Hopes for Google Plus

I haven’t been a big fan of social networks to date. Largely because I believe that social networks are defined by people and not so much by software. Software does have a place though and can play a very big part. Until now, social networks have been synonymous with Facebook. For me, Facebook is a social channel like Twitter, Flickr, Buzz and email just to name a few.

The nice thing about Google’s social effort is that it isn’t about figuring out what features it has to prioritize to go to market with; it’s been mostly about how to package it so that it will be most interesting and useful to the members of a new community. Google was able to start with having Picasa as their default web album, YouTube for their videos, Talk for their messaging infrastructure and Gmail for email and relationships. The concern about not having enough data seems to be a bit unfounded in general.

Here is where I hope Google Plus will be different because it has a strong opportunity to be different. My biggest concern about Google Plus is that it will be another walled garden like the other channels today. If it is, it will have to try to persuade people to add another channel that is unlikely going to be unique. The theme of how Google can be different relates around consolidation and aggregation. This plays into some of Google’s key strength as part of the reason why their search is so powerful is that it intelligently identifies duplication and removes it from the search results.

I am starting to suffer from social channel burn out. Although I have joined as many channels as I know of today, I participate in very few which really defeats the purpose of a channel. One of the nice features that Google Plus has today is that it allows you the ability to interact with others through Google Plus and email. Hopefully, over time they will allow you to interact with people through the other channels as well and allow people to interact with others using the channel that is most meaningful to them. However, in doing do, Google has to duplicate the information at times as there is a strong likelihood that members of the same circle could need to be reached over multiple channels. Plus then needs to consolidate that information so it’s not represented multiple times in my stream otherwise it would generate a lot of noise. This would be no different then any other social channel today.

Personally, I find myself using Google Plus more and more. A large part of that has to do with Gmail being my primary email provider both personally and professionally. This decision makes sense; Gmail is where the concept of contacts and relationships are most prevalent. Lately, Google has also embedded Talk and Voice within Gmail, using it as a launch point for these services. While Google doesn’t work with Google Apps right now, there are plans to accelerate its availability to Google App users. However, making it available will not be enough. They also need a way to somehow consolidate the experience where my relationships between those accounts or personalities are not duplicated by rather aggregated in an intelligent way. Just as I hope that Google will find a way to aggregate the information coming through my stream, I am also hoping that Google will consolidate my critical services (email, chat, voice and video communications) through Plus as well.

There is without a doubt that social is a big deal for Google. In very many ways, it is the same reason why Android is and was important to Google – it’s a way to feed their gigantic advertising machine. It is a way of gathering more information about you so it can feed you more relevant advertisement to you. At the same time, they are also giving you access to the data you create and hopefully manage and own. Regardless of why they launch Google Plus or what features they launch, I hope they will be different because they need to be.

Google Buzz creating too much noise?

There was an interesting Buzz going on started by Louis Grey, one of my favorite bloggers on the web where he’s talking about the noise that cross posting makes. I tried to submit a comment and I couldn’t so I opted to write this thought on my blog instead 😀

Historically speaking, there has been minimal overlap between my Twitter followers and my Facebook followers as I use both quite differently. Buzz is the first time where this problem is about to be an issue. I had originally started this comment with the thought that perhaps the answer is two-way response on Buzz but the solution really is much more intricate than that. It’s got to be automatic aggregation of posts ala Thoora as well. It’d be neat to post something and Buzz automatically recognizes that it already went to other feeds and not post it multiple times but just badge it to say that it was posted on Buzz, Twitter and Facebook for instance. That would make Buzz a much more powerful social tool indeed.

Don’t send me SMS messages; please use Twitter DM instead

This is really a follow up post about how I got my mum to use Twitter exclusively to message me. Since then, I’ve started to really like the combination of Twitter on SMS. It hits a bit of a messaging sweet spot for me.

It’s like instant messaging. The nice thing about having a 140 character limit is that direct messages tend to be concise. Messages are brief and I can decide if and what I am going to respond. Messages also come instataneously if it is tied to SMS.

It’s like email. One of the best things about email is that I can access it any where with any client. Because it is web-service based, I can access it over the web, a desktop client or mobile client. One of the things that I do now is that I leave my work phone in my home office when I get home. Since it is the primary device that I use for communications, I often miss personal SMS messages at night. I can however check my DMs from whereever I happen to be at that moment.

It is SMS with benefits. Since it is tied to SMS, I have it instantly on the device of my choice. Additional benefits of being Twitter is that it isn’t a random number. I have used the moniker firsttiger for over 15 years now so it’s easy for most people to remember my handle. I also change my phone numbers often but I am not likely to change my Twitter handle. Another major benefit for Twitter DM over SMS is that it leverages Internet infrastructure and just uses cellular infrastructure for the last mile so this makes long distance texting cheaper. When I travel, I often use a local SIM card in order to save money on telecommunications. However, long distant SMS messages still apply when I text home. With Twitter DM and some set up, it allows me to just incur local text charges to communicate with people back home.

So if you can, please Twitter DM me instead of texting me. You’ll find that I am more responsive 🙂

PeopleBrowsr – a serious Tweetdeck competitor

Even though Tweetdeck revolutionized Twitter use in my mind, the Twitter desktop client of choice for me is PeopleBrowsr. Tweetdeck did a similiar thing that the iPhone did which was to revolutionize the Twitter desktop clients. I now describe Twitter as an office and the group concept is similiar to different water coolers in the office. It allows me to hang out at particular watercoolers depending on what is going on or what I’m interested in at that part of the day. When I first used PeopleBrowsr, it was a web version of the already very popular Tweetdeck but it was extremely buggy to say the least but even then it had quite a lot of potential. I like the idea of having a web based version of Tweetdeck because I’m not always on the same computer all the time. Since then, PeopleBrowsr has quickly grown to be a very powerful Twitter client and is currently my default Twitter client.

 
Groups
The concept of groups was revolutionized by Tweetdeck. PeopleBrowsr has taken it one step further by creating the concept of public and private groups. For instance, I’ve created public groups for Zoocasa for people who want to follow the Zoocasa team members on Twitter. This would have been useful when we first started using Twitter on Zoocasa and it would have been easy to just give people the group name and they would have had a default “water cooler” to join. While #followfridays are an interesting concept, I find it more interesting to assign certain ids to groups. For instance, I created a group called #ftgrcoolproducts so that I could follow products that I thought were really interesting. For industry reasons, I also recently created a group called real estate canada.
 
View Conversations
Tweetdeck has recently added this but PeopleBrowsr was one of the few clients (the other one being PockeTwit) that had the ability to see the thread of a conversation. I personally found it really powerful expecially when I wanted to see the context of a conversation. Peoplebrowsr’s inline conversation view is quite useful as I don’t have to be scrolling around to view the conversation.
 
Collapsed DM+Replies+Sent
One of the things that I really like about PockeTwit was that it put all of my replies and DMs into one column because all messages are directed at me. With PeopleBrowsr, you can take it one step further by adding your sent messages in a single column.
 
Helicopter view
The helicopter view is quite useful as well. It’s a summary view of all your groups at once. This is useful if you have a lot of groups and just want a quick way to glance what is the most recent tweet at that point.
 
Other Social Media Platforms
PeopleBrowsr also allows you to consolidate quite a handful of other social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Identi.ca, FriendFeed and Flickr.
 
Adobe AIR Client
PeopleBrowsr does have an Adobe AIR Client which is essentially a dedicated web browser for PeopleBrowsr. I’ve found it to chew up lots of memory eventually and at some point, it doesn’t poll Twitter properly. That can always be fixed with a restart of the AIR client.
 
PeopleBrowsr also boasts of other products and features which I haven’t had a tonne chance to play with. When you log on to www.peoplebrowsr.com, it has products like search, marketers, hot lists, news and conference. 

Twitter SMS is so much better than regular SMS

It’s true what they say – it’s hard to miss what you never had. For the longest time, Canada was bereft of Twitter over SMS. I never once thought about it impacting me since in my mind, I would always use an app like PockeTwit or Twikini. Even after my carrier got the ability to use Twitter over SMS, I was a bit non-chalant about it. It took me almost a week for Twitter to get its kinks out of the way but finally it worked.

For me, the primary magic really was getting Mama Kang on Twitter. I have mum set up on Tweetdeck at home but my mum would rarely log on to it. I quickly realized that the best way to do this was to get it to work over SMS for mum. Mum is very much a technophobe choosing not to use tech because she doesn’t have to. Once she was introduced to Twitter SMS, she got used to the idea of checking and sending text messages. One slight problem – mum could not figure out how to get to the @ sign from her SE W810. I eventually got her a used T-Mobile G1 from @elusivejackal. I was surprised how quickly she got used to the idea of using the smartphone but more on that on another post. Mum now constantly DMs me and it’s great.

Here’s why Twitter SMS is better than regular SMS. For me, it’s because it gives me a much wider reach of friends and family. SMS is the bridge for people who aren’t incline to be on their computer all the time or have a smartphone but whom I want to stay connected with and hopefully they with me.

Another great side effect of having Twitter SMS. While I’m more than happy to be on my mobile device all day long, I tend not to be. When I’m home, I tend to leave my primary phone (tgrmobile) on my home office desk. Cool thing is that I have access to my DMs through other devices scattered around the house.

So my new take on Twitter SMS is that it’s probably the most effective technology to bridge the technophiles and technophobes.

Twikini – Initial Review

I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my phone OS to Windows Mobile 6.5 and my initial reaction is more phew than anything else. Upgrading to a non-official ROM always comes with tonnes of risk. One major by product of upgrading to this particular ROM is that my favourite WinMo Twitter app doesn’t work yet on .NET CF 3.7. After reading some intial reviews, I decided to give Twikini a try.

Screenshot

Twikini provides all of the basic features of Twitter such as reply and re-tweeting. It also allows you to shorten URLs and post pics and separates between your friends’ stream, replies and direct messages. One interesting feature is that it can automatically tweet whatever music or song you’re listening to on your Windows Mobile device. One nice thing about it is that it’s not written in .NET which translates to running pretty quickly on your mobile device. Twikini is a rather simple app which is both its strength and its weakness. It all really depends on who is the user of the app. For instance, I think it’s a fabulous app if you’re just monitoring your stream of friends. It’s simple to use and focuses on the core functions such as tweeting, replies, re-tweeting and favouriting a tweet. There is very little getting used to as it keeps the Windows Mobile paradigm of smart buttons. If you need more advanced features like groups or posting from multiple services (for me, it’s ping.fm) then Twikini isn’t there yet.

Some of the immediate shortcomings of Twikini that they should be able to fix with relative ease is giving users the ability to follow another user and give users a count of new messages based on friends stream, replies and direct messages. One of the question marks will be if the simplicity and speed will entice end users to pay $5.95 when they can get PockeTwit for free.

PockeTwit – 0.74 Review

One of the things that I love about PockeTwit is that it is in constant development. One downside is that it is hard to know when is a good time to blog about it. Even though other good apps like Twikini have been launched since I last blogged, I still find myself going back to PockeTwit all the time. In fact, if I had a choice, I would use PockeTwit as my primary Twitter app instead of Tweetdeck only because it can do everything Tweetdeck can.

Outside of the features that amazed me in my first review like having a very usable user interface and integration with other providers like ping.fm, PockeTwit has recently included the concept of groups, saved searches, retweeting, showing a conversation chain and emailing someone a status. Some other nice things they have included are the ability to create and change themes and the ability to clear the cache if needed. Personally not high value to me personally but still good features.

The ability to have groups is certainly quite valuable. When I started using Twitter, I followed only a handful of friends. Since Twitter has a whole universe of interesting people, I’ve found myself following many more people since then. So the ability to group them is essential. It’s allows me to better focus on conversations in groups. The nice thing about PockeTwit is that when I assign them to a group, I can either copy them to a group or move them completely. I started out with copying fellow twitters to groups but I’m starting to realize moving them to groups makes more sense. Especially in a mobile form factor.

Being able to see a conversation is phoenomenal. Most mobile clients have this feature. I’m curious as to why most desktops don’t. It’s so nice to take a tweet and check out the history of the conversation. This is one of the reasons why moving a person instead of copying works in PockeTwit.

The other great part about PockeTwit is the ability to do a search and also re-run those searches later on. This implementation is less polished as how it is implemented is that it shows you the previous searches as part of a drop-down box. I guess it should more accurately be described as remembered searches instead of saved searches. I would have liked this to be accessible the way Groups are but I can understand why it’s implemented the way it is. I haven’t figured out how to delete searches from the drop-down list. So far it hasn’t been much of a problem because I don’t execute searches very often on my mobile device.

I personally believe that the reason why PockeTwit is such a phenomenal product is because the developer uses the app all the time. If I had a choice, I would want all of the features developed here on a desktop. Features like retweeting and emailing someone a status just makes sense. I also like being able to see the person’s timeline as well as profile. Given that it’s a mobile form factor, I like the fact that profile and timeline are separated out. Other niceties are that when I click on a tweet, it quickly separates out all of the things that I can interact with such as hyperlinks and profiles. Another sign of a great product is the ability to recognize when a feature isn’t as useful as originally imagined. In between my two reviews, there was a map feature where you could see where people were tweeting from. The feature was quickly recognized as not as useful as originally thought it would be and was removed. It was a good decision because I think that means that the developer can focus on core features instead of maintaining something obscure.

Overall, I am still in love with PockeTwit as my primary Twitter client for Windows Mobile

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