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February 11, 2013

And While You Were Busy Tweeting

Foodie Shot on Google PlusBernie Goldbach in Cashel | Foodie shot from G+  

WHILE MANY OF US remain content with the nests we've made in our favourite online spaces, the Big Letter G quietly refashioned social networking. You might have missed this subtle evolution.

Google Plus has quietly evolved into something bigger than Twitter. But because most social media mavens cannot move their minions into this new space, G+ continues to be labeled as using overhyped metrics.  It might feel smaller and colder--just like Twitter might have felt in 2007. But things are very different inside Google Plus spaces once you look around.

You don't have to look any farther than the Google Plus apps. In my experience, using iOS 6.1 and Android ICS, they're levels above in sophistication and stability than the native apps built for Facebook and Twitter. You can get a pulse of trending items--real newsworthy trending items--by swiping through G+ and because the character count isn't truncated, you get more contextual information on screen at every juncture. Plus you get coherent threaded discussion at every node.

The Touchscreen App is a power tool.

The handheld app brings me more foodie shots than a week's worth of Instagrams. This is a big deal because all a Foodie has to do is fabricate an "Event" on a Google Calendar that corresponds to a dining session. Then any photographs snapped during the meal are automagically tagged with a pinpoint on a map that corresponds to the venue. The images go up to Picasa Web Services automatically. All the foodie (or a vintner or an event manager or a world-class presenter) has to do is release the images to public mode and perhaps add a suitable caption.  Uploads in the background make networked promotions and information sharing much easier than anything before. Plus--and a big plus--the geotagged images receive immediate Google Juice.

G+ collaborative features encourage frictionless project management.

I discarded BaseCamp for a private Google Plus Community this semester. I taught third level students how to fold classmates into a "College" Circle and then to send messages to collaborators if the private (and really private) Circle did not get results. Now nearly 100 students participate in this process, culminating in a major creative multimedia exhibition in April.

I joined several professional Google Plus Communities this month. I'm following three podcasts, space exploration (the largest Google Plus Community), education, audio engineering, and dozens of people sharing ideas about marketing in Ireland. I suspect that Google will start recommending a list of specific Communities to people based upon their declared interests, clickstreams, or email correspondence. This kind of initiative will threaten well-established discussion boards, mailing lists and online forums if users are encouraged to sign up for Google Plus Communities.

From what I can tell, Communities in Google Plus have sparked the interest of an older user demographic because I'm getting a dozen new connections every day. These are not fake followers (if you ignore the attractive blonde Russians that appear as avatars several times a week) like on Twitter. With Google Plus, I can mute, block and report unwelcome people. That's been done to me already but I'm still active and contributing after 20 months. And by the end of my second year on Google Plus, I will have double the followers I gained during six years on Twitter.

Google Hangouts are like Skype.

I receive two or three phone calls via Google Hangouts every week, often while walking down Irish paths. I toggle off the video so the voice connection keeps all the over-the-air bandwidth. People making the calls often think I'm at my desk until they hear the outside ambient sound. Oftentimes I toggle the video on to share a view of the Irish landscape. This has surprised some people who are five to eight time zones away when they realise I'm in a cow pasture or walking in a cemetery. These aren't tech entrepreneurs on the other side of the call. They're educators, stay-at-home parents, or distant cousins just catching up between Christmas cards. Many of them have Skype but most of them have Gmail and are just a nudge away from establishing themselves on Google Plus.

If someone feels comfortable sharing a Google Document, they're often just as comfortable connecting via a quick Google Hangout to clarify a paragraph in a final presentation. You can initiate a Hangout from inside Gmail. I believe this kind of routine will be part of a normal office by 2015 so I'm teaching third level students how to work with Hangouts, Google Docs and Google Drive. All these components mesh together with Google Plus as part of a comfortable user experience.

Google Plus is truly local.

Google Plus local business listings already integrate Zagat ratings, Street View, and Google Plus user ratings. Every photo I take of a check-in that I make with my Google Plus app uploads with a pinpoint, just like the photo in this blog post. All around my home and work, dozens of small businesses have already put themselves on Google Local and Google Maps. Our campus outreach programme is helping those who haven't created pinpoints to realise what they're missing. We offer free practical training sessions on our Clonmel campus with most of the practical delivered through a Hangout so proprietors know how to contact the trainers after the half-day sessions are complete. Some of those business owners want details on producing indoor maps of their premises as part of their listings. Some of our photography graduates are learning how to produce these images.

This is not rocket science. It's Google Plus.

It is remarkable watching friends you've annotated on Google Plus pop up in search results when looking for a place, a product or a service. Unless you toggle off that feature, you get opinions of friends near the top of the search engine queries.

You can talk from G+ to Twitter and Facebook.

Shortly before Christmas 2012, I started tweeting from inside Google Plus while simultaneously cutting my time on Twitter in half. I use Manage Filter for the process of sending from G+ and I suspect most readers have no idea they're reading one of the 140 character items I typed in my Google Plus account. I listen to replies from Twitter by using my iOS Notification panel but I spend most of my day inside Google Plus on the app in my pocket. That's because I get more value from saved search terms I'm monitoring there and because I have more than 6000 G+ followers who I've placed into specific thematic Circles. I get exceptional business intelligence from this process. And a big benefit is that marketers cannot send stuff into Google Plus via IFTTT or any other sort of auto-Tweeting mechanism. I know I'm getting a flow of information close to a curator or close to a source. The information feels more credible, less spammy and often fresher because of live Hangouts on scene of breaking news.

Looking at this through Google Glass.

Google Glass will overlay part of the G+ experience directly into your field of vision via augmented reality head-mounted display. The first edition of the glasses will appear on streets with developers before the next iPhone is released. And consumer models may appear in the channel by late 2013.

The glasses work. They display information like any smartphone except you can see the information displayed where you're looking after you speak natural language voice commands. If you can run facial recognition with Google Glasses, you might see names, birthdays and nicknames displayed next to the face you're seeing through the lens of the glasses. It would be very straightforward to pipe specific statistics from self-nominated Google Plus profiles.

Google Glasses already record images and the second version of Google Glass will probably upload via live streaming if desired. This sounds like science fiction to many of my friends but the Project Glass team is already producing this kind of work.

Afflicted by social networking fatigue?

A lot of my friends don't want to learn their way around yet another social network so they're going to stay put with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other watering holes. That's fine but every once and a while you need to ask yourself if you're getting the most out of the place you're in. And if you already use Gmail, you're actually a half a step away from a place that will deliver more than most people ever expected of Google's social network.

You can find me at http://www.google.com/profiles/bgoldbach

Dave Llorens -- "The Future of Google Plus and its Path to Social Media Domination" on Fast Company, February 11, 2013.

 Bernie Goldbach lectures at the Limerick Institute of Technology where Google Plus features in the social media module taught inside the creative multimedia degree programme.



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