A week with Google+

Note: Yes, I have some Google+ invites available. Get in touch if you're lacking.

After trying to enter the social market ineffectively with Wave and Buzz, Google is trying something new this year: Google+ (g+).

On its surface, g+ looks like a cleaner (interface) version of Facebook. It's primarily a news stream of people you follow, but with some key features I'm starting to find useful. Ahmed Zeeshan writes more about Google+ for the average Facebook user, but these are the things I like most about g+:

Circles. You can break your Facebook friends into lists and vary permissions on those lists, but it's really difficult. I've seen this used most often by teachers who put their students into one list with very limited permissions, and everybody else in another list. Circles use a drag-and-drop interface to sort people, and as you go to share something, you can share it with everybody or with one or more of your circles. Maybe you're a photographer and a lacrosse player; you don't want to bore all of your g+ contacts with every aspect of your life, so maybe you only share your photography stuff with fellow photographers. Or maybe in your "other life" you're a bartender, and you only want to share the wild and wacky stuff with your patrons who are following you, not your boss at your accounting firm.

Lack of reciprocity. In Facebook, you have to agree to have your stuff shared with someone by accepting a friend request. Like Twitter, if you find me interesting, awesome. I don't need to find you interesting as well in order to let you see my stuff.

Discovery. Like Twitter and unlike Facebook, it's easy to find new people who might be of interest for you to add to circles. Cool.

Sparks. Get a news feed of your favorite topics (think location, sports teams, workouts, recipes, that kind of thing).

Another thing people seem to like is the Huddle feature, which is basically a group live chat (remember AOL chat rooms? yes, like that).

While the g+ mobile app is still awaiting approval in the Apple app store for iPhone/iPad/iPod (though there is good mobile website functionality), it did launch with an Android app, which has a clean, crisp interface. It's missing the ability to read sparks, and the ability to re-share, both of which I think are going to be important.

Due to its late entry into the social market, I'm initially wary of building out much of my g+ use. It's tough enough keeping up with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, while at the same time remembering to actually live life. What would entirely destroy my use of g+ is if people start moving their Twitter streams through their news feeds – it's why I only use LinkedIn for groups, and probably not as often as I should.

The other thing I need is the ability to play word games (seriously – it is by far the thing I use most on FacebooK).

Down the road, I'm likely going to have to pick either Facebook or Google+. G+'s entry after I've spent five years with my Facebook profile means I'm probably going to choose Facebook, unless g+ can reveal to me a brand new way to use the network that I haven't thought about (other than using a huddle to have a virtual meeting with my coworkers).

Google, Viacom, DMCA, STFU

You might remember that $1,000,000,000 lawsuit Viacom filed against YouTube a few years ago because people were uploading clips of TV shows and movies that Viacom owned. The reason they could put a billion-dollar price tag on that suit is that Viacom owns stuff like MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central and VH1, and they used to own CBS and Showtime when they filed the suit.

You might also know that last week, a judge sided with YouTube owner Google.

This shouldn't surprise anyone. You know why? The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) says, essentially, if a website allows users to upload information, the site is not responsible for verifying the copyright on it. Instead, the website tells users they can only upload stuff they own the copyright on, and if the copyright holder asks the site to take something down, they'll take it down.

So that's what they do.

You know why it works that way? Because if YouTube, or Flickr, or Facebook, or any other site had to filter everything that was posted and check the copyright on it, those services wouldn't exist.

What Viacom should have done was play by the rules YouTube had in place: Tell us what you own the copyright on, and we'll take it down.

The ruling does not mean that media companies should be any more concerned about their content. The judge didn't say that copyrighted material could remain on YouTube, he said YouTube didn't have to pre-screen it, essentially upholding the DMCA.

Traditional media companies like Viacom really need to learn the rules of the new playground, rather than trying to make the new playground conform to the old playground's standards. Wouldn't the legal fees they put into the case be better served developing a way forward in a new media world?

Can we talk about Google’s new look for a minute?

OK, so everybody and her second cousin's oldest daughter has already written about the new Google. But I'm a fan of this new design, at least as far as the logo and SERPs go.

Google logo

Admit it, you didn't even realize it was a new logo. But it's a bit bigger, and they got rid of the drop shadow. It really pops off the page.

And then there are the SERPs (that's Search Engine Results Pages if you're new here).

All that stuff on the left? A lot of people in the search industry say it looks really cluttered. But we (those of us in search) already knew that stuff was buried up at the top and bottom in various menus. Most people didn't. Now it's obvious that it's there to everyone.

So yeah, I'm diggin' the new look. Now if only they could make Wave or Buzz useful. At this point, I'd settle for one of them.

A bleak future for search?

Microsoft's Bing is reportedly considering paying for the ability to search paywalled content on the Wall Street Journal's website. With exclusivity.

Rupert Murdoch, who runs News Corp. (which is the Fox network and its cable spin-offs in the U.S., along with newspapers and TV stations in the U.S., UK and Australia), the Journal's owner, has made no secret that he is considering blocking Google from searching paid content on the Journal's site. Google isn't exactly fighting back – the search engine figures that they make that option available to everyone, and if the Journal doesn't want the Internet's most popular search engine finding its content, that's no skin off Google's teeth.

But let's say Bing pays for the privilege of being the only major search engine that can search the Journal for news (the idea being that people will want Journal content included in their searches and as such will turn to Bing instead of Google). Then let's say a whole chain follows suit – maybe Bing signs up Hearst, or Belo, or both. At some point, Google has to counter.

When that happens, we come to a point where, if you want to include certain news outlets in your searches, you have to know which search engine carries what content. And maybe by now that extends to musical artists – perhaps Bing has paid one studio and Google another for access to search their artists' pages.

This is where the two search engines cease to be money-making platforms for their respective companies. Why? Because now I'd just go to Bingle, which searches them both. And then Bingle gets lots of competitors, all who search both Bing and Google. And all those search engines make money.

OR:

This exclusivity fight leads someone to develop an entirely new way to search the web. And it becomes the next Google. And then the next Bing follows. And then we do this whole thing again. Vicious cycle, anyone?

(Hat tip to James Bedell for the story link.)

Early thoughts on Google Wave

I had a friend a little while ago tell me she thought I was a good candidate to test out Google Wave, the new collaboration tool Google is developing. There were a limited number of invitations sent out, and since I do a fair bit of collaboration, enjoy testing new tools, and could decide whether it was a good tool to use in the office, I accepted.

I had no idea what I was holding. My invitation came with eight other invitations. I held onto my invitation for four or five days before I had a chance to sit down with it, and the second I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to take it for a test drive later that day.

Bad idea. All of a sudden, people I had never heard of were asking me for invites. Like 30 of them. At 7:00 on a Sunday morning.

I soon discovered essentially what this cartoon says (via Jill). There's nobody there unless you invite them.

I ticked off my invites – my boss, obviously; two guys I expect to collaborate with at some point anyway – and then...well, there were lots of people who wanted them, and not that many. I managed to give them away in as fair a way as I could think of. And without accepting an offer to hack any databases. Since I had a few of those.

So, now I've got connections on Wave. What does it do?

It essentially allows three things on one screen: document sharing, synchronous conversation, and asynchronous conversation, and it does it all in one browser window.

I'm not as wowed by this as I could be. The open conversation (or "wave") gets very long very quickly. It's only searchable via browser search, although thankfully you can thread the conversations. You can search your waves to see which ones have some term in them, but not the one you have open.

This isn't an immediate problem, but get a few people in there for a few days, and then have one take a couple of days off – catching up is almost impossible.

I'm also not impressed with the way embedding documents and some widgets work, but to be fair, I haven't put forth much effort to make that part work for me.

At this point, I'd be content to stick with an IM or IRC chat for the synchronous communication, email for asynchronous communication, and Google Docs for the document sharing. The good news for Google is it already has all three, with the Google Docs, GMail and GChat. And if there's ever good archiving for GChat (both text and video), they have everything you need.

From a usability standpoint, Wave is pretty good, though Google needs to swap the "Done" and "Delete" buttons; people are used to the button at the lower right of the form being the action button. I've also heard that Wave needs a better mobile app, but (a) I haven't tried it out and (b) my guess is they'll make sure people are happy with the desktop app before they refine a mobile app.

If you're using Wave successfully and want to show me, I'm open to it. joshuanshear@googlewave.com (and then leave me a comment or send me a reply on Twitter to make sure I get it).