Google + at thupr

Blog by Claire Thompson, freelance PR consultant, Waves PR

So Friday saw the thupr event on Google + and whilst it was small it was great. It was an opportunity for co-discovery, a chance for people at the coal face to really sit and talk about what it is and what it means. This was everything I had hoped thupr would be when it was first set up a good 18 months ago now.

Here was a group of people from very different communications backgrounds looking at a new tool and relating it to their own working lives.

This is my take on what we looked at from my perspective working within PR/social media. I hope others will share their own perspectives.

 

Google + on screen

Google + at thupr event

 

Circles

Google Circles

 

In so many ways, Google + Circles is something I’ve been waiting for.  With young children, I’ve always tried to keep information about them, and my life with them, pretty much separate from my working life.

I love the idea that school mum friends don’t need to see the stuff that my ‘green drinks’ friends might enjoy.

The trade off, of course, is that we know people less well as a whole, but that has been happening anyway. (I am not alone in having more than one Twitter account for different purposes, for example: @claireatwaves is general stuff relating to me being a PR person and my friends and interesting colleagues there; @waterwytche is for anyone who’s interested in my ‘Liveaboard’ adventure).

 

Google + Stream

What’s to say? It looks like a Facebook stream.

 

Google + Sparks

Spark’s at the moment seems underdeveloped. (Google + is in beta.)

The idea is that is serves up, proactively, things you may be looking for. This, I think, is the space to watch.

Google does search. That’s its roots. It’s been playing with predictions for a while in search results. It’s been taking my personal preferences into account for a long time. This has been great on my laptop, which is rarely used for search, pants on the family laptop where my preferences generally reflect the search preferences of the small boys in our household – and the large one, come to that –  for anything that involves body parts, fast cars, furry animals or bodily emissions. Combinations of the above preferred. I digress.

By machine, it’s predictions will often be out. But by Circle? That’s a different story. I have explicitly told Google what I’m interested in by declaring a social circle. So whilst Klout had identified me as influential for ‘Fraud’ (go figure, long conversation about online fraud?) Circle shouldn’t make the same mistake.

The lack of any real power behind Sparks at the moment implies to me that Google needs other things in place before this becomes the power house that it has the potential to be.

 

 

Huddle

We had difficulty even finding Huddle. It’s not obvious where it is.

From the outside it looks almost like a small scale Twitter, or IM, or Facebook messaging , or…. Who knows. I think this one’s a ‘watch this space’ for the moment. It will probably come into it’s own once lots of people are already ‘in’.

We discussed the rumour that Huddle is considering suing Google for, well, Huddle. It’s their name. Hope they have deep pockets.

We know that the relationship with Twitter has changed. But we have a chicken and egg situation.  You don’t launch something like Google + overnight, so the Twitter data deal must have been done knowing that the product would launch. You can’t help wondering if Google’s used them up and spat them out. Twitter’s been very congested for a long time, and as platform is used a lot for broadcast, not engagement.  Perhaps this is a Google slow burner, waiting to be discovered as the new Twitter. I have words ringing in my ears from Digital Surrey: “We don’t need to buy a social network”.  At the time the implication was that they could go in and get any public data anyway. Now it’s fairly obvious that this was ‘because we’re building our own!’

Mobile

Google is bound to favour Android. But the people it wants to propel Google + are somewhat likely to be in the Apple camp.

This is where the whole corporate war thing gets interesting and we have a multi-coloured, multi-faceted  three way war.

Apple has change the mobile space with its app store. Google and Apple have been umm-ing and ah-ing over each other’s ‘stuff’ for ages. Why Google would want its Google + app on the store now, when people can’t get on, is a mystery to me. I’m sure I’ll now be flamed with explanations. Maybe those with iphones are guaranteed access. Who knows? I don’t have an iphone (Shock horror, it’s true!)

But then there’s Microsoft in the third corner. With Bing. I wouldn’t write them off just yet.

Legacy technologies

Not everything Google touches goes a long way. But then Buzz, however pointless looking except to gather your own profile, is still there.  I am alone, I fear, in having liked Google Wave. For Google, although these products ‘failed’(Has Buzz failed?  I don’t think so, but others do.)  the huge value they must have returned in terms of giving information on people’s behaviour patterns and needs was enormous.

The interruption factor of ‘Buzz’ (I have to proactively post stuff there) is removed in this new era of Googling. All I have to do is +1 to express my satisfaction and share a find. Google just made it easy (although a pale grey message on my search results suggesting I gave everything a +1 is disconcerting).

So what of Picassa? It’s not being retired except as a brand – it’s being incorporated. Picassa, we noted, is terrifying in its ability to suck content. If it becomes a standard part of Google + it could, I feel, be a deal breaker. Example? On my computer  I have pictures of my children, confidential work stuff and stuff from events and parties, not all of which I would want to share with everybody. My current habits would be to put the stuff into Flickr (if Flickr would let me back in – Yahoo! Fail) that I’m happy to be seen by the world at large (mainly public events, none of the children) I selectively share photos of the children’s events with a smaller group. Google + currently *seems* to allow no distinction. I don’t think I’d want my images there without some kinds of guarantees and protections. And if Picassa hoovers my desktop and expects me  to exclude stuff I don’t want included I will probably set up a separate machine to be in Google + for purely professional reasons, and play elsewhere with the ‘real’ stuff.

And Blogger. So here goes. Blogger can very easily become a blog inside Google +. I have some long since forgotten blogs that will suddenly re-emerge. No problem there.

But stop and think about this for a moment. Companies want to engage.  With people on Google + (if it gets big enough). Why on Earth would I then want to go to WordPress or anyone else for my blog? If Google + takes off, I’d be watching my tail if I were a blogging platform. Or seeking alliances and reassurances!

Privacy

It’s the word of the moment, but we couldn’t really discuss a new social platform without discussing privacy. We, in many ways, are the last generation to be struggling with the ‘sea change’ – there’s a generation up and coming who will have a completely new media literacy, understanding it’s pervasive nature and that they live in public to a greater or lesser degree.

Google + is massive. If this really gets up and running, and the mass market joins in, Google knows more about us than we do about ourselves, because Google knows not only what we say about ourselves and to others, but what others say about us.

Google already has several projects allowing people to unlock data about ourselves. I would love to see the current, somewhat limited, profile feature extended so that you can own – or disown – things that have been written. With a name like Google, Google may not have this issue, but with a name like Claire Thompson, there are a lot of us around!

For me Google + presents an interesting dilemma. It allows me to limit who sees what about which aspects of my life. It gives me control. I can just have one massive ‘circle’ (a la Facebook), or I can have very fine tuned and carefully managed ones. I suspect for most people it will be friends, family, work. I could be wrong.  The vital point, really is that whilst my ‘friends’ won’t see ‘family’ data, Google can. If I had money to burn, I’d be investing in identity theft insurance companies.

Measurement

If everyone piles into Google +, suddenly Google has far better ways of identifying genuine influence and interest than any ‘discovery tool’ or noise monitor.

If I have a circle of my ‘kayaking friends’, for example, brands wanting to join this conversation might include sports drinks, equipment, adventure  holidays, festivals and meets….

There may be only two dozen people in my ‘circle’ but how much more closely targeted do you want? Any advertising fed to me ceases to be spam and starts to be relevant. More relevant perhaps than Facebook advertising, which still targets me on the basis of my age, gender  and words that I may have used.

I may not be a Kayaking guru, but my circle is stuffed full of people that the kayak sellers want to target. In real terms, I become an influencer in the most genuine sense of the word. Not numbers. Not noise. Genuine connections with a genuine shared interest. That’s powerful!

The people who need to keep a firm eye on this are the monitoring and measurement tools.  And advertisers.

Next prediction then –  people learning to game this, and Google in a never ending fight to identify gaming. SEO starts to look different!

Google + and business

Google wants businesses on Google +. But on it’s own terms.  Early entrants have been asked to get on out, apart from some specially selected by Google, apparently including Ford (but don’t quote me on that).

Businesses are being invited to apply for accounts via the ‘Google + Entity Profile Application’. – a Google doc, of course. No guarantee of acceptance. And test profiles will be deleted when  the business product is launched.

I’m not even going to try and second guess what that product will look like. But it will be powerful.

My initial take is that Google + will allow more refined communications with set groups of people who let you in with their permission.  Engagement becomes less about quantity than about quality (something close to my own heart). Engagement may, however, also be hard – there seem to be limits to what you can respond to in a feed.

Will you put your advertising dollars here? Probably, because even though it’s not clear how Google plans to monetise, there are a million and one potential channels from paid search through to banners, from sponsored group engagements through to sponsored Sparks.

Overall impression:

Google + is HUGE, and has potential to be an absolute game changer if Google can get it up and off the ground and into the mass market.  There’s obviously a lot going on behind the scenes.

Google’s treading a thin line between building up anticipation by not allowing people in and thoroughly cheesing people off. Right now, I don’t feel much ‘Google Love’ because I had to borrow someone else’s account to take a look. If I didn’t have to stick with it, I’d probably stick with Facebook until my friends left.  When gmail was launched, people invited others 10 at a time. Surely Google could have coped with this, allowing 10 invites at a time and then closing off access until it could cope? Having invites but not being able to get in is unpleasant.

I for one have noted my search results going crazy over the past week or so. Take for example thupr. The meetups site and my own write ups used to come up first. This week a very old wiki came up tops (which was fine – I updated the wiki.  No complaints, just noted a change.

Summary

Google + is not hugely dissimilar to Facebook, but done in a very different way.  Facebook could upgrade to it, and moving Facebook’s users off and into a new platform may be hard for Google.  But Facebook is tiny compared with Google, which can afford to be patient. It also has poor search and discovery functions. Finding communities will be easier within Google +.

Why is the most followed person on Google + Mark Zuckerberg? Probably because the media types who are on there are watching to see what he says about it!

Google +, in many ways, allows us to get back to open communities. I liked it. Now can you let me in please, Google?

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  1. Be Careful What You Wish For.... | Waves PR, freelance PR consultant, UK — July 14, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

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