Google+: It’s all Swings and Circles…

Several people have asked me why I haven’t mentioned Google + on my blog yet. I guess ‘time, time, time’ is the main reason. I also have a few reservations having hyped up Google Buzz in various places a few years back. Alongside this I’m not entirely sure how it fits in with remote working, though there is an argument to be made that all social networking tools have a role to play in keeping those working out of (and in) the office connected.

Anyway I now feel I’ve left it so late that most people have already done a good job of introducing it. According to BNET in the first week since launch 35% of all news links shared on Twitter were about Google+. Never the less I wanted to share a few of my (and other people’s) thoughts on things.

What is Google+?

There are quite a few reviews of Google+ out there already:

The BNET site carries a very comprehensive feature on Google+ which includes both the basics (“It’s a new social networking service that allows you to share either with people you actually know (sort of like Facebook), or with anyone in the world who wants to follow you (sort of like Twitter“) and more indepth analysis (“Why would anyone join Google+ when there already is Facebook? – The key “Circles” feature allows you to categorize the people that you know –so you can share a thought, link, or photo with your grandmother, your boss, or your girlfriend, without having to share it with all three.”)

What’s the Point of Google+?

The BNET article also considers the big questions for me which are “Will Google+ Kill Facebook? and Will it kill anything else?“. The short answer seems to be “no…not at the moment“. Although there is a small group of people who trail blaze and tend to use whatever the latest service is (these are the people who live and breathe technology…I’m saying no more…) many of us who use a lot of social networking tools will often ask ourselves if we are using the ‘right ones’ and if we aren’t then how do we drop the ones that aren’t ‘right’ and use the ones that are. The key with social networking has always been that it works if it’s where the people you want to be with are. I guess it’s just like a trip to the pub, it’s a great night out if your friends are there, no matter what the pub is like, but then it’s an even better night if they sell the beer you like, the right music is playing and the seats are comfy. OK, maybe an analogy too far, but the truth is it will only really take off if it goes beyond the geek and a lot of people use it.

As BNET explains: “In order to get real traction, it will have to prove it can draw fans from many other circles besides the “tech geek” crowd predominating (and seeming to love it) in the early trial.

In an attempt to eat my own dog food (or be postmodern – or something like that?!) I asked for thoughts on Google+ actually on Google+.

Here’s a few comments or posts in my stream:

Stu Owen: I hope you touch on the potential for collaboration using Google+, I see this as a great potential G+ has over “the others”. Especially once G+ finally becomes the hub that joins all its other services together, something Google has stuggled to do so far.

Richard Davis: The G+ messaging paradigm seems breathtakingly bold: a single multi-dimensional hyper pinboard where we can attach notes to ourselves, to one or more friends, or any subset of the whole world we can define with Circles.

Shirley Pickford: Gender – why does it matter? Why does g+ ask? Will I be targeted with adverts for pink accessories? Dates with geeks? Is it significant that I might think differently from men? Wouldn’t it be safer for women in technology if they could not be easily identified by gender? Do I care? In response to this: Google says that about 75% of G+ members are male.

Mike Elgan: Here’s what I love about Google+ in general and the Google+ Diet in particular:
Instead of saying, “I’m going to write a blog post now,” or “I’m going to send an e-mail” or “I think I’ll tweet something” you simply say what you have to say, then decide who you’re going to say it to.
If you address it to “Public,” it’s a blog post.
If you address it to “Your Circles” it’s a tweet.
If you address it to your “My Customers” Circle it’s a business newsletter.
If you address it to a single person, it can be a letter to your mother.
I’d say this is pretty revolutionary

Ed Bremner
: So, was it all just a one-day wonder? The party seems to have gone very flat…

Mike Ellis: Google+ profile search. Very powerful, lots of data in here, including profile locations etc:

My personal feeling is that there is definitely something there, I just don’t know whether I’m going to have the time to explore it all. Of course if all my friends and colleagues decide it’s the ‘right’ pub then I’ll be there. What’s the point of drinking alone?

What’s the relevance to Remote Workers?

Shirley Pickford (current title holder of the Remote Employment Remote Worker Award) actually posted an interesting reply to a comment I made. She said “Perhaps g+ offers a better place for us to communicate. I wonder if I should start a circle for remote working academics in HE … and whether there would be many of us.” I said “yes please!”. This would potentially be a great way for us to experiment and suddenly Google+ becomes very relevant to this blog. Aaahh, it’s all swings and circles…

I’m sure these won’t my last words on Google+.


Intrinsic Motivation and Unlimited Vacation

Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation is something that has always interested me. I was one of those youngsters who wasn’t very good at doing what they were told to do, I had to actually want to do it, or be bribed! I wasn’t lazy though, if I wanted to do it then I was away. Natural justice has meant that I now have a daughter who works in the same way. I spend many an hour thinking about how I can I make room tidying seem like a fun activity that benefits her in some way.

La motivation by Philippe Boukobza

I’m mentioning intrinsic motivation because apparently it’s a hot topic at the moment having been talked about by Clay Shirkey (who I recently met on a train!) at TEDGlobal 2010 in Oxford. I know this because Martin Hamilton recently wrote a thought provoking post (Intrinsic motivation – from Magic Trackpad to @psychemedia) where he explores this idea and what it means to employers.

So, what’s this all about? Let me frame it like this… Why is it that companies like Apple and Google consistently produce exceptional ideas, products and services? How can other organizations best learn from these firms?

Intrinsic motivation is all about doing things because they interest and stimulate you. This is in direct contrast to extrinsic motivation, which is principally about doing things because you have been instructed or coerced to – often with some implied threat of punishment for failure.

Martin concludes his post by mentioning Open University lecturer Tony Hirst. Tony is a bit of a god in the HE developer world. His blog ouseful is full of amazing ideas and exciting suggestions. Tony works as a robotics lecturer but he is fully supported in his role as an ‘idea creator’ (my words), to be honest his role isn’t that dissimilar from my team leader Brian Kelly’s. For a while Brian was funded as UK Web Focus and was just fountain of ideas, he still is but probably doesn’t have as much free rein these days. OK we can’t all be as creative as these guys but each of us has something we are interested in or a work area we’d like to do more of.

Martin ends his post with some questions about how we measure impact in a world of Tonys (and Brians).

So how would your organization recognize and reward (or even attempt to “manage”!) someone like Tony? Of course we can’t all be Google, but a useful first step is undoubtedly some level of self-awareness of the power of intrinsic motivation and the results that it can deliver.

One thing Martin doesn’t consider in his post is the current economic climate and the leash it will put on us having time to work on intrinsically motivated projects. The government might like to argue that cut backs will make us more creative, but the reality for most of us is that doing the day job (if we still have one) will become higher priority then innovation. So over here in the UK we won’t be creating any Googles or Apples of our own in the near future.

When talking about Google Martin mentions “Google’s famous “20% time” for personal projects, which gave rise to the likes of Gmail, Google News and Adsense“. That free time would be a serious luxury to most.

After reading Martin’s post I posted something about it on Twitter and a Twitter friend pointed me in the direction of this particular story on NPR – Unlimited Vacation Time Not A Dream For Some.

The jist of it is that some companies over in the US are giving their employees unlimited vacation time. Unlike over here where this means redundancy 😦 there it is what it says it is! The theory is that flexibility makes people more productive and engaged. Not only that but the key is getting the work done.

some companies said as long as the work gets done and the productivity that we are looking for is achieved, you don’t have to track your time and you can take unlimited leave.

The article also points out that companies value workers who can manage their own time. Paul Boag’s recent post Work less, produce more touches on this. I liked his comment:

Participating in life beyond the web provides a valuable perspective that can be missed when you are constantly on the job.

How true!

My mother, who is Dutch, was recently telling me about the long holidays all my cousins have been having. I asked her how they’d got so much time off work. Her reply was that “they worked less hours and had more holiday time in Holland because when they were working they got more things done than the British did“. Now those of you who know Dutch people will probably agree with me when I say that they aren’t noted for their tact, but that they do normally tell it like it is! I don’t think British workers are lazy but we are a society that still doesn’t really get output driven working.

I think both Martin and Paul’s posts and the NPR article are saying something along the same lines. If an organisation gives its staff the space to be intrinsically motivated, it allows them flexibility and it also support an environment of output driven working then ultimately both the employer and employee will be better off. I guess you could say it’s all about respect and being given the space to have a clear head…

My big worry is that we are rapidly heading away from these ideals, or am I just a pessimist?

Look! We’re on Google Street View!

Yesterday morning the buzz on Twitter was about the newly updated Google Street View service. Although Google launched their UK service back in March last year only 25 cities were available. Google have now updated their site to 96% UK coverage with nearly a quarter of a million miles of British roads photographed.

The images are captured by a fleet of Google vehicles including vans, cars and trikes, all specially modified with a panoramic roof camera. Their current platforms include nine directional cameras for the 360° views, a GPS unit for positioning and laser range scanners.

Our house (in the middle of our street…)

Everyone’s first instinct once they realise that the images are live is to search for their own house. Mine was there looking just like it does in real life. Both our cars were outside and you can even see our cat sitting under one of the cars and peeking up the Google camera. Google maps coverage hasn’t been that great in our area and the satellite images available are nothing to write home about, so when I first saw the Google street view of my house it struck me as being pretty impressive. It’s not only impressive it is actually quite scary. The fact is that anyone who knows my address can now see what my house and my road look like at the click of a button. OK so I’m posting the image here, but that’s my choice. Google Street View have taken away my choice about whether or not people can see my house. The implications of that are incredible, in fact it’s hard to know at this stage what they will be.

The images in my area were probably taken over 6 months ago. I’ve yet to discover a date stamp and I don’t think that data is actually available. Some people have said that they can pinpoint exactly when the photos were taken (I know mine were taken on a Tuesday as our green bins are out!). One suggestion is to find your nearest newsagents and look for a news board outside with the date on. There are probably ways you can find out, but then the overall view of the UK is like a huge jigsaw puzzle so definitive dates are probably tricky. After a virtual tour of my town it’s amazing how many things have changed since Google visited. Shops have closed and new shops have opened, walls have been painted and signs have been replaced…but the fact remains that you can pretty much experience what it is like to walk round my town without actually visiting it.

Street View Uses

On the Google street view site there are suggestions of how we can use the images. Ideas range from promoting your business by showing them your building facade, nearby amenities, landmarks and lesser-known attractions to embedding views into geography and history lessons. As a remote worker having a real world view of the planet at our finger tips could make life a lot easier. We can all be armchair tourists never having to travel again. Last week I visited Sheffield to run a workshop. While there I checked out the University as we are holding an event there in the Summer. I could quite easily have used Google Street View for about 90% of what I needed to see. Admittedly it couldn’t have taken me inside buildings and sometimes it is difficult to get a feel for how far apart locations are but it now seems difficult to justify a £70 train fare and £50 overnight stay when the job can be done from a PC.

Organisations like the National Trust, VisitBritain, VisitEurope and the Tate Gallery have all already embarked on projects using Street View. The Tate has linked up locations depicted in images in its collection with the the online street view image from today. Users can see how urban and rural environments have changed and consider how artists such as Turner and Constable painted views that are now lost.


So what about the privacy issues? I must admit that seeing my house up there for all to see did make me feel a little exposed at first. Most of my life is already on the Web: there are photos, videos, status updates and my inner most thoughts (but only the ones I chose to share). So now my house joins the list, what’s the big deal? Well critics claim that street-level information could be exploited by criminals. Despite steps to preserve anonymity (Google’s technology automatically blurs number plates and faces) people can identify themselves on photos. Google has made it very easy for people to request that inappropriate photos be removed but will people be able to find the inappropriate photos of relevance to them that are out there? That is a needle in a haystack challenge for anyone. Apparently some places have tried to stop the Google car entering their area but still their town is available online. As for me I’m undecided. There is no doubt that this is an amazing tool…but sometimes it feels like that for everything amazing there is a price to pay.

I thought the Tweet observation made by Bethan Ruddock (bethanr on Twitter) was interesting:

odd to see everyone’s responses re street view – we’ve been on it for over a year. guess I’ve just got used to it..

Maybe it won’t be long till being able to do a virtual tour of every neighbourhood in our country seems as normal as can be. Right now I find myself in the funny position of feeling both a little bit vulnerable and a little bit impressed by Google’s offerings of the day.