Tag Archives: Google Plus

Google Plus Ungood Securewise

Alternate Headline: Users unbellyfeel Google prolefeed, becomes unservice.

It is probably just me that saw the Newspeak potential in the demise of Google Plus.

That attempt at humor aside, the word has gone out from the Googleplex in Mountain View that Google Plus will be no more.  Or that the consumer version of the product will be no more following a 10 month wind down, meaning that it will be gone at some point in August of 2019.  Google says that the enterprise version of Google Plus will continue.  Color me surprised that there was such a thing or that any enterprise outside of Google actually uses it, but they say “many” do.  I guess it is likely better than whatever Microsoft is pushing lately.  It is certainly better than anything Cisco has on offer.

The reason given for the closure in the news headlines involves a security flaw that could have potentially exposed the data for over half a million accounts.  The data exposed was limited to optional items entered in your Google profile (which is semi-public to start with unless you lock it down) and Google says it has no evidence that the flaw had been exploited.  But data breaches make for more views, so you may find your local news source pitching this as a stolen data panic.

The real reason for the closure is a little less dramatic.

Given these challenges and the very low usage of the consumer version of Google+, we decided to sunset the consumer version of Google+.

Basically, so few people use Google Plus that it isn’t worth the effort needed to keep it secure.  They didn’t just say “low” usage but “very low” usage.  You’ll probably get no greater admission of failure than that.  If it has been popular they would have kept it open.  But now they have an excuse to shut it down.

Of course, part of me cheered at the news.  I am old, have a long memory, and have been prone at times to carry resentments long past their expiration dates, so I continue to see Google Plus as the reason that Google killed off the much loved and still missed (by me at least) Google Reader.  It has been more than five years since that happened and I am still annoyed by it and I still haven’t found a replacement that did all Google Reader did at its peak.  Some twisted logic in the back of my brain sees this as justice for the late idolized RSS reader.

But a bit of me is bemused by the change.  As it turns out, I actually check Google Plus pretty much daily.  There are a few people I follow there, including Richard Bartle, that make it worth the effort. The updates aren’t rapid, so it is something I check once or twice a day at most, but I do check it.

I also syndicate my blog feed there as well and get the occasional response, so there is life out there still.  But the activity isn’t anywhere close to what it was during the early days of the service, which in itself wasn’t that much compared to the competition, which is and always was Facebook.  Nobody is saying Google Plus influenced the last election or anything else.

So I suppose I will miss it.  And I know that it going away won’t magically bring back Google Reader, so my missing it will be genuine.  You can’t blame a company for shutting down a service that few use and which brings in no revenue.  The same goes for Google Reader as well.  And iGoogle.  And Google Insights.  And Orkut.  Man, what is it with me and dead Google products?

And so it goes.  We’ll see how it winds down between now and August.

MMO Blogesphere Feed – Version 3

This was going to be something for the top section of the month in review, but it ended up being a bit longer than I would like, so I’ll just complain about WordPress.com or something on the 30th.

So over there in the side bar on the right hand side of the blog, there is my latest attempt to create a unified feed for a small corner of the MMO blogesphere.  This is, of course, driven entirely from jealousy at the wonderful blog roll widget that people using Google’s Blogger platform have access to.  WordPress.com will never give us anything like this because, as I have been told by a designated representative of the organization, blog rolls are a thing of the past.

Such is life.

Now, there are any number of ways with a sufficient application of effort, technology, and/or money, I could enable a comparable feature on my own side bar.

Hell, I could just move to the Blogger platform.  Simple and done.  I just happen to like just about everything else about WordPress.com better than Blogger, up to and including the whole not being an insignificant part of Google and thus always in danger of being discarded for some new vision of the future or if Sergey is having a bad day.  WordPress.com and I disagree on any number of things, but being a blogging platform is their thing.  Plus my blog is too big to export at this point, so I am stuck with them unless I want to start again fresh.

Anyway, while I could throw money and ~effort~ at the problem, I am both cheap and lazy.  So I have sought out solutions that were both low effort and low cost through various iterations of the project.  The story so far…

Version 0

My original plan was just to stick the VirginWorlds feed in the side bar.  That was a fine solution back in the day.  Viva Brent!

But since about 2009 or so, when Brent wandered off with other priorities in his life, it has been less and less of an ideal.  The site is still up and running, and its accompanying feed is still in my side bar.  However, the site no longer gets updated with new blogs any more, so the feed itself tends to be dominated by Massively.  Not that I dislike Massively in general, but I want to promote my fellow bloggers and not a commercial site.  So I started looking for a way to add a new, more blogger focused feed.

Version 1

Back before the advent of Google+, Google Reader was a wonderful thing.  It was fast and simple, tied in with your Google account, and generally the standard across the board for online RSS readers.  The only reason not to use it was fear of the monster Google might become.

And among its many features was the ability to flag items from your reading list to be posted to an RSS feed.  And so I used the WordPress RSS feed widget to put that feed in my side bar, flagging new stories for inclusion every day.  This was probably a bit more “hands on” than I wanted… somewhat akin to the early days of VirginWorlds, when each link on the site represented a manual submission… but it worked.

The came Google+.

google-plus-logo-640

Google proceeded to wreck Google Reader in both form and function in a transparent effort to get people to stop using it in favor of Google+.  Amongst the feature casualties was the RSS output.  So while Google was busy kicking me off of Google+ for using a pseudonym (then quietly asking me to return) and generally annoying people by forcing integration with other services (Remember when your YouTube account HAD to be linked to Google+ for about a week? People were pissed.) they managed to alienate just enough Google Reader users to be able to claim the service was in decline and to shut it down.

Google Reader had fallen so low that when they finally turned it off, the resulting diaspora of users literally swamped all of the competing services to the point of making them unusable due to excess load.  I had to swap to Feedly at a too late date when The Old Reader staff threw their hands in the air at the onslaught and walked away. (They later returned, realizing that they could, you know, make money at this, but I had already moved to Feedly.)

Which is to say, it was still pretty damn popular.  Just not popular enough.  That was also the fate of Google+ which, when it did not eclipse Facebook (and dear Lord, Facebook only looks good when compared to Google+, which is simply awful when it comes to usability) was “De-emphasized” in favor of other initiatives.  Like finally closing down Orkut and figuring out exactly where the line is between “evil” and “not evil.”

Version 2

So, even before the end of Google Reader I was out looking for an alternative.  I tinkered with a few things, including Yahoo Pipes.  Pipes actually looked promising, but I could never get it to create output that would work correctly with the WordPress RSS widget.

Eventually I found a site called RSS Mix.

They don't really have a logo...

They don’t really have a logo…

The service was free… so it met that requirement… and was relatively low maintenance.  Basically, you gave it a list of RSS feed URLs and it would mash all those together and give you an output URL for the combined RSS feed.  And it mostly worked.

It was a bit of a pain to maintain.  Every time I wanted to update the list of blog feeds to draw from I had to submit the whole list again for a new RSS feed, which meant keeping revisions on hand locally.

It also wasn’t terribly reliable.  About half the time I would hit the blog, the feed to fail to load.  That was irksome, but when it did load it did the job.  The service just wasn’t meant to be polled every time somebody showed up at the site, and the WordPress.com widget doesn’t keep a cached version or anything.  So a lot of the time people just saw this:

FeedDown

Then a few people began to note that something about the whole thing was causing ping-backs on Blogger based blogs, including one serious “stop doing that!” complaint, at which point I pulled the widget and started looking for a new solution.

Version 3

I played around with some different options.  Mail Chimp offers a free RSS consolidation feature.  However, it appears to be completely static.  It takes the URLs you hand it, makes a feed, and then never updates it.  Not terribly useful, but it was free so what do you expect.

Feedly sent out an update about a site called Zapier.  If you were a Feedly Pro subscribe, and I am, you could take advantage of the data integration tools that Zapier offered.  This included some RSS feed tools.  I got that to work, but to have more than a couple blogs in the feed I would have to subscribe to Zapier as well, which wanted monthly fee in the subscription MMO range.  That failed the cheapskate test.

Eventually I stumbled onto a site called IFTTT, which is short for “If This Then That.”  This was mentioned at one point as a service that could access Feedly Pro features.  It could take output from Feedly and turn it into something else, I just wasn’t sure what.

I signed up for an account, which was free and thus right in my price range, and started tinkering with it.  I couldn’t get it to output directly to anything in WordPress that seemed useful, at least not for a side bar widget, but I found that,  among the things it could output to, was a site called Pinboard.

Pinboard is described as a “social bookmarking” site, akin to what Delicious was at one time.  I had never used Delicious, but reading through the descriptions at Pinboard, it could take bookmark input and would turn it into an RSS feed output.  That sounded like the ticket.  However, in order to keep spam and such down, Pinboard charges an up front, one time fee to join the service.  It is based on how many people use the service already, basically you have to pay a penny for everybody who got there ahead of you.  My total to join was $10.46, which was well within the cheapskate budget if it worked out. (I suspect that they would change that pricing policy if a lot of people started showing up.  I think a $10 barrier to entry is fine, but if it had been $35 or $50, I might have walked on by.)

Between the three services, I was able to create a rule that takes updates from my MMO Blogs category in Feedly (making me glad I set up categories when I started using the service) and posts them to my Pinboard account.

FeedlyPinboard

And it basically worked.  Items showed up in Pinboard and they were tagged correctly so I could pull them from an RSS feed associated with that tag.  All I had to do was get the data being passed to work with the WordPress RSS widget.  That turned out to be the tricky bit.  It took a bit of trial and error to see what worked and what did not, something that went a bit slowly because I had to wait until somebody posted something new before the feed would update and pass along my changes.  Ideally I wanted something similar to what the Blogger side bar widget offered, with Blog Name, Post Name, and how long ago it was published.  Eventually, paring down the data being passed to the bare minimum, I got the WordPress widget to display what I wanted.

The IFTTT Recipe

The IFTTT Recipe

And I ended up with something that is mostly what I want.

It doesn’t put a nice little icon next to each blog title, the format or title and blog name differs depending on which service is being used, and the the published time is displayed as an absolute in Pacific Time rather than a friendly “2 hours ago” sort of way.  But it mostly works and, now that the one time expense is out of the way, it is both cheap and easy to maintain.

Furthermore, it is flexible.  I can sort our who goes into the feed easily, by just moving things around in Feedly categories.  I moved some of the blogs that are in the VirginWorlds feed to a special “no feed” category, since I still have that feed in my side bar as well.  Trying to limit double exposure there, which mostly affects Syp and Tobold at this point.  I can create additional RSS feeds from my Feedly account.  I am looking into making one for EVE Online blogs for my other site and another for official game company feeds to put somewhere on the sidebar here. (There is currently an experimental version down at the very bottom of the side bar, if you scroll way down.)

So, mission accomplished!

Yeah, But Why Bother?

So all of that work… and all of those words… later, you might well ask why I deemed this important enough to pursue at all.

Yes, there was a certain amount of envy that Blogger based blogs had a feature that WordPress.com hosted bloggers lacked.  But that envy was based on the empirical observations that such a dynamic side bar widget actually attracts clicks.  Both the stats related to who sends traffic here and where people here click out to, a dynamic side bar widget attracts attention.  People will click on something that is both identified and visibly new or updated.

I can see from my own outbound traffic that almost nobody clicks on the static blogroll on a daily basis.  But with the new feed up in the side bar, I can see multiple clicks going to specific posts that have popped up and been displayed.

I did it because it is an effective way to send people to other blogs in our little community.

So What is the Verdict on Google Reader Alternatives?

Just about two months back it was announced that Google Reader was going to be shut down.

The reasons given were declining usage and the Bizarro world excuse that killing it would lead to a better user experience.

I cannot speak to the former, except to say that Google pushed a lot of people off the bus themselves when the screwed up the UI for a few weeks, but the latter still smacks of “More people using Google Plus would make the user experience there better.”

I point at the work they have done to further integrate Blogger into Google Plus as evidence of what is important to Google.

But whatever the reason, there was much talk about jumping ship before the July 1 end date and the “declining user base” ran off and pretty much swamped every comparable service.  Numbers clearly mean something different at Google.

I too began looking around.  I put together a list of possible alternatives, which I will reproduce here:

And then… I pretty much did nothing.

July was still a ways away.  There seemed no point in joining the rush.  And who knew if Google would change their mind.  Stranger things have happened.  So I decided to let things settle down a bit.

Now the dust has settled.  Or I hope it has.  We have about six weeks left in the life of Google Reader.  So I am wondering how things are going for people who have moved off of Google Reader.  For this, I will use a poll.

Feel free to embellish your choice or warn people off of bad choices in the comments.

Meanwhile, Google continues to do its best to make me not use Google products.  In addition to Google Reader, they are also shutting down iGoogle, which has been my default home page for years now.  They have been tinkering with YouTube, including making me link my YouTube account directly to Google Plus, which ended up unpublishing all of my videos for a while.  More on the “what is important to Google” evidence pile.  And they let Bob Scoble loose with Google Glass, which everybody calls Google Glasses, because that is what they are, which sent the message, at least to me, that they are perfect for crazy people.

And then there is Google Plus, the gifted child at Google, the web app on which they are devoting their focus.  How was that last update for everybody?

I swear, every time I look at Google Plus, something happens to piss me off.  They banned me for using a pseudonym, then quietly let me back a couple months later.  Then they made changes, screwed up my account, linked it to YouTube, which screwed up that account, and now they have made their bad UI even worse for the moment.

Yes, I realize that “bad” is relative.  You might like only being able to see four or fewer posts at a time, each with a big picture, the author’s avatar, an excerpt of the first paragraph, and the first few comments.

My view of Google Plus at the moment

My view of Google Plus at the moment

Me, I read a lot of things online.  If I cannot see 20 or more headlines at once, I end up doing too much scrolling.  I want a list with title, author, source, the first sentence of the post, and maybe a general topic tag.   A UI like the  one they are pushing is high on the list of reasons I do not invest much time in Facebook.  The interface does not suite my needs.

The irony here is that, if Google gave me a UI more suited to my needs… make it an option if not the default… added in RSS feed reading with the ability to share with circles and the like, and just stopped pissing me off for a little while, I would probably go use Google Plus.  There are already people there I would follow.

Ah well, the life of an outlier.

Addendum: A write up comparing the Google Reader alternatives.

You Can Play Facebook Games… On Google+

As has been announced, games have come to Google+.

There are 16 games in the first wave to be launched on the service.

Google+ Game Selection

A quick check between the two services showed me that most of the list above are already available on Facebook.

So, here we have something that Facebook is already succeeding at, these so-called social games, and now Google is trying to duplicate that.

However, Google might have something.

None of the games on Google’s list were games I had tried on Facebook, so to compare the qualitative difference between Facebook and Google+, I picked a game, Angry Birds, and gave it a try on both platforms.

After playing for a bit on Google+, I tried the game on Facebook and was stunned at how bad the implementation of the game is over on Facebook.

I have played Angry Birds on a mobile device, and the Google+ version plays and feels very much like that implementation.  The Facebook version, on the other hand, looks and feels… well…  like crap… at least relative to Google+.

I do not know if Rovio just spent more time on the Google+ implementation, or if Google+ is simply a better platform for games.  But if it is the latter, perhaps Google+ can find a niche as a superior platform for games.  It does not have much else going for it as far as I can see.

 

The First Rule of Google+ Club…

Is apparently to talk constantly about Google+ Club.


Which strikes me as odd because most of what I have seen so far has not been all that exciting.

Yes, I am there on Google+.

You can find Wilhelm Arcturus in the Google+ milieu.

[Whoops, no you cannot, not any more. Pseudonyms are not allowed and somebody apparently complained about mine and I was asked to leave.]

There were several dreadful minutes when I had nearly a dozen invites to join Google+, but they were limiting the number of users allowed in this early release period.  And then somebody at Google changed their mind and the population of Google+ has since swollen to the point of rivaling the population of  New York and closing in on that of Texas.

But once there, it didn’t really change my world.

Google+, in my view, is trying to meld the ideas of Facebook and Twitter into a single package.  Not a bad idea.  It has merit.

As with Facebook have your wall, which I guess is your stream in Google+ parlance.  And stream is a good term, since already I’ve run into people who post like they are letting go after a few beers.

Anyway, you’re not limited to streaming out a mere 140 characters, you can embed pictures or video, and you can even decide which of your groups you can stream all over.  Plus, if your friends respond, they can respond directly to your post.

Meanwhile, Google+ has aspects of Twitter in its structure.  For a start, you have no friends.

For some of you, this won’t be news.

On Facebook, friends are a one-to-one, mutually consensual relationship.  You gotta ask and somebody has to accept before you are connected.

In Google+, as with Twitter, you can follow people.  You pick the people who interest you, drop them in a group, called circles, and can follow what they post.  It has the one-to-many aspect of Twitter, along with the lists functionality, without the restrictions on character count or the difficulty of following a conversation between other people.  Circles can be like having many individual feeds.

So in Google+ you have no friends but merely run in circles.

For example, I clicked on Guy Kawasaki and put him in my acquaintances circle, which is one of the pre-set circles.  I’ve met him a few times.  He won’t remember me, but we have friends in common that I know he would remember (Yuji!), so if I was stuck in an elevator with him, I could establish a common link with him beyond, “Hey, you signed my copy of The Macintosh Way at the Palo Alto ComputerWare back in 1991.”

Then a day later I removed him from that circle because I forgot that he posts pretty much constantly and that was why I had to stop following him on Twitter as well.  I am just not that interested in what he has to say and his output makes Scoble seem like a piker some days. (If I am going to drop names, I should also point out I went to junior high school with Bob Scoble where we shared a 7th grade algebra class taught by Mr. Sousa who, in hindsight, could have been the inspiration for Severus Snape… only louder… and occasionally in German.  I have forgotten most of 7th grade at this point, but not that class.)

Just like on Twitter, I am sure that Guy got a notification that I was following him, but when I stopped he heard nothing.

So on Google+, as with Twitter, there will be a lot of asymmetrical relationships.

I created my own circle called MMO Blognati, where I stuck people like Tobold and Darren, which ended up being mostly symmetrical, Facebook like relationships of mutual subscription.  I also created one called MMO Devs which, aside from Brian Green, is pretty much me subscribing to their feeds.

I also have a circle called “No F’ing Idea” for people who follow me but whom I cannot place in any context, yet I feel I must know from somewhere.

Fortunately, other people cannot see your circles, only that you have placed them in one.  So they may think you’ve put them in the Friends circle (okay, I guess you can have friends of a sort) but really you’ve put them in the raging ass-hat circle.

Which is all a reasonable system.  I like the mix.  But once you get past that there really isn’t much else to talk about.  Which is where a bit of the confusion comes in for me.

There is a whole bunch of people who are, “OMG! This is the best thing EVAR!  Facebook is dead! How can you still be using Facebook? Facebook is now MySpace!”

And I have to wonder what some of these people are smoking.

Because, to start off, I already have Facebook and Twitter and a whole bunch of connections therein, not all of which have moved off.  Some of the people who are saying this are MMO players and have claimed to understand the stickiness of social connections in such games.  This is part of the reasons that MMOs keep players for so long.

So Facebook isn’t dead.  It is still the central online social loci for many millions of people and will remain so until there is a “killer app” for Google+ that nobody can live without.

Which leads me to the second point of confusion, that there is no real “killer app” for Google+ yet.

Not that I can see.

There isn’t anything that you can say about Google+ that you cannot get elsewhere.  The only real compelling reason to go to Google+ that I can see is that it is not Facebook.  So now all of us elitist geek swine can feel superior because Facebook is something that non-techies use.  All the cool kids use Google+, which is an actual quote, even if I assume it was meant with some sense of irony.

And this lack of killer app makes me boggle.

Because here is Google, which owns my email (gmail), my RSS feed reader (Google Reader), the RSS feed from my blogs (Feed Burner), my search history (just plain old Google), searching in general (i.e. for more than just people), my instant messaging (GoogleTalk… okay, I don’t use that… but I could!), my news sources (plug-ins in iGoogle), and a pile of other stuff like Google Maps, YouTube, Google Books, Google Translate, and so on, none of which appears to be connected in any unique way to Google+.

If that doesn’t say something about Google, I don’t know what does.

So while Facebook has a pile of third party apps that will integrate directly and effectively with all sorts of data sources, like my blog for example, Google+ seems pretty lacking.

And you cannot even play the “but it’s brand new!” card, because that won’t wash.

Google has had a social networking site since 2004.  It is called Orkut.  I had a friend who worked on it at one point and used to check in on it now and again, until the official language became Portuguese and people began complaining about people using English on “their” service.

But surely in the last 6+ years, they learned something from Orkut?  They built integration points for that, they must have brought them forward, right?

No.

So the real message about Google I take from this is one that I have already heard before many time here in the valley, often from people in a position to know, which is that Google never recycles anything and that each little project group works in its own little bubble and feels it has to create the world from scratch every time.

Which is ironic considering that they have been known to push a green message now and again.  I suppose code seems like an unlimited resource when you are young.

Of course, there is one group within Google that I am sure will integrate with Google+ soon.  That will be the ad group.  They will snicker “Don’t Be Evil” and inject ads into the whole thing.  That will be the initial revenue model.

But as of today, Google+ is clean, with a pristine white background, no ads, a couple of interesting ideas, and a bunch of self-satisfied geeks using it.

Where do you think it is heading?

Will any eventual “killer app” also end up being evil?

I am sure if I am missing something about the service, somebody will let me know.

Addendum:

A while after I posted this, Cringely posted something about the projected decline and fall of Facebook.  Google+ doesn’t figure into that in his picture.

Facebook is a huge success. You can’t argue with 750 million users and growing. And I don’t see Google+ making a big dent in that.

Rather, the next big thing will cause the social media category to fade.