Inner Circle: Party of 1

Posted: June 29, 2011 in Tech Talk, XX

An expectation is a fickle beast. When expectations are high, you usually are on the surefire path to disappointment. When expectations are low, pleasant surprise is a definite possibility. And because expectations are based on previous experiences, they cause us to over-criticize some things and over-praise others. Let’s take the example of my brother and my piano careers. Though my brother is three years younger than I, we both started learning piano at the same time. So, at face value, our teacher should have expected the same thing out of both of us. But instead, because I was older, I was expected to practice more and learn faster. And worse, when we played the same exact piece the same exact way, my brother, was considered a music prodigy and I was considered average.

This evening I was invited to Google+. A few years ago, I would have been ecstatic (and I was for Voice then Wave then Buzz then Music). It was Google, and I expected a lot. But through those experiences, Google betas have taught me to manage my expectations. Once you’ve had your heart broken a couple times, you’re far more cautious. I gingerly, and with little to no expectations, accepted my invitation to Google+. Before you read on, please note that my exploration of + has been minimal, at best.

Though the name could use a little help and the design looks like a Facebook wireframe, suffice it to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t see myself throwing Facebook to the wind and party hopping from circle to circle any time soon, but I see some potential here and there.

Google+’s secret sauce is “Circles,” Google’s pretty obvious criticism of the (lack of) privacy offered by Facebook. A circle is essentially a group you can dump people into. So you might have a circle for your coworkers, one for your family, and one for your close girlfriends. Then you can decide which part of your profile (which pictures, which status updates, etc.) is visible to each circle. I’ve just been promised that I will be added to my friend’s “Epic Bros” circle, so my life is pretty much complete.

+ makes a big deal about the fact that the people in your circles can’t see what circle you put them in. This is cool, but nothing new. Facebook lists work the same exact way.

As with any social media platform, Google+ is only as good as the number of friends you have on it. Lucky for me, I have a pretty healthy Google contact base, so I have a lot to work with in terms of creating circles. Still, my Google contacts who have not yet joined + cannot interact with my + activity. That’s like one of your friends receiving an email every time you update your Facebook status, but not being empowered to Like or Comment on it.

Then there’s “Sparks.” You type in some of your interests, say psychology, technology, and Steves (Jobs and Carell to be specific), and + will populate the lists with content (reading material, pictures, videos) based on these interests. Whenever you have “free time” you can go in and explore the content. While I like the idea of this, it’s pretty poorly executed, IMHO. Google has a lot of information about me — from my Buzz (and by extension my tweets) to my blog to my Google Reader. The least + could have done is filled out some interests for me. (Quick digression: A couple weeks ago I started using the Zite iPad app. I typed in my Twitter handle and Google Reader ID and in about two seconds, Zite had created an entire magazine filled with content based on my interests and only my interests, ie psychology, writing, Mac, technology, and entrepreneurship to name a few.) I would expect this or better from a Google.

Finally “Hangouts.” This is where you can get yourself all prettied up and just spontaneously “hangout” with other friends via video chat. Talk, or watch YouTube videos together. After a long day, I’m feeling a little camera shy, so I guess I’ll have to go hangout with a circle who likes me for what’s on the inside.

It’s early, but I could see this playing into some larger Google social web experience customized and crafted just for you. I could also see a future where Google+ is just another way for people to view your Facebook activity, much like Google Buzz is for Twitter. Time will tell where this thing goes.

But for now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some hanging out to do.

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