Over the past few months, I’ve fallen out of love with Social Networks. They have become simply a means to an end – for contacting distant friends and family. I have several gripes with social networking. The first is that site members often have different agendas so one person might be very political and brandish their beliefs, while another just wants to brandish some newly knitted gloves. Can lead to trouble. Secondly, Social Networks are increasingly linked to dubious marketing, data manipulation and generating wealth for the people really in charge (sadly not me or you).
So why try Google + ? Well, those nice people at Mumsnet have asked me to have a go. And I need to diminish the monopoly that Facebook has on my life. That said, Google can be frustrating too. While writing my first ibook – Cuddle Muddle – out June 2012, I googled “pandas” and was annoyingly limited to just a hundred or so images out of 16 million (Most available pics were stock images requiring payment for use).
I am hearing good things about Google+ such as the group video chat, so it’s time to get my profile up and running. Not a good start. I type ‘Google+’ into Google but can’t see it. So I type ‘Google plus’ and up comes a link to plus.google.com. I am surprised to see a page pop up with my name already there. This must be because I use gmail. I now click on a blue ‘Upgrade’ button, having unticked a box that offers me personalised ads. No. No. And no. It’s bad enough on Facebook where I frequently get ads targeting my male pattern baldness.
Note: Google+ won’t let me upgrade until I put in my full date of birth.
I am taken to Stage Two – ‘Add People’ – on a page where I have to invite people I know. I already see the name of someone who I don’t want to invite. Google+ seems to be raiding my contacts list from Gmail. I click on ten friends who may want to join then ‘Continue’. I am faced with icons of Groups, People and Pages such as … The Stig, Top Gear and Baftas – all things I have searched for previously on Google or posted about on YouTube, so perhaps that’s why they appear.
I click to Follow ‘Technology’ and add YouTube. I get a popup window explaining that I am adding people to a circle and they can add me if they like. Er. Am I being thick here? What people? I thought I was just adding some interesting iconic image thingies. Somewhat confused, I add ‘Entertainment’.
A cheeky pop up says ‘You might be lonely …’ and invites me to add more people to my Circles. Not now. My real-life daughter needs picking up from actual Nursery soon.
I go back to my profile page and decide to SNAP A PHOTO. I give Google+ permission to use my webcam then I take a dreadful pic where I impersonate a boiled egg with glasses. Time to cancel and snap again. This time everything crashes and I am told my webcam is not detected. After a few tries I give up and upload an old pic of me looking more human and less hard-boiled.
I am now at Stage Three of profile building – where I am encouraged to ‘Be Awesome’. I awesomely type in that I am a self-employed children’s writer and add where I awesomely live.
Now I click finish and get to see a short movie of Google+ features, such as ‘hang out with friends’, ‘see what the world is talking about’, and ‘tell my story’ on my profile page. All very Facebook but much glossier. I am tiring fast and decide to come back later to review my progress.
This is a bit like being at a surprise party where the surprise is I have no friends. I am able to see what is trending in ‘Technology’ and ‘Entertainment’ and get to read comments by Celebs I do know but don’t actually know. Keen for some action, I click to video chat with a friend but he is offline.
I have to say, the interface and look of Google+ is so much better than Facebook which comes across as dated and clunky. I sit wishing I had active friends on here. I understand the principle of Circles now, and have ones set up for Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Technology and Following … with the option to create more. Google+ is starting to make sense. I play one of its Games, after reading the privacy notes. By playing I am sharing my profile and name with the developer to (cough) help them design better social games. Some games allow me to partner up with another player and all those involved can see and interact with each other. This is fascinating but I am motivated to change my profile to tighten up who can see me.
Back on my profile I add a Tagline to encapsulate my awesomeness in one sentence, and an Introduction which does the same thing in a paragraph. I like the idea of adding Bragging Rights – mine is to say I’ve been to the Teletubby set and eaten plastic Tubby Toast …
I attempt a Hangout – which requires installation of GoogleVoice&Video. I click on the download and it installs, but should I be letting more Google onto my personal computer. After an easy install, I see my baldy head. Basically this is a glorified web chat with multiple users. Unfortunately my multiple users are all offline. Looks good though and I am keen to explore conferencing with up to 9 friends at the same time.
So what now? I go to ‘Explore’ and add image thingies of ‘Sports’ and ‘Politics’. It is good to know that I can get into a robust political debate with strangers without offending anyone online for a gentle chat about the price of Iced Gems. I read three posts shared by major UK politicians but they all come across as awkward propaganda statements … I sense they are not used to these online networking sites yet. Nor am I.
Google+ has potential to reboot Social Networking but it requires a move from the likes of Facebook. Not easy after several years of being locked in there – Facebook’s Timeline is a clever way of bringing past online experiences back to me. Do I want to lose that info or freeze it forever?
Btw, there is a Google+ mobile app that can be downloaded onto a phone – alas mine is as old as Bruce Forsyth’s jokes and tells me the app can’t be supported.
All in all, this Social Networking malarkey boils down to clever manipulation of you and me. A friend, who is a shrewd businessman, once told me to remember that profit is the bottom line of a business. My data is there to be used and sold, and in return I hope to get an engaging online experience. If I don’t want that I don’t have to get involved …
To click or not to click? That is the question.
I am a member of the Mumsnet Blogging Network, a group of parent bloggers picked by Mumsnet to review products, services, events and brands. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.