Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Viva el Google!
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of all things Google. Well, if it was a secret, it wouldn't be anymore because I just said it. I use Android as my primary operating system. I have a Cr48 Chromebook. I use and love Google+, GMail, Google Voice, YouTube, Blogger, Google Maps (including free navigation on my Droid), Google Music, and Google Talk. I even thought Wave had huge potential.
But I don't use Buzz. A guy's got to have standards.
Seriously, what's not to love about Google's services? I get the best email client, free. The best smartphone operating system, free. The best chat client, social media interface, blog interface, video sharing hub, visual voicemail and texting, online media storage . . . FREE! What's not to like?
There are a few out there who really, really don't like Google. Their mantra is, "Nothing's Free". It may seem like I'm getting all of these kick-butt services gratis, but, they claim, there' s a toll to be paid . . . IN BLOOD! OK, I made up that last part. Still, some argue that Google's "free" services are far from, and the cost is one to your personal security and internet enjoyability. Google, they argue, farms your personal data and uses it to sell you ads. Thus, Google is evil and should never be used. Sure, you get free stuff; but at what cost? AT WHAT COST?!
The people I've run across who hold this outlook are usually big fans of Microsoft (trust me; MS fanbois do exist) or Apple. Occasionally you get a Linux fan in there, but they don't really count (I kid, I kid!). Funny thing is, Microsoft and Apple do the same thing; they just charge you more while doing it. And deliver a substandard product (at least, as far as smartphones and browsers are concerned; full OSes are a different matter).
Let's get this straight: Google does have an incentive to get you to use their services (unless you opt out). If you use their services, Google will track anonymous data on you and use it to sell adspace. You'll also get targeted ads (again, if you don't opt out) on their services and others. So, the analytics that all companies collect from their user base in any case are also collected by Google from its users. The ads you were going to see anyway are targeted to your interests. That's the "catch". I'm serious; that's what people complain about. Microsoft, Apple, Firefox; they all do the same thing. Why single out Google? At least their products rock, and I couldn't care less if an ad is relevant to me or not. Why all the hate?
I'm not going to waste any more space on that aspect, but I thought I'd bring it up. If you don't like your usage statistics being anonymised, collected, and used, don't use Google services. Or Apple's. Or Microsoft's. Or visit things on teh intertubez.
That out of the way, on with the mushy gushing over Google!
For serious, though, I didn't come here to share my love for all things Goog. I came here to spread my love for all things Goog. There are some great, new, Google services that need to have participants in order for them to be successful. The two I'm going to cover today are Google Music and Google+ (Wave is gone, so I'll just pour one out for the best collaboration site that money could buy, and that happened to be free).
People should have this if for nothing other than a cloud backup suite for their music. You can store up to 20,000 songs, any quality, for free. You can then access those songs from your Android phone, any computer, or even your iPhone via a web app. You can make playlists, stream, download; whatever you like. If it were just that, everyone ought to be onboard.
But it's not. The real potential with Google Music, in my mind, is for indie artists. Right now, all you need to be a selling artist on Google Music is an account; one time fee of $25, and you get 70% of the sale price for any track or album you sell (http://music.google.com/artists/). You can set your price (even free), set your preview time (90 seconds, full song, etc.), and you might even get featured by Google on their front page for the music store.
This will basically do what YouTube did for a lot of people: kill the middleman. Well, not literally. OK, maybe if the middleman is pushed out of work and ends up starving on the streets, but I kind of doubt that. What musician wouldn't want the opportunity for a large distribution network where they could call all of the shots?
None of this means much, though, if the distribution network isn't that big. So support your local artist; get on Google Music. If for nothing other than cloud backup, it's a great piece of software. Listening to your music anywhere with an internet connexion is just ketchup on the fries.
This is my real reason for writing, today: Google+. Imagine Facebook, but now pretend it doesn't suck. You've just imagined Google+. I'll now try to convince you to get on Google+, since a social network is nothing without active participants.
We'll start with Circles. Circles is Google+'s method of sharing. On the Facebook (it's more fun to say it like an old fart), things revolve around people's "walls". If you want to share something, you simply post it to your wall. Now the whole world can see that you had tuna fish for lunch and try to care about it. If you want to tell someone that you had a good time at dinner, you go to their wall and post, "dood teh dinnar was sick! lol" Everyone can now see that you both had dinner. It's not a bad system, but it's just a little, how to put this . . . narcissistic.
Circles is a new way to share. You actually share with people you know in relevant ways instead of simply shouting things to the world. Facebook has, since the release of Google+, tried to integrate this feature; but it's not an underlying philosophy like it is with Google+. You have no wall in Google+, just a stream of things you've shared with others or things others have shared with you. There is no message box; if you want to share with just one person, only choose that one person when you make a post.
"But how do I tell the world what's going on with me right now? My life is really important and I need everyone to know exactly what's going on at any given moment because people really give a crap." You can still feed your narcissism if need be; simply make a post and share it with Public, which means the whole world. If you want to say happy birthday to someone but you absolutely need everyone else you know to know that you wished them a happy birthday, simply share with your circles (or Extended circles, or Public) and tag the person you're well wishing in the post. That way no one has to miss out on your overwhelming magnanimity.
The beauty of Google+, though, is that it lets you interact like a normal person would in normal society. You can wish a happy birthday just to the person who has a birthday. You can message a group of people you're going to a movie with later to coordinate. You can have separate circles for your friends, family, acquaintances, and others; and you can share things with one or more of them. You can create a circle for your nerdy friends so only people who want to hear about the latest lore discrepancy in the new Star Wars game will hear about it.
But wait, there's more! If you act now, you'll also get unlimited storage for photos (great cloud backup; you can download photos from it, too) with sharing/commenting ability, the best chat client out there, full YouTube integration, the ability to group video chat (with video sharing in the chat, too, if you like), the ability to share songs via Google Music, and much more!
How much would you pay for this entire package? $300 a year? $500 a year? No! It's absolutely free!
Gushing aside, I really would like to see Google+ become the dominant social media hub. It's just so much more natural than Facebook, and you feel so much more in control. Sharing is more intuitive and real, connexions are more meaningful, and the interface just kicks so much more booty; from photo albums to chatting.
So, give it a whirl; and tell 'em Skipper sent ya! How? Oh, just make a post and share it with Public. No one will care, but that will make you feel more at home if you're a Facebook junkie; you know, just saying things to no one in particular for no real reason at all.