Sunday, January 08, 2012

Crazy Crossovers

Some months back, when it was in a 99c special offer, I added "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" to my book collection. If you haven't heard of it, Seth Grahame-Smith took most of Jane Austen's work (by now in the public domain) and added a zombie subplot. 

Then about a month back, one of Google Plus's more popular contributors,Tessie L'Amour, offered up the option of personalizing her (NSFW) books so that the purchaser could pick the names of the protagonists. That idea isn't new as I recall my parent getting me a personalised book when I was young. It involved a wizard who enjoyed peanut butter and had a magic sunflower. See, these things can stick with you !

Wanting to experiment with some Google Apps Mail Merging, I borrowed both concepts. Following the guide, what came out was a web-form where you can enter the desired first and last names, plus an email address, and you get a personalised PDF of the first of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, "A Scandal in Bohemia". A google search quickly found similar personalisation of other classic works.

This is the story where Sherlock meets the only woman he truly respects. The personalisation relates to the name of the woman (Irene Adler in the original), rather than Sherlock or Watson. I'd prefer an actual ebook format, but that looks a lot trickier. I've settled for sizing the PDF as A5 which makes it readable on my Kindle.

I haven't (yet) included the original Sidney Paget pictures, though I suspect they will also be in the public domain by now. That may happen in future, but work beckons for tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Playing with Google Plus

It's a Christmas break for me and I've been reviewing my social networking commitments.

I started by thinning RSS Feeds and Twitter load. My main problem with Twitter was a lot of my subscriptions were US based and the timezone meant a poor fit for me. The feed often overflowed overnight, and relatively little would come up during the day.

I'm shifting more to Google Plus. My initial experience echoes the "Quiet here, isn't it" which I saw mentioned a lot in the media. Luckily after persisting for a few days, I found some shared circles to import, and later someone else shared a circle with me of 500 Aussies. 
This is the first failing of Google Plus - unless you are following someone when they share a circle, you will miss it. That makes it hard to find a decent starting point.

I have found Google Plus much more like Twitter than Facebook. If Facebook friends are people I'd invite over for dinner, Twitter and Google Plus contacts are a wider group of people I'd chat with in a restaurant or a pub.

Circles are a useful way to group people to read, similar to Twitter lists. For example, I have circles of writers, of Australians, of techies etc. They can be useful in distributing some material to a limited audience, but I'd recommend posting most things to Public. There are items I'll only post to my Australian or Techie circles if I think it would 'pollute' my public flow with information that most people would find irrelevant.

If there are some people I want to hear everything from, I put them in a specific circle and I can read everything in that circle. 'Noisy' individuals will go into a circle where I don't mind missing posts. 

Google Plus has a couple advantages over Twitter. 

Firstly, comments are attached to a post which allows for a conversation to develop. I don't find Twitter conversations as usable (but maybe that's my client). In Twitter, I get a few disjointed messages if I don't follow everyone who is chatting, but I can see everyone who comments on a Plus post. Another failing of Google Plus is that when you re-share another person's post, it is hard for the recipient to get back to the original. As such, they'll tend to comment on the shared post not the original.

By the way, when you comment on a post, you can't see who the post was shared with. That means you don't know who can see your comment. When in doubt, assume it is visible to everyone, including your boss, wife and mother.

Secondly, there's no 140 character limit. The posts can be fuller and include images and video. With Twitter, sometimes I get redirected through half a dozen URL shorteners to see a cartoon I read through someone else the day before. 

My gut feel is that Twitter has more to worry about from Google Plus than Facebook. 

  • Migration from Twitter has few barriers. It wouldn't be hard for a client to integrate tweets into a Google Plus stream. It will be easy to pull out a list of who an individual follows for that integration. It will also be pretty easy to find accounts on Google Plus corresponding to those twitter accounts.
  • Tweets are ephemeral so no-one expects to maintain history.
  • Twitter doesn't have features likes games that contribute to the stickiness of Facebook.
  • The content will be that bit richer on Google Plus than the forced brevity of Twitter.
Pay a few of the high-profile Tweeters to shift over, and you'll get some major traction. The biggest barrier is probably the 18 age limit on Google Plus, so Twitter might still maintain a place as a 'kiddie channel'.

Personally, I expect to abandon Twitter in the next 12 months.

The Minus about Plus 

There's still a lot that is broken in Google Plus. 

  1. I had a couple of fireworks photos on my phone from New Year's Eve and Android's "Instant Upload" took at least a day and a half. 
  2. Sometimes retrieving posts suffers from irritating lags. My guess would be that, even for Google, they still need to work on scaling.
  3. Saying the API is half done would be generous. It doesn't allow posting so that means there are no practical third-party clients, and there's no way of automating posts (eg from an RSS feed). They shouldn't fix that until after they can guarantee the scaling.
  4. I'm still managing a primary and 'Google Apps' account because the merging is yet to materialize. I've also got a separate page for SydOracle which I will have to think about.
  5. Managing circle membership is cumbersome. It would be nice to have the ability to make some circles as public/shared and for them to show up on a profile.
  6. To a degree, it is still 'empty'. If your interest if photography or Android, you will be spoilt for choice. Other interests or hobbies may be less well represented.


If you are going to join Google Plus (or get deeper into it) I recommend the following :

  • Share or post a bunch of stuff over a week or so, and make it all Public. That way anyone looking at your posts will get some idea of who you are, what you are interested in etc. Sharing stuff through Google Reader works well for me. Sharing from the browser on my Android phone is less pretty.
  • Then build up a LONG profile. You can search profiles for key words (or twitter handles etc) so make sure that anyone looking for you can find you.
When you put someone in your circles, they may put you in theirs. If they push some material only to particular circles, you want them to easily work out which of those might be appropriate for you. 

  • Do some searches on things that interest you. If you find posts that interest you, add the author into an appropriate READ circle. See who they follow, and you may find some more people to add.
  • Read up on this for finding people. 
  • If someone you have circled seems well-integrated, and your profile has been sufficiently engaging that they have added you, then you can send them the equivalent of a direct-message. Ask them if they have a circle of similar people they can share with you.