I’m Becoming an Anachronism (according to Google)

A sad farewell to iGoogle – RIP.

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Another one bites the dust (to the tune of song by Freddie Mercury, of course). I’m beginning to wonder if the way I use social media is becoming anachronistic, i.e. I seem to be out of step with what I assume must be the majority of users who have found no use for Google Reader, Google Sidewiki, Google Notebook, Google Labs, Google Answers, and now the latest to be consigned to the Google Graveyard – iGoogle.

Yes, I’ve used them all, and in some cases (Reader and iGoogle) have devoted considerable time in personalising the interface, carefully selecting the content sources and widgets that would enable me to quickly tap into the topics and conversations that I’ve chosen to follow.

So I assume the rest of the social-media-verse operate in an entirely different way to myself. Presumably relying on serendipity to find the useful nuggets amongst the cacophony of noise on the InterWeb. How quaint. Seems like I’d better haul myself into the 21st century and hope that the “thirty-things-you-wished-you’d-known-at-school” from Buzzfeed or the “top-10-people-who-have-nothing-interesting-to-say-but-you-ought-to-follow” from Mashable just happen to be the things I should be looking at. Don’t you just love evolution?!

As a reminder – here’s what we (correction “me”) will remember with affection:

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Google+ 101 Guide

Google+ logo

Here’s a useful introduction to Google+ for anyone still uncertain about giving it a try, or for anyone who has signed-up and is struggling to make sense of the various features and facilities. Best to show the slides in full screen mode. Also to note, the reference to “Huddle” refers to the G+ app on your smartphone. This isn’t made very clear on the slides.


Google+ 101 Guide

View more presentations from Supernova Studios

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Google+ answers the Facebook challenge

Googleplus

Google has announced details of it’s latest foray into social networking with Google+. The core components appear to consist of :

  • Circles (equivalent to groups) – where information can be shared privately. With Circles you can put your friends from Saturday night in one circle, your parents in another and your boss in a circle all on his own!
  • Hangouts – lets friends know that you’re free for a video chat or impromptu virtual meet-up.
  • Sparks – a sort of activity stream subscription feature, It looks for videos and articles that it thinks you’ll like, based on what your interests.

There’s also a Google+ mobile app available in the Android Market, which will no doubt soon come to Apple’s App Store.

It seems that Google have put a lot of thought into making all of this hang together in a seamless and natural way, and this is clearly laying the foundations for Google’s future presence in the social web. It will certainly make Facebook sit up and take notice, but I’m not sure whether it will pull many users away from Facebook. However, I do believe there is room for more than one social media behemoth in the market, and for the significant many who dislike Facebook or find it overly complex, Google+ offers a compelling alternative.

Google+ is currently in an invitation- only “Field Trial” period, so only a select few can access the service at this time. Google+ will be going live to the general public soon, the company says.

More details of the release are contained in the following article, sourced from Digital Trends:

Google turned the world of social media on its head today with the much-anticipated unveiling of the “top-secret” Google+ project, a massive new type of service that essentially turns all of Google into one giant social network.

While Facebook, with its 700 million users, is a vast social network, made for connecting with as many people as you can get to accept a friend request, Google+  aims to redefine the way people connect online by letting users create a variety of smaller groups, called “Circles,” which allows people to share information and content with only the friends or colleagues they choose.

gplus_circle editor

“We believe online sharing is broken. And even awkward,” said Google’s President of Social Vic Gandora in an interview with TechCrunch. “We think connecting with other people is a basic human need. We do it all the time in real life, but our online tools are rigid. They force us into buckets — or into being completely public.” By comparison, he says, “[r]eal life sharing is nuanced and rich.” With Google+, Google has tried to adapt the richness of real life interactions into an online software.

gplus_stream

Like Facebook’s News Feed, Google+ gives users a dashboard with a flow of updates from their friends. Shared content, comments, photos etc are divided into “Streams,” one for each Circle of friends. Users can customize their security settings to allow some contacts to view personal information while hiding it from others.

Google+ can also be controlled through a newly redesigned navigation bar, which will appear at the top of the page of any Google product. Through this, Google+ users can access their profile, check notifications, and instantly share content to their various Circles.

gplus_sparks

Google has also built in a friend-finding feature called “Sparks,” which acts as a kind of search engine for hobbies. So if, say, you’re interested in single malt Scotch whisky, simply enter in “single malt Scotch” into the Sparks search bar, and Google will deliver content it thinks you might enjoy. (Google’s recently-launched +1 Button plays a role in what makes it to the top of these lists.) Find something you like, and simply click on it to add it to your list of interests. You can also connect with fellow enthusiasts in the “featured interests” area, and see what they are chatting about.

Next on the staggering list of Google+ features is what Google calls “Hangouts,” which is a group video chat feature. A Google+ user can simply launch a new Hangout session. Friends are alerted, and are free to join in. Up to 10 users can be in a single Hangout at a time. Any more, and they’re placed on the waiting list.

The final major feature to Google+ is its mobile functionality. The Google+ mobile app is currently available in the Android Market, and will soon come to Apple’s App Store. The Google+ mobile features include “Huddle” for group messaging, as well as an auto-upload feature that automatically adds any photo or video taken on your smartphone through Google+ to a private folder in the cloud. These files are then accessible the next time you log on to Google+ on a computer, and can be shared for up to eight hours after upload.

Google is currently in an invite-only “Field Trial” period, so only a select lucky few can access the service at this time. Google+ will be going live to the general public soon, the company says.

From what we’ve seen so far, Google+ seems like a giant leap in the right direction for Google — and far more robust than Buzz or Orkut. Obviously, there’s a lot here to sort through, so check back soon for more on Google+


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Creating a feed for websites that do not have RSS

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I’m not sure if anyone else has shared my frustration at having come across a really useful or interesting website and then discovered there is no RSS facility to subscribe to subsequent updates. Clearly the author/owner of the website believes that their readers will bookmark the site and keep popping back to see if there are any changes.  Not very realistic when there are several billion websites out there.

There’s also the perennial issue of the (mainly public sector) websites that fail to support RSS, with an antiquated content management system (CMS) often cited as the problem.  Mash the state clearly had some good intentions in embarrassing local councils into providing an RSS feed on their website, but with only 32% of councils with this facility at the last count – well short of their target of getting all council websites to support RSS – they may well have given up on this crusade (indeed the website hasn’t been updated since 2009)

Anyway, there is a solution (sort of) which I had completely forgotten about until recently when I was reconfiguring some feeds in my Google Reader. This lets you create a web feed for websites that do not have an RSS facility. It’s a bit coarse in that you can only monitor changes to a whole webpage (rather than – say – just monitoring news updates), but better than nothing.

To make a custom Google Reader feed, all you need to do is cut and paste the URL (the web address) of the page you want to monitor into the box you get when you click on the ‘Add a subscription’ button at the top left of the Google Reader page.

I’ve shown below the screen shots for the feed I’ve juts created for my local council Uttlesford  – not, I might add because I think they’ve got anything interesting to say, but you never know, they might read this and respond by providing a real RSS feed on their website. I can live in hope!

google reader create feed 1

google reader create feed 2

If anyone is not aware of if an RSS feed is available, look out for this commonly used icon:rss logo

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Google discontinues many services

I’m saddened to read that Google is discontinuing development of Google Notebook, something I’ve used extensively since it was launched. It seems that this is part of a general rationalisation exercise being conducted as part of the need to cut costs. Other Google services and applications being culled include  Google Catalogs, Dodgeball (a mobile social network aquired by Google) and Mapshup Editor.  Jaiku, the micro-blogging service acquired by Google will migrate to the Google App Engine and will no longer be actively developed.

I guess that none of this should come as any surprise since in these austere times most organisations are looking closely at the business models (or lack of them) which underpin their products and services. However, even loss-making services can serve a purpose if they are drawing users into other more profitable areas of an organisation’s business. I remember when I worked for Reuters that News was a loss making service but was packaged in such a way that revenue could be generated from the products it was packaged with, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. I can only hope that Google has thought this through and has assessed the impact that withdrawing these services will have on bringing users into the more profitable parts of their business, and their general desire to build interconnected social networks.

There is a lesson here for all of us who use freely available products and applications to support their digital lifestyle. For me, transferring all of my accumulated notebook content and tags to an alternative service will be a necessary and unwelcome activity over the coming weeks/months. It leads me to question whether I should have relied as much as I have done on Google’s applications to organise my various digital assets. Perhaps it is better to be in control of your own web server to organise and manage bookmarks, tags, and other digital resources. At least that way all I would have to worry about is keeping it all backed up. I’ll be doing some serious thinking about this in the near future, I suggest you do too!

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Enterprise 2.0 – Innovation through Aquisition

Great spot by Mike Gotta over at Collaborative Thinking. He picks up on an article in CIO magazine by CG Lynch, “Web 2.0, Social Networks in ’09: The Year of Consolidation, Not Innovation“, originally spotted by the The Connections Blog. This quote puts it all into perspective quite nicely:

IBM, for its part, has more aggressively shown willingness to move forward with Lotus Connections, which right now has a better design than the social software features in SharePoint, which is largely still a document management system.

I think most people would agree with that – well at least those that are struggling to implement Sharepoint as a social software solution.

The CIO article goes on to say:

But both companies are further removed from innovation than the enterprise 2.0 vendors. While enterprise 2.0 vendors mimic what they see in the consumer market, thus keeping them a degree of separation away from where the innovation actually occurs, the incumbents are even further removed; they simply copy the enterprise 2.0 vendors.

This isn’t a sustainable model for innovation in the enterprise Web 2.0 market. With shrinking access to venture capital, there’s reason to believe some of the enterprise 2.0 start-ups will fail or struggle to make money in 2009. When this happens, they’ll either fold or be purchased by IBM or Microsoft.

Web 2.0, Social Networks in ’09: The Year of Consolidation, Not Innovation – CIO – Blogs and Discussion

Mike goes on to say:

Sure, Connections is ahead of SharePoint when it comes to some of the key aspects of social software – but I find “Enterprise 2.0 vendors” to be ahead of Microsoft and IBM when it comes to certain technical capabilities or user experience aspects. Sometimes I think that Microsoft and IBM are so intent on stealing away the install base of the other, that they are not paying attention to other market signals regarding what customers are looking for in social platforms. Still, the economic downturn will make it difficult for smaller vendors to survive so IT strategists should expect some vendors to fail and others to be acquired (which really is not anything terribly insightful based on past downturns and bubble bursts).

So, on reflection, I’d say that Google are pretty well placed to just get on with mopping up the Social Computing space that the ‘Enterprise’ boys are ignoring.  The key differentiator (and potential weakness) between enterprise vendors such as IBM and Microsoft and their erstwhile nemesis Google is the very fact that they only know ‘enterprise-speak’, i.e. negotiating and selling at a corporate level, whereas Google’s market is the end user, a market they they know far better than their competitors in the social computing stakes.  So, whilst users wait for their organisations to provide what they really want, Google is out there delivering it, e.g. Google Groups, Google Apps, Google Sites, Google Friends Connect etc.

Yes, we know that the likes of IBM and Microsoft will survive the credit crunch, and that consolidation is a natural consequence of a recession, but I know which horse I’m putting my money on to flourish in these difficult times!

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Charted growth of communities of practice in local government

I thought I would try out Google Gadgets as a way of showing the growth in usage of the IDeA CoP platform. It was simpler to set up than I imagined. A straight forward process of adding the data to a Google Spreadsheet, inserting the Gadget to the spreasheet, and then selecting the option to ‘Publish Gadget’. The resultant html code is pasted into your web page – and hey presto – your chart. Full details of the process here.

Next step is to find a way of keeping this updated in real-time. Watch this space!

Total Registered Users

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Google are getting serious about social networking

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Google_logo_plain
Interesting things happening at Google, with much speculation that they intend making a more serious and focussed foray into the social media arena. The recent purchase of Jaiku (similar to Twitter, but with more features), and the growing interest in Orkut  – their current social networking site – may make uncomfortable reading for the folks over at Facebook, if the report by the Scolbleizer is anything to go by. I have to admit that I do like most of what Google do, and indeed use most of their web applications. However, they do seem to have a scatter-gun approach to acquisitions, so I’m hoping this latest Web 2.0/social media/social networking/communities buying spree will ultimately provide a more integrated  (or rational) environment for their products.

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The Google Experience

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Google_sm_2

My colleague Dave Briggs has put together an excellent summary of the various Google social media applications on his LGNewMedia blog. Things like Reader, Google Groups, Docs and Spreadsheets, Blogger, Google’s customised search service, Google Maps, Gmail, Google’s calendar, iGoogle, Google Apps, Notebook etc.

I think most Web 2.0/social media gurus will be familiar with the breadth and depth of Google’s freebies, but Dave also identifies the various rival products. Whether or not we consider the Google versions to be the best of breed, there’s no escaping the fact that you’re likely to get a far better and more consistent user experience through the seamless integration of many of these applications than many of the rival products. Particularly so if you’ve also personalised your browser with the various buttons and plug-ins available, such as the Google toolbar. Toolbar_sm_3

Yes, Google’s softly-softly, stealth-like approach is gradually taking over the user’s desktop, and personally, I don’t think it is such a bad thing.

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Google Gears up for off-line browser apps

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Google_logo

As a closet fan of all that is ‘Google’, I was wondering when I should make the final step in my transition from Bloglines to Google Reader. I’ve been using both for some time now, which is bit of a pain when I have to add and categorise a new feed since I end up replicating the process twice. However, I think the recent announcement about Google Gears is the tipping point I needed. So, sadly, it’s goodbye to Bloglines, but loyalty only goes so far.

Basically, Gears is a browser add-on that enables web-based applications to run locally whilst off-line. The product is in Beta at the moment, and only supports the Google Reader (RSS feed aggregator). However, we can expect to see support for Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Google Mail, Google Blogger, and in fact any of their applications where there is value to be gained by working off-line and on-line.

Looks like another killer app to me!

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