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G+: Snippet Advertising (Schema.org)

So, G+ recently blogged about the new feature they’ve added, snippets, for tagging meta-data through their June release with Yahoo and Bing at www.schema.org (see the original blog post, that I overlooked). Snippets offers a nice way to standardize the extraction of picture and text for content, such as blog posts and news articles, you – as a creator – expect to be re-shared on the G+ network. Specifically, this meta-data is aimed at extracting the stuff creators want a user to see and re-share for new posts like in the image to the right here.

As the comments on the release note, Facebook has its own schema in use for pulling. Therefore, the two are in competition for the limited amount of developer time and energy within many media groups. Struggles with meta-data standardization have plagued the web for years. While still on-going, many have abandoned the hope that the semantic web will be here anytime soon in any of the ways it was promised.

Yet the challenges surrounding how to reconcile the differing approaches are not the most interesting aspect of this new schema from a user perspective. Instead, I found that after posting the above link for a recent wired article the image being pulled automatically by Google was little more than an ad to “subscribe to Wired”.

Sadly I didn’t catch this until after I posted the new message. G+ currently does not allow you to edit attached thumbnail images with its “edit” post feature. Instead you are forced to either delete the post entirely or remove the link and re-attach it (the latter of which isn’t so bad – although being able to remove the image alone would be a nice add-on).

One thing this makes me wonder is if through the use of this new Schema for G+ snippets marketers will begin creating call-to-action schema that is little more than unwanted advertising. Would they see that extra little bit of exposure worth the extra development effort? Perhaps.

It doesn’t appear Wired “share-bombed” me intentionally on this one, but others might not be far off in employing this for actual promotion efforts. Why not create any array of references in your code that point to things like the Wired snippet G+ scoured and snagged the underlying image from? If a user was given two to five options and one or more of these were an ad, would they think anything of it? Probably not, but even if the final share doesn’t go up with the ad in place – wouldn’t they have gotten at least one guaranteed impression out of the marketing effort?

For the specific code that G+ scoured see line 142 “subscription unit” of the Wired page’s source.

Google+: Distributing Your Circles

Something that I kept reading about was the “public” nature of G+ posts and how a great many have begun using it as an open forum much like Twitter. Today’s bombing in the EU apparently lead to some rapid prototyping for future real-time search and information gathering activities as evidenced by a Mashable post. However, more important than the mashable post was a comment by one of the users (Wade Inganamort) on the site which illustrated that circles and contact data are easily exportable and therefore shareable using Google’s nearly instantaneous data liberation feature.

On first glance at the G+ options I had simply said kudos to Google for prominently including it, but had not looked into its functionality. This comment changed all that and helped me resolve an outstanding issue with discovering good public, social circles. If the network is supposedly 20 million strong, where’s the beef? I’ve wondered.

Liberate Your Circles – Then Share

The process is straightforward, painless, and laid out in three steps. The first is to select the type of information you want to liberate from the clutches the big Googly-eyed monster. In this case, we are interested in the middle option of Contacts and Circles.

The charmingly named “Take Out” menu will be where you select which specific bucket of information you want to export from Google. Again, in this case I have only selected one, but if you wanted a different combination you could choose those here and group the request into a single download.

The final screen is a processing screen where, depending upon the file size of your data, you must wait for Google to compress and prepare the data file download. In all honesty it shouldn’t take long for anyone except for the worst of power users. Save this file when the download is ready.

You will be prompted to log-in again for added security before the download can take place. My only gripe with the process is that the positioning of this password log-in does introduce a big of confusion into the otherwise crisp export flow. I wondered for a moment weather the default Google log-in page would reroute me properly, but everything goes through without a hitch so don’t worry.

The final download will be a plain zip file and in the case of Contacts and Circles will be sub-divided into vCard files for each circle or email group. You can then share these files with other individuals who may then upload the information directly into their circles with the “upload an address book” option in the Circles>Find and Invite section of G+.

Go forth and share your circles with the larger public. I know I plan to do so. Anyone up for a small app that helps facilitate discovery of popular circles? Maybe we best wait a few weeks for the API documentation.

Google+: User Interface Tricks

Yes I am a G+ fanboy, but this fanboy only recently noticed some neat capabilities within the user interface (UI) underlying the network.

Two things in particular caught my eye: the ability to drag and drop modal menus so that you can see the screen underneath, and the ability to use your scroll wheel when viewing circles to rotate the contacts “dial”. I am not clear if these features are only available in Chrome or if they also work in Mozilla and the other, less important browsers (IE).

As a minor plug for something I’ve been using lately, this blog post on 10 Free web-based alternatives to photoshop has helped me to take care of some basic composition needs for these last few blog posts. I am indebted to this page and the underlying services (the ones that aren’t blocked at least). Of particular note is this little gem, Splashup, which blatantly copies some of the typical photoshop menus.

Move-able Modals

This one is a simple thing to test. First, a modal menu for anyone who doesn’t know is simply a term used to describe a child window within any parent window. In this case the parent is a G+ webpage, and a modal is like one of the images below.

A Sharing Modal

Open up any “white” modal menu, such as a circles menu, an invite new user, etc. and click-and-drag within the white border area to reposition the modal anywhere on the visible screen area. See for example some of the modals in the images below, I have in one case moved the modal so far up that you can see it touching the new black Google bar. You can use this trick if yo for some reason need to reference the page below you while composing or using a modal, such as for pulling underlying content or information into a post.

Another Move-able Modal

Move-able Circles

Dialing in Your Circle

This one is far cooler and I cannot believe I didn’t notice earlier. If you scroll wheel while selecting a circle (up-or-down) it will roll through the contacts available within the circle. This gets to one annoyance some people noted about circles, you cannot see everyone. I feel that it does so in a fairly elegant way, even if a lot of younger folks won’t think of rotary phones when they use it.

Dial-able Circles

Also – finally got my image modal plug-in to work on WordPress, yippy for classier images.

Google+: Export Facebook Contacts Via Yahoo

Facebook is doing a pretty good job closing itself off from the stream of individuals who want to take the site up on its terms of service and remove their content. In the past few weeks since G+ was released they have blocked at least one app entirely and interrupted the service of several others as they “redefine” their policy regarding just what information an application can request via their API.

Despite their best efforts a few ways to get at your data still exist. Previously I noted the FotoLink app for Facebook that allows you to export your (greatly downsized) pictures. BEGIN SOAPBOX: I for one was distraught to discover that Facebook did not provide the same level of quality photo for download that I had uploaded. Somehow over the years I never noticed when they added the reduction and compression to their albums. Needless to say I was not pleased to see some of the photos that I have no other backups of essentially made useless by a third party. I’m going to begin investing in more personal backup and storage from this point out. END SOAPBOX.

Export Facebook Contacts to Yahoo Mail Then Import to Google+

You have friends. You have lots of them. Well, okay, you have a lot of acquaintances and old contacts who you have managed to find and stalk on Facebook (it’s okay reciprocal stalking is in). Let’s say for a moment you want to be able to easily discover this same group of stalkees on an infantile social network. Thankfully G+ provides the latter, yet Facebook does not easily provide for the former. These are your contacts, or so you thought. Facebook believes that the connections it has helped you identify are its own and not something for you to be tossing about the internet freely.

What’s a social network gadfly to do then? Use the only real alternative for exporting your contact info, e-mail. I know, “ew”, a lot of you are thinking. E-mail is a 20-something technology, not exactly beloved by all. Many are saying that it should just go away, but they’ve also been saying that for a while now.

So, e-mail naysayers not withstanding go out and register, or reactivate as I did, your YahooMail account (note that at this point of re-activation I had to laugh. Yahoo is kind enough to tell you upon reactivation of an old account that after 4-months of inactivity they will again deactivate your account. At which point I thought, “Well gee, sorry Yahoo, but this is a one time only affair. I’ll be gone in five minutes.”) So, you will be leaving a bit of electronic waste behind you in this, but fear not – it will be gone in four months anyway.

Yahoo account in hand, simply login and navigate to the contacts section of the site. Then, locate the easily identifiable “Facebook” button within the find/add contacts area. It should ask you for a Facebook account and password. If you’ve managed to do all this you’ll see something like the following export dialog.

Export Contacts from Facebook

Once you have your contacts in Yahoo what good are they? Well, thankfully e-mail addresses, when maintained, are unique. So this gives you a pretty good chance of finding those parties you need to keep in touch with as they trickle into and explore the new G+ network. The export provides you with two things a name and an e-mail, which is enough to get to work finding new friends.

From here you are almost done in YahhoMail, thankfully. The last step is to locate the “export contacts” option and begin the export process. You will want to select a Yahoo CSV (comma separated values) file. I believe the other export types will work, however this one is basic and very fast to process, with little to no overhead in a plain text file. Begin the export and save the file to an accessible place on your computer. Your first choice, CSV, and other options are shown below.

Yahoo Mail Contact Export Options

With your Contacts in hand – it’s time for your final real step. Open up Gmail and navigate to the contacts section. Once there, select the import tab from the “More Actions” menu above your contacts and you should be prompted with the following dialog box once you have made your selection.

Gmail Import Yahoo Contacts

With the import dialog indicate the file that you downloaded from Yahoo and then I strongly suggest creating a new group for these contacts. For example, I created used the import dialog to automatically create a “From Facebook” contacts group. This allowed me to ensure that I can still easily search for the folks I readily e-mailed in months and year prior, while also grouping the hundreds I just imported.

Once you’re done, it’s time to go back to G+ and reload the Circles page. It might take a few seconds for you G+ to synch with the volume of new e-mails within your Gmail, but once it does – you’ll see the folks you never knew were already on your new, favorite network and the multitude that aren’t.

Google+: Vanity Names and the Legion

So, if you hadn’t gathered I really would like for G+ to succeed. It’s actually galvanized me into remembering how passionate I am for web technologies and how far afield I am from where I wanted to be not but two years ago as I finished up school. Yet, that is a discussion best left to another day and another post category. Instead, let’s talk briefly about some elements related to G+.

Vanity Addresses

Something lacking from G+ right now is any semblance of a username. Right now you’re a really ugly string of numbers. Click on your profile to see what I mean. I’m, 105773781211679853353, add me now! Or not, as it’s a bit annoying to do.

If you hadn’t realized this is a slight departure from the user_name based profiles that Facebook initiated in 2010, and a bit behind the times overall. But fear not! As with most everything on the web these days someone has already slapped together a URL shortner (remember back when those things were the killer app?) that will allow you to vanity up your account ID. As found on ThinkSplendid the service is provided by GPlus.to. Be sure to have your ID# from your profile ready and then go snag your vanity link now. It’s useful until Google updates G+ and provides these simple, but necessary refinements to its otherwise Spartan G+.

The Legion

This thought is a simple one. G+ really needs to figure out how to draw in active circles. Yes, circles, otherwise known as cliques or groups of people to the rest of the world. I joined G+ about a week ago and found that I loved it as I have been a Google fan-boy for years (despite complaining about how slow it was in the library research class in middle school). However, many that I invited to join G+ didn’t really get it. Their initial posts, often their last, were akin to “What’s the deal?”

In each case the new users, and likely non-users now, were left wondering what the big to-do with this new social network was all about because to them all that their limited circle provided was a wasteland. If no one is posting or sharing, what will others do when they join in? Post once and go back to Facebook. Obviously, this is related to the issue I commented on previously known as the priming effect.

This is an interesting issue that G+ faces as few beyond the techno-philes among us will recall the days when Facebook and other networks were similarly devoid of traffic. These mature networks have hit critical mass and have enough coverage to automatically populate a new users stream or inbox with activity based upon relationship mapping to e-mail or other supplemental data. However, G+ relies upon user mapping of this relationship information meaning there is an additional layer of complexity, nay work, involved in establishing your relationships on the new network. Sure, you still have to Friend people elsewhere, but you don’t have to do anything cognitively beyond click a button to send a request. On G+ the exercise requires that you engage in higher-order classification activities to segment and group your network. Moreover the tool and technique for doing so is so new, flashy, and foreign enough to new users that it can be daunting. I feel that while crisp and clean, G+ still needs some contextual improvements to its navigation experience that will help facilitate this exercise of building your circles.

Google+: Hangouts – Distributed Table Top Gaming

You heard it here first. Sate your need to be a nerd from the privacy of your own home with up to 10 friends via Google+ (G+ from now on for ease of typing on my blog). Find some soda and pizza, turn the lights down low, and snag your old and dusty game manuals because it’s time to begin using G+’s hangout feature for some good old fashion goblin slaying.

If you’re unfamiliar with the new Google Hangout, check out Google’s promo for it. They’ve basically created a Skype-like protocol for group chats. Many are already using it for distributed work and meetings. The service allows for video and voice, but also allows for the sharing of materials and videos.

For table top gaming, users could manage character sheets via Google Docs, private message with each other and the DM for strategies and subterfuge, and rely upon the face-to-face nature of the Hangout to beat the baddies into submission. As others have already said, you can get a lot of power out of the collaborative workspace within Docs. Why not extend this with some face-to-face time via this free to use G+ service.


Based upon my readings of hangouts used for work settings, some basic tenats for table-top success need to be followed.

  • The DM as Moderator – A hangout is great, but with the current talker highlighted in the main view screen in the middle, the line can get pretty cluttered if individuals aren’t good about taking turns. A DM can act as moderator in this regard and “own the floor” for his or her players.
  • Be ready for a bit of latency – the more people you add the more likely you are to run into minor latency issues. This is not a deal breaker by any means, but recognize that voice and video chat is intensive for those with slow connections. This is likely a game breaker for anyone without high-speed connections.
  • Data usage – be aware that this service has been reported to utilize a lot of data in a short amount of time. Related to the latency issue above, group calling requires a lot of bandwidth to pipe in, and for those with capped data packages (Canada) you may quickly eat up all your monthly allowance in a single gaming session.

There are likely other issues to consider and or third-party apps to utilize for this. If you think of any other aspects that are key, let me know. This is just a quick heads up that you can use this service to enjoy your fantasy adventures without leaving home.

Google+: A Collaborative How-To

So I stumbled across this awesome user-community created How-To guide for Google+ today. Check it out here. Over 120 editors are writing a voluminous and well-documented guide for all the little tips and tricks for using Google+. Below I’ve extracted one of my favorites that I didn’t know about, make sure you do this for some added security against those creepers out there.

Hide the people I have added to circles/have me in a circle?

Putting up walls limits the social experience, but to do so:

First make sure the Profile tab is selected by clicking it.

Click the “Edit Profile” button.

Then click anywhere on the circles section. The section should be highlighted in a light blue hue.

A window will show allowing you to control the visibility of your circles, down to the individual circle level. Once you are done editing, click “Save” followed by “Finished Editing” to get out of profile editing mode.

Google+: Photos Tips

So, I’ve decided Google+ gives me a good reason to blog. Why not? It’s new and I want it to work, we need a viable alternative to Facebook after-all and I don’t believe the open-source alternative is going to have any legs against the 700 million user behemoth. However, the integrated network across all Google services just might.

On to the topic.


Google smartly destroyed the Picasa brand as part of the integration efforts, and you can easily choose to synch your formerly disjointed accounts with the new Google+ network. Something I’ve been doing slowly over the past few days is to off-load my photos from Facebook to my Google+ profile. If this things takes off well enough, I will be jumping ship. Doesn’t mean I won’t keep my Facebook. Just means I won’t actively contribute to it. Google has my vote for who should win, or at least compete.

Therefore, I give you some simple tips. See the associated “sharing” image below. This image is found by viewing Google > Photos and then selecting a specific album you have created and clicking “share”. This, if your Photos is tied to a Google+ account, will then bring up a somewhat familiar dialog box for sharing on Google+. Some issues with its design need to be ironed out here as Google with an eye for simplicity has chosen to use white for just about everything on Google+. Because of this, I barely noted that you could share newly uploaded albums alongside whatever post you care to include (as you would expect). The top arrow shows you that this horizontal line is in fact a divider for the text-box at top and the section below. Good to know, not exactly intuitive.

The second green arrow points at the sharing options. This is useful for those of you who want to offload a bunch of photos via Move2Picasa or with the wonderful, if not soon-to-be banned, app on Facebook named Fotolink. The reason I highlight this area is because it will remember your most recent sharing options if you have recently shared a similar Photos album, so be sure that you check the right circles before blindly clicking share. Additionally, make sure that you unclick that spam-ware check-box that reads “Also e-mail this to X people not using Google+ yet.” Because if you don’t, they’ll grow to hate the spam generated by our still fledgling social network. I think this particular feature will be one that Google learns is best automatically turned off, as the sharing option for e-mail is defaulted to “checked”, when it should likely be otherwise.

Google+ sharing tips for photos.

Google+ Tip: Direct Messaging

You can use Google+ to simulate the direct message features on Twitter fairly easily.The “post” as it will be called by Google+ will only be shared between you and the individual you indicate.

There are at least two ways of doing this.

One is easier than the other, or so I believe. The first is to enter either “@User_name” or “+User_name” into the main text box for sharing, where User_name is the name of a given individual. This method will then add a the indicated User_name in blue to the “circle” box below the main sharing box. This blue colored User_name box indicates a specific, limited invidiual versus the wider reach of the green-colored circles box.

The second and preferred method utilizes the lower of the two boxes the “circles” box for lack of a better term. Using this box you may use the same syntax as mentioned above or simply begin typing out a username from which Google+ will provide a suggestion. Either method works. However utilizing this method will ensure that the post is only directed a a specific user, rather than having to manually remove the green colored “Public” sharing that defaults in as you begin typing a new post.

Below I have included a screens hot of the suggested method.

Google+ Direct Messaging

Google+ and the Connected Future

So, I’m all for Google products and services and Google+ is no exception. You can even find me there already. I feel strongly that Facebook needs a viable competitor in the U.S., but does it need to come from Google? I’m not so sure. It will be nice if the new effort is successful in establishing a foothold in the social space, where Google has thus far been very unsuccessful. I sat through the Beta for Wave and was left scratching my head – never discovering much use for the software, but seeing some amazing displays of technical prowess and group collaboration technologies. Google Buzz was a flop from its onset, but it needn’t have been. Had it been launched alongside Google+ I can see the Twitter-clone having worked quite well, privacy issues not withstanding. As it stands Buzz is in there, but it feels tacked on to Google+ just like the +1 button. There is a lack of consistency and a fragmentation of design that has plagued many of Google’s products in Google+. (Privacy is an issue for another time, one whose woeful tunes are mostly sung by the older generations.)

Yet the days of the Gmail perpetual beta seem to be behind us, as Google Wave and Buzz showed us. No longer are users willing to sit through the growing pains of a software product, at least on a massive scale that is a social tool. Generally this is because they don’t understand the effort involved and don’t appreciate that iterative processes are some of the only ways to ensure success in such a large-scale software engineering project. Even now people have begun to decry Google+ as a marketing failure. After the initial shock, early-adopters have begun to decry Google+ as another failure of over-hype for not much gain.

I see some of their points. On initial usage Google+ is interesting, but not profound enough to capture my attention for very long. In essence it suffers from its closed environment, but at the same times needs that closed environment to stand some chance of survival lest everyone discard its unfinished state as the final product and never look back.

Touching on their competitor, do I expect them to just copy Facebook’s environment entirely? Somewhat. I think that most do. Are they wrong for it? Not really. If you have something that works, the only reason to switch to Google in the future is if you are interested in staying loyal to those who claim to “do no evil”. I am interested in a switch, only because Facebook has made clear its intentions for user exploitation. Google too is exploiting the data about us, but in doing so I have rarely felt that Google’s actions have put me in a poorer position.

To abate my rambling and get on to something else, my initial opinion of Google+ is that it has promise. However, its big and clunky and while flashy in some regards (circles is a neat bit of UI coding), really falls short of offering anything new or unique. I don’t have a smartphone yet to tie it to the beta mobile app, but I expect its a similar story after reading the forums for the app. The integration across all of Google’s products is key, the black bar at the top is a nice first step. Ironing out the ownership across all the various pages will be difficult as it surely will spread across all segments of Google’s vast portfolio, but it has to happen.

Sparks is asinine and really needs to be more tightly integrated with Google Reader. Google groups is left out entirely for no clear reason. Google Calendar is similarly absent with meaningful planning and invitation tools needed. Who can say how long this Beta needs to be, but it needs to continue for a while and move throughout the whole of the mammoth that is Google.