I’ll Be Building WordPress Stuff Starting… Now

For a while I’ve been thinking I should learn a bit more about the code behind WordPress themes and plugins. I’m a software developer by day (in a different environment), but software is software and learning the ins and outs of how WordPress works would be a good exercise. I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit I came back from WordCamp San Francisco with a bit of a desire to learn how to code a bit in hopes of improving WordPress itself.

I’m also in the midst of launching a side brand related to my Portland-area photography business. It’ll be a month or two until it’s unveiled, but I have a vision for the online component. Rather than try to kludge my way into something that doesn’t fit, I decided this would be a great time to get into WordPress.

I’ve setup a local WordPress development environment, pored over the WordPress Codex, and am diving into constructing a theme.

Wish me luck.

Google+ Can’t Really Work for Events Yet

We’re now several weeks into Google+ and folks seem to be getting a handle on how they might use (or not use) the service. In addition to the usual tech early adopters, photographers have flocked to Google+ in droves. A few prominent photographers with strong online followings (such as Thomas Hawk and Trey Ratcliff) have championed the service as a great way to share photos and interact with the photography community. For these purposes, it works well.

On the other hand, the lack of an API, search functions, and/or robust mobile apps is preventing Google+ from being the answer in one big use case: events. Smart event attendees use Twitter to connect with other attendees, speakers, and staff. A hashtag is usually created for the event; anyone can follow along by using a search for the tag. These searches can be saved, and some applications allow for a search (or a list) to be used in lieu of the timeline view so that one can easily see the incoming items for the tag.

Given that my usage of Google+ shows that I could see it replacing Twitter, this is a roadblock.

Google+ simply won’t work at events right now for two reasons:

  • Lack of search – Without search, any sort of #hashtag is useless. One can’t even search for the event name. As noted above, this is likely the killer feature for Twitter at events.
  • No single-circle view on mobile apps – even if someone manually created a circle for the event, the mobile apps only show a combined “stream” view – there isn’t (at this point) a way to view only posts from a single circle.

I know many folks who were skeptical about the usefulness of Twitter until they used it at an event – it truly was one of the key use cases that helped the service gain traction. I hope that Google+ implements features soon allowing it to be used in a similar fashion. As it stands now, I’ll be heading to WordCamp San Francisco next week with around 1,000 other folks. Google+ won’t be of much use… back to Twitter we go.

I’d really like Google+ to succeed. I really don’t think I can continue to devote a lot of time to it unless it gets past some limitations quickly.

Google+ is Threatening My Twitter

Shortly after joining Google+, I decided to go Facebook-free for a while. Based on what I read/heard/seen, supposedly Google+ was going to attempt to be the “Facebook killer.” For context, you should know that my Facebook use was already fairly limited – I would check in once or twice a day, mainly to see what was going on with some folks I know who live in Facebook and haven’t figured out how to use the actual internet (oops, got off on a tangent there).

While I’m intentionally ignoring Facebook, I’ve discovered what’s actually happening is that I’m starting to ignore Twitter as well. The easy-to-follow conversations on Google+ are nice. Embedded photos are nice (especially for a photographer). There’s now an iOS app which means that the mobile story is improving.

The killer feature though is Circles. On Twitter, I’m either following someone or I’m not. And Twitter lists are very clunky to use in comparison to Google’s circles. I can put photographers into a circle and when I want to read about what’s going on in the photo world (and look at some nice images) I read that circle. I’ve created a WordPress circle to keep up with the ecosystem surrounding my favorite blog software. There’s a Railfans circle for those connections I’ve made who appreciate railroad information and photography. And yes, I have a social media circle where I can drop those who I follow solely for their take on the world of, well, the things discussed in this post.

I’m using circles more for reading than for posting. I probably publish 70-80% of my Google+ content to “Public” meaning that anyone can read it. This is just like Twitter where I push content out for all since I feel that it’s of value to a wide audience. That said, I do publish some content only to specific circles. Something only of interest to folks who live near me gets published to the “Local” circle, ensuring that if you’re across the country you won’t be bothered by noise that’s only of relevance to those in the Portland area.

Another big advantage of Google+ right now is that it’s pretty much crap brand-free. Companies aren’t pitching, folks generally aren’t pimping their own services heavily, and I can read my stream without finding out who gave Klout K to whom or who just published their own “newspaper” with Paperl.li. I realize that this is probably going to change, but I’m going to savor the bit of purity we now have over there.

What about you? How has Google+ changed your mix of online communications?

Plussed About Google+

About ten days ago, Google+ was unveiled to the world, offering a new social networking experience. The social team at Google did a good job of bringing together elements from other successful social web experiences. The Google+ Stream is similar to Facebook’s Wall. The follower model is asymmetric, like on Twitter (users can follow each other without reciprocity). Google’s Circles allow one to group their connections by topic, locality, or any other arbitrary set of criteria. Integration with the Picasa photo service provides functional and good-looking image hosting.

Here are some thoughts on how I’m using the service, some TOS stupidity, and a bunch of random tips.

Usage (Compared to Other Services)

I’m in the midst of going almost-Facebook-free for a period of time. I’m checking in over there once a day to see if anyone’s talking about me and to catch up with a few folks where that is their only online presence, but other than that I’m ignoring Zuckerworld at the moment.

I’m continuing to use Twitter, although I’ll be honest I think Google+ is eating into my Twitter usage. The big advantages I see with Twitter are that I have an established social graph and the mobile experience (I’m currently using Tweetbot on my iPhone) is top-notch. So far, Google+ on the iPhone is very minimal. Google has indicated they’ve submitted an app to Apple for approval; I look forward to seeing what the iOS app will bring to the game.

Lots of folks are making analogies to FriendFeed because many of the stream’s features are like those of FriendFeed (realtime updates, comment activity bumps an item to the top, the ability to mute an item). One area in which Google+ is very much unlike FriendFeed is in adoption. I’m seeing tons of “regular” (not computer geek) folks trying Google+, where FriendFeed never caught on beyond the geekiest of the geeks.

Circling My Wagons

The concept of Circles (groupings of one’s connections) is interesting. It’s similar to Facebook’s lists feature, except that it’s not just for reading. As of this writing, I’ve created nine circles based on topics of interest, local connections, family, and a special list of folks I want to follow closely. Here’s how I find myself using circles for reading and posting.

For reading, it’s rare that I’ll choose to read the main “Stream” – instead I find myself choosing one of the circles to read. If I want to check out some interesting photos or related discussion, I’ll select my Photo circle. If I’m curious what’s up in the world of my favorite blogging platform, I can read my WordPress circle to see what’s being posted by WordPress developers and community leaders. My “Local” circle will let me see what folks in the Portland/Vancouver area are talking about.

When posting something, I’m finding that I post about three quarters of my updates to Public, which makes them visible to all. The rest are posted to a select group. Something that’s only going to be of interest to folks that live nearby will go to my local circle. Something that’s only of interest to railroad buffs will go to the Railfan circle.

Photos+

The Google+ interface does a great job of making photos look good. I’ve shared several images and I’m quite happy with the amount of engagement that I’m seeing (comments, re-shares, and folks marking +1 on the images).

In the past I’ve been known to make a big deal about user-unfriendly terms of service, and at least one blogger posted a piece warning about Google’s Terms of Service. Given that I tend to disagree with that particular individual on damn near everything, I wasn’t surprised to find his analysis lacking. For a more rational look at the conditions of posting content on Google+, I’d recommend Jim Goldstein’s look at how he evaluates terms of service. In short I feel that the user agreement is adequate and I have no qualms about posting photos and other content on Google+.

Tips! Get yer Tips!

  • Get the permalink to a Google+ item by clicking on the timestamp at the top of a post.
  • Want to send a private message to one person (the equivalent of a DM on Twitter)? Just start a post and in the box where you choose which circles to use, simply start typing the person’s name. Select their name and the post is private only between the two of you. You can also send posts to any arbitrary number of individual users in this fashion.
  • Make liberal use of the Mute feature. Muting a post hides it from your stream. You won’t see it and it won’t bubble to the top or cause notifications for any subsequent comments.
  • Post to Public by default, just like you would on Twitter. Only restrict something to specific circles if you need to do so for privacy reasons or if an update is of a very limited-interest nature.
  • Setup circles for sharing and circles for reading. Sometimes these might overlap.
  • Setup some sort of “home” or “key” circle that will become your main reading list. This circle will be for people whose updates you really don’t want to miss. Be selective about who you place into this circle. Your spouse should probably go here. Robert Scoble should not. Unless he’s your spouse. In that case, hi Maryam!
  • Before you start adding folks, fill out your profile page. Make sure you fill out the little one-line description that shows right below your name. When people start choosing whether or not to follow you, if they don’t know you in real life they’re likely going to look at your profile and that one line is the easiest way to make a first impression.
  • The notifications preferences are your friend. You’ll probably want to disable at least some of the email notifications.
  • If you follow celebrites (either “real” ones or the internet variety), your stream will very quickly be filled with their discussion. I generally recommend that you hold off from following these sorts of folks as their updates probably won’t let you gauge the usefulness of the service.
  • Way down on the page and wishing you could quickly jump back to the top? I’ll trust that you’re using Google Chrome (if not, why not?), so grab the Scroll to Top Button extension.

Circle me on Google+

What are your impressions of Google+ thus far? Any tips or other thoughts you’d like to share?