Carnival of Journalism: Google+

I picked the topic of this month’s Carnival of Journalism, Google+.

For our August carnival, I’d like to talk about Google+ from a journalist (not necessarily news organization) perspective, from a big picture (privacy or open web) or smaller picture (how to manage scale issues with comments) perspective. What does Google+ mean for journalists, today and tomorrow?

In the intervening month since I pitched the topic, the bloom has faded from the rose a quite bit for me due to Google’s inexplicable heels-dug-in behavior regarding its “real names” policy. I think Google is wrong, and I believe that the service has lost both goodwill and momentum due to the manner (to call it uneven is being kind) in which the policy has been implemented. Nevertheless, I believe that the size and reach of Googledom, coupled with attractive features, tilts the long-term viability of Google+ towards the positive, despite the very real shortcomings of the real names (#nymwars) policy.

Here are some thoughts about how journalists and news organizations might use the service (recognizing that businesses are still prohibited) as well as some tips. Implicit is my belief that journalists must be active in this emerging digital networking space; it is our job to be where our audience is. And although right now that audience is primarily early adopters and tech mavens, we need to understand the environment before other members of our audience show up.

Hangouts

Hangouts are one of the “cool” features of Google+ and they allow up to 10 people to video-conference. Hangouts can be public or private, which means that they can be used for “engagement” or for interviews. +Sarah Hill, interactive anchor/reporter for KOMU-TV, Columbia, MO, may have been the first to broadcast a Google+ hangout live on the air, before Google shut down business accounts. She’s continuing to hold public hangouts using her personal account. For example, yesterday she hosted a hangout to allow students to “weigh in” on a lawsuit that the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) has filed against the state’s “Facebook Law” (the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act “restricts private or exclusive online communication between students and teachers”).

Hangouts can also be used to conduct interviews. For example, +Adam Loving (@AdamLoving) used a hanougt to interview +Shauna Causey, +Sean Malarkey and +me about Google+. He used desktop recording software to capture the video, which he edited and then uploaded to YouTube for public sharing. Journalists could use hangouts as an alternative to audio interviews, either for note-taking or to supplement stories. I can also see hangouts as being an alternative method to Skype for remote presentations.

Tips: (1) CamTwist is a Macintosh application that allows you to “twist” your camera so that it displays not your face but your desktop. Thus with CamTwist, theoretically you can share a desktop inside a hangout, which would make this a collaborative tool. (2) ManyCam is a multi-platform (Windows, Mac) tool that allows you to use your webcam with multiple programs simultaneously or, perhaps more importantly for those of us concerned about appearance (make up, hair, backlighting), substitute a still image for the video image.

Circles

Circles are Google’s twist on Twitter follows and Facebook friends. Like Twitter, they are non-reciprocal; that is, you don’t have to ask permission or get approval to circle someone. Twitter’s follows are for “reading” but Google’s circles are for both reading and sharing (sending). This was the first mindshift I had to make, because I initially set up my circles like my Twitter lists: by topic for reading posts. Remember, you can read only a person’s “public” posts unless she has (a) circled you back and (b) shares content with the circle she’s put you in.

If journalists are using Google+ as a form of environmental monitoring (and they should be!), then a logical first step is to set up circles based on known sources. Read the posts and comments and use comments as a way to identify new sources. If you want to try-before-you-buy, then set up a circle for “commenters” (and, perhaps, “sharers”) and place people there on a probationary basis, moving them to a trusted circle later. Alternatively, look at public posts and make a judgment based on what you can see; recognize that you can’t see limited share posts, however. (But you can see if that person has already put you in a circle.)

If journalists are using Google+ as a form of content sharing or information gathering, then those posts should probably be public rather than restricted to a circle. A post that has been restricted cannot be reshared publicly.

Tips: (1) Google does not have a way to bookmark posts. Create an empty circle and call it “bookmarks”. When you read a post that you want to be able to find (or read) later, share it with that circle. When you click the “bookmarks” circle in your stream, you will see these posts. You can always delete a post later. (2) If you have an idea for a post but no time to write it, you can start the post and save it to a “drafts” circle. Edit it later using the “edit this post” drop down. When you’ve had a chance to finish it, you’ll need to copy it to a new post to share. Anyone you have “plussed” will have to be added again, as these do not copy. Then delete the draft post from that circle.

Conversation

Let me start with the downside: I’m not convinced that these types of conversations scale very well, especially when the conversations are not threaded. (In other words, it’s not possible for me to directly respond to someone else’s comment. I have to comment “in line” and reference that person with a + which may or may not work if their name is “common”.)

That said, Google+ is more like blogging than either Twitter or Facebook when it comes to comments as conversation. After all, there is no easy way to follow a conversation about a tweet, so many-to-many conversation and Twitter is DOA. Facebook conversation on wall posts is limited to synchronous relationships (people you have friended). Google+ conversation on public posts is unlimited, as it would be on a blog post.

Google+ allows readers to “+1″ individual comments, although this ranking does not affect the order in which comments appear beneath a post. That’s chronological.

Tip: Google+ does not yet have a polling feature, so here’s your work-around. Post a question, then ask readers to “+1″ their preferred answer. Quickly add each answer as a comment; thus the actual “poll” appears below the post. Discussion can take place below the poll answers.

Sharing

I’ve found that I don’t share as many links on G+ as I do on Twitter, but I can’t explain why. I think it’s because I’m thinking about conversation when I share on G+ and I don’t always share publicly. Finding the balance between public and “circles” sharing is an ongoing process.

Tip: When your share someone else’s Google+ post, recognize that Google doesn’t include that post’s original URL if that person’s post was a share. If there are comments or commentary, then you might want to add the original URL to your share. Moreover, Google doesn’t shorten these URL automatically, so consider using your favorite shortener or even http://goo.gl/. I’ve noticed some people are including the permalink to their post as a reminder, perhaps, or maybe it’s simply a visual clue.

Summary

As much as I dislike Google’s “real names” policy, I believe that there are features of this digital space that make it a potentially rich interactive platform. It’s young but Google has both mega-bucks and an extensive existing user base to leverage. Whether it’s Google+ or Storify or Scoop.it, I believe that journalists must have a passing familiarity with the tools that are changing how we deliver news and interact with audiences.

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