So, I’ve been on G+ since June 29th and have had a chance to interact, join a hangout or two and generally play around with it as it’s grown. My general impressions are that it is a happening place – 10 million users in the first month or so of life indicates that it had some initial traction, though as more people use it and become familiar with it, those numbers have leveled off a bit (more about that later, I promise). As with most new social networking sites, the initial phase was all about G+ all the time – people were figuring it out, trying to find ways to make it useful to them and generally kicking the tires a bit. As it has gotten older and more settled, the posts are less about G+ and the features people love/hate/want and more about life and sharing bits of it with people in your circles.
While I appreciate the ease of the circle implementation on G+, I’m still spending too much time rearranging and reconfiguring my own circles. Heirarchical circles (the ability to place a circle of close friends into a circle of “general” friends so that all friends posts go to everyone, but I can choose to send only close friends the really personal posts, for example) would be nice, as would a way to permanently choose a “default” posting configuration. Most of my posts should be classed as “public” and I’d prefer to be able to set the public circle as my default, changing it to a more limited circle as needed. Others, of course, would prefer the most limited range to be their default – either way, we should be able to set that kind of thing easily and I haven’t found a way to do it yet.
Though I haven’t spent much time on it yet, the Hangout feature is by far my favorite – just in terms of sheer possibilities. My favorite use of a hangout so far has been an interactive cooking demonstration. All the ingredients were posted ahead of time, a time was set and the hangout was started. As people gathered in the hangout (and their kitchens), the “lesson” began and everyone started cooking together. The hangout continued through the cooking stage and into the eating and enjoying a bit of converation after dinner stage. Those who joined the hangout learned a new recipe, maybe some new cooking techniques and had a social experience while still having all the comforts of home. I’ve also heard of people having jam sessions over G+ hangouts. I’m sure I’ve missed other hangouts that were just as creative and interesting, too…
Of course, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is the way in which Google is choosing to run its service. Google has a real/common names policy – you must use either your real, legal name or the name you are commonly known by, which may be why the numbers of new users have been leveling off lately. I’ve seen it explained both ways and it’s not really clear which one Google is actually enforcing – but they are enforcing something, that is for sure. Many people have been critical of the decision and are choosing not to use G+ until they allow pseudonyms and being able to hide behind “fake” names. This is, of course, their right to do so – and there are good and valid reasons why someone would decide to never use their real name on the Internet. That doesn’t change the fact that Google pays the bills and Google gets to make the rules. I read an explanation of the reasoning behind the rules the other day and they make sense, to me at least… 😉 Google knows that keeping people’s privacy on the Internet is a near impossibility – they cannot guarantee without a shadow of a doubt that if you post something to G+ under a pseudonym that they can keep it from ever being traced back to your real name, so they choose not to pretend that they can. They are being up front and realistic about the Internet today – it’s pretty crazy out there (see BART vs. Anonymous for more on that one…) and they have chosen to go the way of full disclosure. Of course, the way it’s being handled and the way Google is responding to feedback is occasionally clumsy, but this is a beta product and they are feeling their way along, just as we are. One of the reasons they give (besides the inability to guarantee privacy) for requiring real names is to put a stop (or at least a pause…) to spammers. This is pretty much failing – spammers are there, they just use plausible sounding names and create an account. They may eventually be found and deleted, but for a while they are going to be a problem for everyone – real names requirement or not.
Libraries have much to consider when contemplating using this service for anything – we have to decide if we want to “endorse” the real names requirement and make it mandatory for our patrons to sign up with a real name on an Internet site to interact with us (of course, Twitter still allows psuedonyms, so there are options…). We need to consider whether offering hangout-enabled programming or classes will be of any use to our patrons – and will be doable by our staff. I’m personally a bit reluctant to make it a *requirement* to join a class or attend a program (no G+ only classes at my library – at least for a while), though making it an alternate way to attend might be acceptable. Each library is going to have to consider the pros and cons and make those decisions for themselves. Until then, though, I still have a bunch of G+ invites if anyone wants to give the service a try – just shoot me your Google email address at firstname.lastname@example.org!