Sunday, July 3, 2011

Google+ Early Impressions - Lots to Like - A Few Things to Tweak.

July 4th long weekend with a long list of to dos and fabulous sports on tap (Wimbledon, Womens' Soccer and India-WI test match) dissolved into a Google+ tire kicking session.  It all started when I woke up Saturday AM with an invitation from Pauline Sweetman via Anne Marie Cunningham.

The past 1 and 1/2 days I have been trying to understand the new Social side of Google keeping the education perspectives in mind.  A lot has been written about Google+ already.  So lets take a look at some of the key features of Google+ and what they are missing.

  1. The Stream - this is a very Facebook like UI.  The best part of this the ability to filter this stream by specific users.  You do this by creating circles of users and this list is visible on the left side of the page.  The other nice feature is that posts can be quite long allowing for a true conversation like experience.  The comments are not threaded so you cannot reply to a specific persons comment.  The last comment appears at the bottom of the conversation.  The conversation is protected from external viewers - it shows up only on the stream of people in the circle selected by the original poster.  There are several nuances and exceptions to this but as long as the folks in the circle adhere to certain rules, this conversation will be "private".  You can disable re-sharing of the posts but at the time of this writing, Google+ allows you to grab a link to a post and pasting this in a browser allows one to view the post even without logging into Google+!. Will this level of privacy be sufficient to overcome educators' and parents' resistance to getting school kids on Google+?
  2. Circles - Uniquely Google+ designed visual approach to organizing your contacts.  As long as the folks in the circle don't break the trust, the content of the conversations, photos etc will stay in the circle.  I think this set the bar very high for adopting Google+ to share any kind of sensitive information in a circle.  This is still much better than FB but users will probably leave all their sensitive information shareable only with immediate family or very close friends.  
  3. Hangout - This is probably the biggest home run of Google+.  The ability to do up to 10 user video conference at the drop of a hat is awesome.  You can "hangout" with your circle and any circle member who is around can drop in for a chat.  The other evening I joined Anne Marie's hangout session and we had the most interesting and educational conversation for over 90 min.  I know because Hangout asks you at 90 minutes if you are still there!  You can imagine using this with students and other learners.  Since Hangouts are not stored, the privacy is even better protected.  You can see a webcam feed of every one in the session.  The only part missing is a white board sharing feature which will be coming soon I guess (hope).
  4. Sparks - Users can select or create a feed of regularly updated data in their area of interest.  As they read this, they can share with their Google+ Stream.  Unfortunately it does not support Google Reader and it does not support RSS feeds.  I hope this gets fixed quickly.  Most users will want to decide what goes into their feeds rather than let Google+ decide this in the background.  I like to go through my stream of information from Journals, Blogs etc on Google Reader.  I like to tag, share with notes, and send to Facebook or Twitter.  Right now there is no way to do this with Google+.  The shared articles show up on Buzz but that is buried 3 clicks down from the Google Stream.  
Conclusions:  So there you are.  There are many good things about Google+.  Google has hundreds of millions of people who use its products on a daily basis.  It has had the opportunity to study other social networking apps and seen what the deficits are.  It has so many different apps like the Google Calendar, Google Groups, Google Reader and Blogger that are hugely successful.  Google must have a strategy of pulling these together seamlessly into Google+.  If not it will be a case of unfulfilled potential.  

A lot of information here may become irrelevant very quickly as Google+ gets feedback and makes changes based on its limited roll out and beta testing.  I hope it does.