What Google+ Means For Skeptics

Google+Google+ was announced on Tuesday and opened to only a select few journalists and friends of Google employees. Last night for a short time they opened up invites to others and I was able to get in. I have been playing around with Google+ less than 24 hours and already I am starting to think about how it will affect, for better or worse, the way I do things and how this new tool can be used by skeptics. Here is an intro to Google+ and my thoughts.

First a disclaimer: I am an unapologetic Google fan-boy. I used to write for Androidandme.com, an Android specific site and I use Google services every day. I will admit though that Google does not have a good track record when it comes to social tools (Orkut, Buzz, Wave, etc). That said, Google has a lot at stake when it comes to Google+; Every employees bonuses this year are tied to the success (or failure) of Google+ and this is probably the last chance the public will give Google with trying to create a social network.

Google+  is essentially several tools that work together in a social suite. They are:

  • Profile
    Google+ Profile If you’ve used any Google service before you’ve always had a profile page but now it is the centerpiece of your Google+ identity.
  • Stream
    Google+ StreamMuch like your Facebook Wall or Twitter Feed. This is where the posts of people you follow show up in real time.
  • Circles
    Google+ CirclesYou sort your contacts in categories, or Circles. Google provides four default Circles: Friends (Google descripes it as “Your real friends…”), Family (“Your close and extended family…”), Acquaintances (“…people you’ve met but aren’t particularly close to”) and Following (“People you don’t know…”). You can also create your own Circles (I created a Sot.N and a Work circle).
  • Hangout
    Google+ HangoutThis is a very cool video chat service that allows up to ten people to video chat at the same time. You can do things together, such as watch a YouTube video, as a group and it is synchronized for all users in the same Hangout.
  • Instant Upload
    Google+ Instant UploadTake a photo with your phone, upload it, then post it to your social network… Google has condensed that down to one simple button. Take a photo with the mobile app and the photo is uploaded to Google+ and posted to your Stream.
  • Sparks
    Google+ SparksUsing Google’s web indexing power you type in what you are interested in and it gives you articles and stories about that topic. Designed to give you something to post to your Stream and start conversations.
  • Huddle
    Google+ HuddleGroup text messaging. Send a text message to several people at once. Currently only available on the Android app

If you would like to know more I suggest taking Google’s tour of The Google+ Project and for the truly geeky, like myself, there is Steven Levy’s in depth article from Wired.

I see Google+ being a very powerful tool for organizing and unifying skeptics from around the globe (lofty enough?). Picture this: A skeptical group meets monthly at the local pub (and the pub has WiFi). Reminders are posted on Google+. Once at the meetup members of the group start taking some photos using Instant Upload on the mobile app. Friends see the photos in their Stream and comment on how they wish they could have been there. Someone opens up their laptop and starts a Hangout, inviting ten people to a video chat with the group. Now your (maybe small) local skeptical group has become an international one. Using Hangouts it will be far easier to ask, organize and have guests speakers at events (anyone who has used Skype will appreciate the simplicity of Hangouts).

I look forward to the obvious next step in Hangouts: screen-sharing and whiteboarding. Being able to show whats on your computer’s desktop or diagramming something out for people would open up a world of teaching and discussion.

Your Stream seems more alive than on Twitter since it is updated in real time without the need to hit refresh. Conversations happen faster and more fluidly. You can also go back and edit your post if you mistype (a big plus over Twitter!). Photos show up inline so there is no need for a dizzying array of 3rd party photo sharing sites and there is photo tagging much like Facebook.

Only those in my Skeptics Circle will see what I’m about to post

And then there is… let’s call it the Mabus Factor. Privacy is a confusing mess on Facebook. Twitter makes it way too easy to create a new account allowing spammers to contact you constantly. On Google+ you only see those who you have chosen. When you post something you choose who gets to see it. You can choose anyone on the internet, anyone in your Circles, or any combination of Circles. In addition you can create a Circle called Blocked and anyone in that Circle won’t be able to see anything you post that isn’t public to the Internet.

It’s not all perfect though and Google has made it clear that Google+ is a work in progress. There are lists of bugs to be fixed and features to be added and refined. It is still well crafted, a pleasure to use and, dare I say, addictive.

How to get a Google+ invite from Skeptics On The .Net

Invites are closed now but they should open up again soon. If you would like an invite next time we are able to send them out follow these instructions:

  • Readers of Sot.N:
    Submit a skeptical blog or podcast not already on this site and in the email field use your Gmail address.
  • Skeptical Blogs Or Podcast Listed On Sot.N:
    You can DM us your Gmail address on Twitter (if your Twitter is listen on your entry then we are following you), or email us your Gmail address using the Contact Us form and in “Additional Information” include your “official” email address if different.
  • Skeptical Organizations Or Local Skeptical Groups:
    Submit your site and choose “Other” for the Media Type and use your Gmail address. In “Additional Information” include your “official” email address if different.

Once we get it all set up you can be sure we will be having a few Sot.N Hangouts on Google+