very unobtrusive – via a small red box in the brand new black bar at the top of Google’s various screens.

And the design is beautiful. Clean. Sparse. Gorgeous. Even Gmail is celebrating – check out the new Preview and Preview (Dense) themes in your Gmail settings and you can get a similar design applied to your Gmail. Clearly, Google has been thinking about this integration for a while now and has been carefully and slowly slipping out the pieces, letting us get familiar with small parts of the new system, before unrolling the meat of it.

One more thing: you can take it all with you. You can pull all the content you add into Google+ right back out of Google+. it’s yours after all, right? Not everyone thinks so. I’m looking at you, Facebook. Big plus for + on that one.

Is it perfect? Well, no. But few things are, especially when new. Facebook wasn’t. Twitter still isn’t. I think Google is further along the developmental curve than either of these were at inception, but Google also has the benefit of their errors in social, as well as their own. I think this is the most promising foray Google has made into social, a battleground that its new management deems to be vital. I wish them luck and longevity. And I wish for myself that more of my mainstream friends could get in and see what a great option the new Google+ really is for social sharing and integration. Big +1 ups, Google!

Wosju: Connection with Context

Looking for the next social level, the means to actually pull value out of those hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people you likely are following across your various social networks? Check out the very cool new Wosju - an algorithm-based service that shows you the way to get from here to there in your networking. Wosju aggregates data from your various social networks and services, analyzes that data via its proprietary algorithms and spits out a “qualitative output of your network” in the form of a slick dashboard with catchy, simple visuals.  From their “about” page:

It combines and visualizes all of your traceable relations across different social graphs, calculates the strength behind each relation based on a specific context and provides you with valuable information about your relations and your network.

Like Klout, Wosju assigns a “score” to your connection with someone else in your network, offering insight on how you may be able to strengthen that connection. The page dashboard includes lots of data, also like Klout. What is nice that each piece of data on the page gives you some background on how that information is calculated. See all of your mutual connections, the strength of those connections, the frequency of interaction, and the types of interactions.

The Wosju Score indicates the overall strength of your relationship and primarily is based on mutual interaction across various networks, as viewed through the algorithms’ analysis of context, form and frequency. Pretty space-age. Also like Klout, the score is dynamic and presumably will move up and down as relationship points change over time.

The information is valuable because you can use your best nearby connections to leverage a better connection with a remote contact  – someone with whom you may wish to conduct business. The Score can also serve as a filter, giving you a means to prioritize connections or refocus connection efforts.  A bit overwhelming, but so is the process of keeping tabs on your contacts, connections, and relations in this turbo-charged social networking world. Wosju’s tables are far easier to grasp than scanning through your various feeds to pull this information yourself.

You can sign up for their beta at the link above. I have signed up and am waiting to check it out. This is an exciting sign, an indication that developers are moving away from the focus of numbers involved in connection and towards the evolving quality of connection. Will this serve as a substitute for real life? Nope. But having an extra layer with a super-simple means of checking on the health of a particular connection certainly can’t hurt.

BranchOut Yields Facebook Fruit

Facebook is for friends and LinkedIn is for professional networking, right? WRONG! New service BranchOut (link here) offers means to leverage your Facebook friends on a professional level.

BranchOut is an application built on Facebook that makes it easy to locate professional information about your friends and, if they have installed the app, their friends too.

Install the app and search a company name. The results show which of your Facebook friends do work there or have worked there.

BranchOut currently is offering free job listings directly to your network for 30 days, but intends to open up job listings to everyone for $30 per month in the near future. With both professional networking connection information and job listings, this app is sounding a lot like LinkedIn, Facebook-style.

I haven’t yet tried the app, so I can’t really provide more detail than available in the Techcrunch article that broke news of the service (link here). But, if it works half as good as suggested, this sounds like a great new way to get those Facebook friend connections to bear a little fruit of the green variety.

On-Line Social Really IS Social!!!

NerdNewsflash: the Internet is NOT making you weird! According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, studies show that people who employ modern methods of communicating via the Web and mobile devices actually have larger and more diverse social networks. You can download a copy of the report of the study here. What are the numbers? From the press release:

“The new findings from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that, on average, the size of people’s discussion networks – those with whom people discuss important matters– is 12% larger amongst mobile phone users, 9% larger for those who share photos online, and 9% bigger for those who use instant messaging. The diversity of people’s core networks – their closest and most significant confidants – tends to be 25% larger for mobile phone users, 15% larger for basic internet users, and even larger for frequent internet users, those who use instant messaging, and those who share digital photos online.”

The study was directed, in part, at measuring a perceived increased level of social isolation experienced by heavy users of the internet and mobile devices, but found quite the opposite. While “discussion” networks in real life have been shrinking since the mid 1980′s, these networks have been growing for on-line users. There are a number of other semi-startling results that challenge popular opinion as well: on-line use does NOT equate with less involvement in the local community; intenet use is spread equally between long-distance and local communication; internet use actually encourages visits to public places, such as libraries, parks and coffee shops,  - many go to such places to engage on-line, and on-line discussion networks usually include a far wider representative sample of backgrounds and diversity than in real life groups.

In other words, the researchers conclude that your social life is enhanced, rather than hindered, by engagement in on-line communication and activity. Don’t hesitate to enter the on-line fray to expand your discussion groups and influence and increase your value to others.

You can breathe easy now. Internet use does NOT make you weird. But it may not be able to help you if you already are.

Hat tip to Resource Shelf.

Google Social Search – Making Sense of Your Connections

GoogleTo conclude my holy trinity trio of Google posts today, thought I would mention that Google, like the rest of us, is getting into the social with Google Social Search. Social Search will highlight content on a search topic culled from your on-line social network of friends and connections, thus yielding results that may have greater relevance to you than the entries on the average, generic results page.  Social search results will show on your results page under a heading identifying them as “results from people in your social circle …”  Google determines your social circle by reviewing the connections linked from your Google profile. Obviously, the content shown here must be searchable by Google, and information behind walled gardens or locked gates won’t show. Nonetheless, it certainly simplifies your effort to search public results from your network, obviating the need to run separate searches amongst Twitter and Facebook friends or across blogs. You spend time creating and building your network, why not target that network to secure even more trustworthy answers to your queries?

Social Search is an experiment at this time, available from Google Labs.