July 5, 2011

How Fireworks are like Online Communities

Since not everyone has access to Google+ yet, I'm cross-posting this here:

I grew up alternating my 4th of July's between very large, city sponsored events and small town Main Street America celebrations. The big city event would involve packing a picnic, blanket, some lawn darts, and staking out a spot in a grassy park with the family. There were easily 15,000 other families in the park, but every family pretty much did their own thing. There would be a concert (Paul Revere and the Raiders, on their perennial comeback tour, was a favorite group) to help the afternoon pass quickly. The toughest part of the day was after sunset when it was too dark to play, but not dark enough to start the fireworks. Those moments were eternities of time for a 9 year old. Finally, at the appointed time, the show would begin. A good display could last for 45 minutes often with stretches of just a few fireworks timed to the music. Then there was the walk to the car, or sometimes the long walk home, and blissful sleep awaiting tired legs at the end of the journey.

The small town celebration was an all day affair too. A parade would be the highlight of the day. Some small towns do the parade better, and the one I attended, at Grass Valley/Nevada City, CA had one of the best. From the Ophir Prison Marching Band, to floats tossing candy to kids, to high school bands who united even after school had been adjourned for weeks. After the parade everyone adjourned to a nearby park for picnics and a fireworks display. These weren't as long or as powerful as the big city shows, but no one cared. For the small town it was all about the community being unified behind a common cause. At the end of the night, the result was the same -- a long journey home for tired legs and feet.

Now that I have my own family, I find us not participating in either option above. Our neighborhood has a number of residents who put on their own smaller displays. Then the neighbors in our cul-de-sac put together a little show of ground level firework. Each 4th of July has become a way of bringing our little corner of the world together. It's a much smaller community, but seems no less important to me.

When I'm looking for new online communities, I keep in mind my experience of different sized community events, like these fireworks displays, and remember that each community has its own attributes, goals, needs, and growth trajectory. Sometimes it's a giant public display, and sometimes it's all about sharing things with those closest to you. It's all good. Just participate and enjoy.

July 1, 2011

Google Plus Custom Profile Settings

Learned a few things about how Google+ lets you customize your Google Profile in new ways. First, click on your name in Google+ to get taken to your profile then click edit profile.

Let's start by clicking in the Photos tab. You can now control whose tags of you are automatically approved to link to your Profile. You can choose any circle, all circles, extended circles, or public.

You can now add a button to your Google profile that will allow people to email you from your profile. Click the little globe icon net to the 'Send an email' box. You can click to allow and then choose anyone on the web, or any variety of your circles.

Finally, you can control whether or not you want people in your circles to appear on your profile, or select only people from certain circles to appear. This is useful if you want to hide members of a particular circle (like the members of that bridal party you met in Vegas last year).

I'm sure there will be further controls. But it's interesting to see that you have to look further than just the settings for Google+ to see how it's changing how you interact with Google.

Don't forget I'm also keeping a working list of tips, tricks, FAQs, and troubleshooting issues for Google Plus. Make sure to add anything you find. 

Google+ FAQs, Tips, and Tricks (aka Google Plus or G+)

I'm using this post to collect features, tips, tricks and other frequently asked questions from Google's new social network Google+. This isn't meant to be a basics training of how-to as much as a reference guide. I apologize if it seems disordered. I just want to get the information up there and will be ordering it more usefully later.

First, what do we call it. Google uses Google+, but I've also seen it as GooglePlus (or Google Plus) where a non-alphanumeric letter isn't accepted and just g+ for short.

If you're new to the service and getting a lot of email notifications. You can change those in the settings, even directing some to come as SMS messages or not at all.

Update: There are other settings that have been added to your Google Profile page that appear once you're using Google+. I've added screenshots and some tips for that too..


Who you follow is organized by Circles. They're semi-private. You know when someone has added you to a circle, but you don't know which one. That works in reverse too.

The circles has lots of fun animation. Try deleting a circle.

Want to fit more circles onto your screen? Temporarily hit 'ctrl -' to shrink the font size. Then 'ctrl +' to return to normal when you're done. This is just your browser's zoom feature, but it's useful here. Btw, it's cmd- and cmd+ on the Mac.

A couple of suggested strategies for creating circles

  • Create circles for groups of people who match groups you interact with in real life. (friends, co-workers, bowling team, etc). Add people to multiple circles as it applies. This lets you share directly with those groups, view the streams from just that group, or quickly create a Hangout or Huddle if you're on the mobile app.
  • Create groups of people you want to follow, even if you don't know them (e.g., writers, celebrities, etc). It's not likely they're following you back, so no reason to share with these circles.
  • There's no pressure to add any follower you don't know to a circle. They can see your public posts, but your own stream won't get overloaded with posts from strangers. If you do want to check in on your follower behavior, browse the Incoming chip (see below).


Google is slowly doling out invites and access to Google+. Keep an eye on the right column of the stream tab to see when you have the ability to send invites. In the meantime, Google has said that if you add someone to your circles, they will eventually get an invitation.

Apparently if you write a post and share it with a Gmail email that person will get an invite. I have yet to test this.


You can click on profile pictures to rotate through them

Mousing over someone's name spawns a modal layer that let's you add them to a circle or click on their name to see their profile.

Joining Google+ changes your Google profile and some parts become incompatible with those who aren't yet on Google+.

If you drag someone's +name into the 'link' section of the share box, it will create nice looking link to that person's profile.


Watching YouTube videos. If everyone in the Hangout activates the Youtube button then you can watch and chat at the same time. Google+ sets your microphone to mute while the video is running, but you can activate it with the "push to talk" button.


You can select stream to see everything in all your streams, including public items, and share with extended circle items. Or select individual circles.

Incoming isn't a circle but appears as a 'chip' under Stream in the left column. It shows shared posts from people who are following you, but you haven't added to a circle.


Nothing yet.


To enable chat, click on the "Chat with people on Google+" link. That gives you chat similar to gchat in Gmail.

Google+ warns you that it's possible you're sharing your email address when you chat with someone. So choose wisely.

The chatting box can be resized by dragging the top of the box.

You can use the Google Talk app to start a chat and view the chat on Google+

Text Formatting:

There is some basic text formatting
*bold*, _italics_ and -strike-through-

Keyboard shortcuts:

In the stream use 'j' to navigate down to the next item or 'k' to move up to the previous one. (Like Gmail and Google Reader or vi for the real nerds (you know who you are))

Press 'q' twice to add people to your chat list. (Reportedly buggy)

When you're focused on a post, hitting 'Enter' opens up the comment box.

When you're in a post, hitting 'Tab' will shift you through the names and links. Useful for reading comments quickly.

Also when you're commenting, hitting tab and then return (not together) will post your comment.


At the top right of each post, click the circle/triangle icon for a menu. You can edit or delete your own posts, disable commenting or sharing. On other people's posts you can use this to link to the post, mute it, block the person, or report abuse.

Similar to Twitter, you can call out anyone you're following by using the +name convention (@name also works) in a post. This works the same as adding them to the 'sharing' field.

If you want to hit the most people you can select 'Extended Circles' which will go to everyone in your circles and all the people in their circles. Obviously, don't abuse this or risk being blocked or kicked out for spam.

De-select "Also email x people not yet using Google+" if you don't want your message to end up in friends email boxes. Of course, that may be a way to get them Google+ invites, so YMMV.

After you've hit share on your post, you can click the 'edit' button and go back and make changes. There's no word if there's a time limit on how long you can return and make edits.

You can post a comment by hitting 'tab' then 'return'

Private Messages:

There is no way to directly send a private message. However you can remove all circles and public from your sharing field, then just use +name convention. After that select 'disable share'. That should work for now. No promises however.

If you add Public, it will go directly to that person, but also appear in your stream for those who are following you. (or you can send it to a person(s) and a circle(s))


Currently I'm not seeing much use of the #hashtag format or anything similar for keyword tracking. But this maybe because there is no search function on Google+ right now. You can search site:plus.google.com on Google to get some limited results. And the #hashtag format could work as a way to organize by topic outside Sparks.


If you're commenting on a 'limited' post, click on Limited next to the time stamp to see with whom you'll be sharing your comments.


The permalink for each post is found as part of the timestamp.


On a picture page in the gallery, select the 'Actions' button then 'edit photo' to use some fun filters on your photo.

You can drag and drop photos and video from your desktop to the share box for posting. 

Bonus: with a Google+ account you get unlimited photo storage on Picasa!

Uploading photos to Google+ from your iPhone. It's a bit of a hack, but it works.

1. Use an iPhone app that uploads your photos to Picasa (Web Albums or ShoZu work).
2. Find your photos via the Google+ mobile interface (check Your Albums -> Photos from posts)
3. Finally, leave a comment on the photo and it will appear in Google+ . Huzzah.

(see techlife for more detailed instructions.)


During the early stages of Google+, please use the 'Send feedback' mechanism when you see something wrong or that could be improved. The g+ team is tracking these for future improvements. You can selected 'send feedback' from your 'settings' menu or via the tab in the lower right corner of the g+ screen.

Business Pages:

According to this post on SearchEngineLand, Google is actively discouraging businesses from setting up Google+ accounts. In fact this help file says they're banned, although if you already had a Google Profile for your business you're grandfathered in.. In the same post, a Google employee says that they're coding as fast as they can to have a solution for businesses that want to be on Google+. So Stay tuned. 


The Robert Scoble Virus Problem:
Like Kevin Bacon is to the movie industry, so is Robert Scoble to the tech world. Every time a new service starts, people reach to follow him. There's a good reason for this, Scoble is a terrific curator. So if you want to learn the ways of any new service, listening to Scoble and who he talks to, is key. But this creates a signal to noise problem. Scoble's posts and all his commenters will bin to dominate your stream. Right now there is really no cure but to endure or mute his posts.

Right now your steam is ordered by most-recently commented upon rising to the top. Google has said they're working on providing other ordering options. In the meantime, they recommend using "Mute this post" for anything you consider noise.

The +1 button is not currently feeding to the +1 tab of your profile page. Google is aware of this and says they're working on it for a future update.

Related to this anything you +1 elsewhere on the web shows up on your profile +1 tab, but not Google+.


Update 7/1: Google has fixed the sharing problem in such a way that you can't share a limited post with public. However, you can share it with any of your circles, which can get quite large.  You're still allowed to disable resharing on posts you don't want shared.

There is currently a privacy issue where you can share any item in your stream to anyone else. This includes taking an item that might have been directed at you privately or as part of a circle, and making it public. There is a debate as to whether this is a feature or a bug at the moment.

However you can disable the ability to reshare on a post by post basis. After the post is live, click the arrow at the top-right o the post and choose "Disable reshare."

RSS Feeds
Currently there is no RSS feed for your stream. Nor is there a way to import RSS or XML feeds.

Aggregating other streams
This is one of the ways Google+ differs from FriendFeed. There is currently very little aggregation. Someone has created a Chrome plugin that makes it easier to send g+ links to Facebook or Twitter. But it's not natively integrated and only works intermittently.


Of course, this isn't a complete list. So add anything you've found regarding tips, tricks, or FAQs for Google+. Also please feel free to follow me on g+.