SiliconFilter

Google Voice Gets the Google+ Circles Treatment

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I have my doubts about Google's drive to add Google+ features to each and every one of its apps and services, but here is a new Google+-related feature that actually makes perfect sense: starting today, Google Voice – the company's VoIP telephony service – will integrate with your Google+ circles.

Here is how Google describes this feature: "Circles give you more control over how you manage your callers; for example, calls from your “Creepers” circle can be sent straight to Voicemail, only your “College Buddies” circle will hear you rap your voicemail greeting, or you can set your “Family” circle to only ring your mobile phone."

Depending on how you use Google+, this is indeed a really useful new feature, especially given that Google makes it very easy to set rules and even different voicemail greetings for every different caller.

Sadly, No Circles Interface in Google Voice

It's worth noting that this doesn't mean you can now drag and drop your contacts into different circles, though. Instead, this feature is actually a bit hidden in the Google Voice contacts settings (click on Contacts, then select a group, then click on Edit Google Voice Settings.

Chances are, if you follow a lot of people on Google+, just a few of these are likely to ever call you. This feature, then, is probably more interesting for those who are either very meticulous about how they organize their Google+ circles and those who use it as a very personal social network and less like Twitter or Facebook.

 



10:55 am


Sharing to Google+ from Third-Party Sites Will Soon Become a One-Click Affair

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How popular (or not) Google+ really is remains debatable, but there can be little doubt that there aren’t a lot of sites on the web left that don’t feature a Google+ button. That button has two functions. It lets you +1 a page and, with a second click, you can also bring up the Google+ sharing box and share that page with your friends on Google+. Google is about to make a subtle change in this flow very soon, however. Instead of having to click twice to bring up the sharing box, it will soon pop up automatically. Chances are, this will greatly increase the numbers of news stories and other items shared on Google+ in the near future.

Easier Google+ Sharing

Google made this announcement to its Google+ platform preview group earlier today. Usually Google+ updates that affect third-party sites are tested among the members of the platform preview group for a few days before they are released to the public.

Easier Google+ Following

sf_following_circleIn addition to this, Google will also update its Facebook-like Google+ badges. Here, too, Google is simplifying things. With the updated badges, it will just take one click to follow a Google+ page from a third-party site. This click will add a page directly to your “following” circle, though you can also bring up an optional menu to add it to other circles as well.



1:16 pm


100 Million “Users” Later, Google+ Gets the Daily Show Treatment

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Ancestry.com founder Paul Allen has been tracking the growth of Google+ for a while now and his estimates for the site's growth have been pretty spot-on from the beginning. According to Allen's latest calculations, Google+ now has more than 100 million users – up from the 90 million Google CEO Larry Page himself announced just 10 days ago. Allen estimates that Google+ is adding new users at a rate of about 750,000 per day right now. If this trend continues – and there is no reason to assume otherwise – Google+ could have 400 million users by the end of the year. That's about 50% of Facebook's current user base.

It is, of course, hard to tell how many of these users are active Google+ users. Chances are, only a fraction of those who signed up are actually regularly using the service, but Google has never released those numbers and isn't likely to do so anytime soon.

Thanks to Search Plus Your World and the fact that Google is integrating Google+ in virtually all of its services, chances are the service will continue to grow its user numbers, but as comedian Jon Stewart noted on the Daily Show yesterday, for quite a few Google users, Google+ is "as all Gmail users know it, what the f*ck is that thing up there. How can I turn it off?"

 



10:05 am


Google+ Now Has More than 90 Million Users, 60% Sign in Daily (Updated)

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In its earnings release and, of course, on Google+, Google just announced that its social network now has more than 90 million users. That's obviously a large number for a network that isn't even a year old at this point (even for one with Google's backing) and higher than most pundits expected them to be at this point. Maybe the more even interesting numbers were shared by Google+'s spiritual father Vic Gundotra, though: according to Google, 60% of all users sign in daily and 80% sign in at least weekly. That's some very high engagement.

Update: Reading over Google's numbers again, I don't think they actually mean that 60% of Google+ users engage with the service daily. Here is my follow-up.

In comparison, Facebook, which has about 800 million users, says 50% of its users come back every day.

Vic Gundotra  Google+

Those numbers are surely also driven by the fact that any Google user who signs in to any of the company's services sees those large red numbers with new notifications in the black navigation bar.

In addition, Gundotra also noted that there are now over 1 million business pages on Google+.

Google, of course, isn't resting on its laurels. The Google+ has, according to Gundotra, shipped one new feature every single day since the launch of the service.



1:52 pm


Google+ Gets an API for Photos and Videos (Updated: Not Quite Ready Yet)

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Google just announced that Google+ now offers developers a way to get photos and videos out of Google+ and into their apps. As Google is slowly opening up the APIs for its new social network, it makes sense for the company to tackle photos and videos first. These, after all, are one of the backbones of Google+ (though I could do without the support for animated GIFs). Not only do its users get virtually unlimited space for their photos, but a number of professional photographers like Trey Radcliff and Thomas Hawk are using the new network to their fullest advantage.

Update: Looks like somebody at Google posted this update before it was supposed to go live. The original post has now been taken down. I’ve copied it at the bottom of this post.

For now, this new API will be read-only, which means developers can get data out of Google+, but they won’t be able to send photos there themselves. Access, of course, is limited to public albums, photos and videos. Google will also support Creative Commons licensing and this information will be exposed in the API, so that developers can make sure that they respect the copyright information the photographers on Google+ have set for their images.

Developers will be able to get access to a user’s album lists, a list of all photos and the individual photos themselves, of course. The methods for accessing videos are virtually the same.

What does this mean for users? Soon, you will be able to see images in third-party clients that support Google+. Developers can now also import your Google+ photos into their apps, if they choose to do so. Or, as Google’s Yangzhu Li points out in the announcement today, somebody can now create a Google+ screen saver to “crowdsource great images, or a live photo wall for a party.”

Here is the full post:

Bring your apps to Life with Photos and Videos from Google+

Photo sharing is one of my favorite features of Google+. As a new dad, it’s been a joy to take photos of my baby girl and share them just moments later! 

Beyond baby photos, Google+ hosts all sorts of photographs — and all sorts of photographers. Many talented pros have found a home sharing and publishing their work in Google+, such as Trey Ratcliff, Thomas Hawk, and Colby Brown. Today, we’re making it easier to leverage the power of personal and professional images by releasing our first Google+ API for photos and videos.

Google+ gives users full control of their information, and we’re starting with read-only access to public albums, photos, and videos. Google also supports Creative Commons licensing, which we expose so developers can easily respect copyrights.

Using the new API, developers can get a list of public albums from a Google+ user, and list the photos and videos within each album. Combined with our existing public data and search APIs, I’m hoping to see new services such as a family-focused ‘screen saver’, a new way to crowdsource great images, or a live photo wall for a party.

You can start experimenting by listing users’ public albums with the albums.list method. If you already know an album id, you can directly fetch it with the albums.get method. You can list all photos from an album with the photos.listByAlbum method, or fetch any individual photo with the photos.get method:

GET https://www.googleapis.com/plus/v1/photos/{photoId}?key=[yourAppKey]

which returns:

{
“kind”: “plus#photo”,
“id”: “_iZQhpeOJlWzCqLggyWXsO4-Af160osO”,
“published”: “2011-10-16T23:59:36.000Z”,
“updated”: “2011-11-05T08:29:28.000Z”,
“displayName”: “DSC_5575.JPG”,
“summary”: “”,
“author”: {
“id”: “103168604032363426774”,
“displayName”: “Yongzhu Li”,
“url”: “https://plus.google.com/103168604032363426774“,
“image”: {
“url”: “https://googleusercontent.com/…/photo.jpg?sz=50
}

   },
“url”: “https://plus.google.com/photos/…“,
“thumbnail”: {
“url”: “https://googleusercontent.com/…/s64/DSC_5575.JPG“,
“type”: “image/jpeg”,
“height”: 64,
“width”: 43
},

   “image”: {
“url”: “https://googleusercontent.com/…/s1600/DSC_5575.JPG“,
“type”: “image/jpeg”,
“height”: 1600,
“width”: 1071
},

   “album”: {
“id”: “CTWbarJIotAZBfJLEeUxDe4-Af160osO”
},

   “creativeCommonsLicense”: {
“term”: “Some rights reserved.”,
“allowReuse”: true,
“allowCommercialReuse”: false,
“allowRemixing”: false
}
}

 Prefer videos? A quick hop over to the API reference manual explains how to use the similar methods videos.listByAlbum and videos.get. We’re looking forward to hearing your feedback during our next Google+ platform office hours, helping you build your first photo-powered Google+ app on our Discussion Board, and continuing the conversation on Google+.

Posted by Yongzhu Li, Google+ Software Engineer

 



11:32 pm


Google+ Finally Launches Brand Pages – Now Open For All (Updated)

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Ever since the launch of Google+, businesses have been wondering when they could finally open up their own outposts on Google+. After a long delay, Google finally pulled back the curtains from its product for brands today. These new so-called Google+ Pages look pretty much exactly like regular Google+ profiles, but with a ‘page’ icon next to the page’s name, a +1 button and the ability to share a page with your friends. While Google isn’t ready to just let any brand onto the service yet, it is launching a number of pages with well-known brands like H&M, Toyota and Pepsi.

While you can’t create a brand page yourself yet, Google notes that it wants local businesses, brands, products, companies, arts and entertainment organizations and sports teams to set up their own pages on the service.

Update (1:15pm PT): Google just announced that the rollout is now complete and that anybody who wants to can now sign up for a Google+ Page. 

What Took Them So Long?

The Google+ Pages themselves aren’t really that exciting. Indeed, looking at them now really makes you wonder why it took Google so long to release this feature. The Google+ team regularly noted that it wanted to get this feature right and hence wasn’t ready to release it yet. I gather designing a ‘page’ icon and putting a +1 on a page doesn’t quite account for the long delay.

The only major difference between regular profile pages and Google+ pages is that they feature a cumulative +1 count that adds up all the +1s on a given site.

Direct Connect: More Interesting than the Pages it Powers

More interesting than the pages themselves, then, is the second new feature Google announced today: Direct Connect from Google search. The idea here is that you can now search for [+], followed by a page and Google will immediately take you to that brand’s page. This doesn’t work when searching for regular people, but it does work for Angry Birds.

According to Google, a page’s eligibility for being included in the Direct Connect program “is determined algorithmically, based on certain signals we use to help understand your page’s relevancy and popularity.” Publishers should also ensure that their content is linked to their Google+ pages.

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6:29 pm


Google+ Now Available for Google Apps Users

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Google just announced that Google+, the company’s new social network, is now available for Google Apps users as well. That means all of you who have Google Accounts through work or school (or simply because you use the free version for your own domain) can now finally access Google+.

One of the tweaks for Google Apps users is that you can’t just share content publicly and with your circles, but that you will also have the option to share with everybody in your organization. Google+ will automatically create a circle for your organization.

The administrator of your Google Apps account will have to turn Google+ on manually (unless your domain is set up to enable new services automatically), but once that’s done, you can simply sign up with your Google Apps account and get going. Google is rolling this service out slowly, so it may take a few days before you get access to Google+ for your Google Apps account.

It took Google quite a while to turn on Google+ for Apps users. Adding support was one of the most requested feature for Google+ ever since its launch. It’ll be interesting to see how businesses will use Google+ internally.

Be Careful Who You Share With…

It’s worth remembering that Steve Yegge’s infamous Google platform rant only became public because he mistakenly shared his story publicly instead of internally, so make sure you check your sharing settings before you hit that publish button…



5:28 pm


Google Engineer: “Google+ is a Prime Example of Our Complete Failure to Understand Platforms”

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Last night, high-profile Google engineer Steve Yegge mistakenly posted a long rant about working at Amazon and Google’s own issues with creating platforms on Google+. Apparently, he only wanted to share it internally with everybody at Google, but mistaken shared it publicly. For the most part, Yegge’s post focusses on the horrors of working at Amazon, a company that is notorious for its political infighting. The most interesting part to me, though, is Yegge’s blunt assessment of what he perceives to be Google’s inability to understand platforms and how this could endanger the company in the long run.

The post itself has now been deleted, but given Google+’s reshare function, multiple copies exist on Google’s own social network and elsewhere on the web.

Google+ Is a Knee-Jerk Reaction

Here is the meat of his argument:

Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product. But that’s not why they are successful. Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. So Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of different high-quality time sinks available, so there’s something there for everyone.

While Yegge doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos, he does note that Bezos – unlike Google – understands that its not just about developing interesting products, but that it takes a platform to create a great product.

Besides Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft understand this, says Yegge: “It’s been part of their culture for a whole generation now. You don’t eat People Food and give your developers Dog Food. Doing that is simply robbing your long-term platform value for short-term successes. Platforms are all about long-term thinking.”

“The Google+ Platform is a Pathetic Afterthought”

He especially criticizes the Google+ team for launching a product without an API:

The Google+ platform is a pathetic afterthought. We had no API at all at launch, and last I checked, we had one measly API call. One of the team members marched in and told me about it when they launched, and I asked: “So is it the Stalker API?” She got all glum and said “Yeah.” I mean, I was joking, but no… the only API call we offer is to get someone’s stream. So I guess the joke was on me.

Looking at the long term, Yegge implores Google to move away from being a pure product company to becoming more of a platform player:

The Golden Rule of Platforms, “Eat Your Own Dogfood”, can be rephrased as “Start with a Platform, and Then Use it for Everything.” You can’t just bolt it on later. Certainly not easily at any rate — ask anyone who worked on platformizing MS Office. Or anyone who worked on platformizing Amazon. If you delay it, it’ll be ten times as much work as just doing it correctly up front. You can’t cheat. You can’t have secret back doors for internal apps to get special priority access, not for ANY reason. You need to solve the hard problems up front.

I’m not saying it’s too late for us, but the longer we wait, the closer we get to being Too Late.

Overall, of course, I’ve been quite positive about Google+ and see it as a step in the right direction for Google. For the most part, Yegge’s arguments do ring true, though. It was quite a surprise to me that Google+ didn’t launch with a fully-baked API right away, for example, but I can also see why the team wanted to get the basic product out and see how people would react to it.

I assume Yegge’s post will kick off some major internal discussion about this at Google. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming months.

Read the Full Post

Here is a copy of his full post (just click on the box to open it up):

[toggle state=”closed” title=”Steve Yegge’s Full Post”]

Stevey’s Google Platforms Rant

I was at Amazon for about six and a half years, and now I’ve been at Google for that long. One thing that struck me immediately about the two companies — an impression that has been reinforced almost daily — is that Amazon does everything wrong, and Google does everything right. Sure, it’s a sweeping generalization, but a surprisingly accurate one. It’s pretty crazy. There are probably a hundred or even two hundred different ways you can compare the two companies, and Google is superior in all but three of them, if I recall correctly. I actually did a spreadsheet at one point but Legal wouldn’t let me show it to anyone, even though recruiting loved it.

I mean, just to give you a very brief taste: Amazon’s recruiting process is fundamentally flawed by having teams hire for themselves, so their hiring bar is incredibly inconsistent across teams, despite various efforts they’ve made to level it out. And their operations are a mess; they don’t really have SREs and they make engineers pretty much do everything, which leaves almost no time for coding – though again this varies by group, so it’s luck of the draw. They don’t give a single shit about charity or helping the needy or community contributions or anything like that. Never comes up there, except maybe to laugh about it. Their facilities are dirt-smeared cube farms without a dime spent on decor or common meeting areas. Their pay and benefits suck, although much less so lately due to local competition from Google and Facebook. But they don’t have any of our perks or extras — they just try to match the offer-letter numbers, and that’s the end of it. Their code base is a disaster, with no engineering standards whatsoever except what individual teams choose to put in place.

To be fair, they do have a nice versioned-library system that we really ought to emulate, and a nice publish-subscribe system that we also have no equivalent for. But for the most part they just have a bunch of crappy tools that read and write state machine information into relational databases. We wouldn’t take most of it even if it were free.

I think the pubsub system and their library-shelf system were two out of the grand total of three things Amazon does better than google.

I guess you could make an argument that their bias for launching early and iterating like mad is also something they do well, but you can argue it either way. They prioritize launching early over everything else, including retention and engineering discipline and a bunch of other stuff that turns out to matter in the long run. So even though it’s given them some competitive advantages in the marketplace, it’s created enough other problems to make it something less than a slam-dunk.

But there’s one thing they do really really well that pretty much makes up for ALL of their political, philosophical and technical screw-ups.

Jeff Bezos is an infamous micro-manager. He micro-manages every single pixel of Amazon’s retail site. He hired Larry Tesler, Apple’s Chief Scientist and probably the very most famous and respected human-computer interaction expert in the entire world, and then ignored every goddamn thing Larry said for three years until Larry finally — wisely — left the company. Larry would do these big usability studies and demonstrate beyond any shred of doubt that nobody can understand that frigging website, but Bezos just couldn’t let go of those pixels, all those millions of semantics-packed pixels on the landing page. They were like millions of his own precious children. So they’re all still there, and Larry is not.

Micro-managing isn’t that third thing that Amazon does better than us, by the way. I mean, yeah, they micro-manage really well, but I wouldn’t list it as a strength or anything. I’m just trying to set the context here, to help you understand what happened. We’re talking about a guy who in all seriousness has said on many public occasions that people should be paying him to work at Amazon. He hands out little yellow stickies with his name on them, reminding people “who runs the company” when they disagree with him. The guy is a regular… well, Steve Jobs, I guess. Except without the fashion or design sense. Bezos is super smart; don’t get me wrong. He just makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies.

So one day Jeff Bezos issued a mandate. He’s doing that all the time, of course, and people scramble like ants being pounded with a rubber mallet whenever it happens. But on one occasion — back around 2002 I think, plus or minus a year — he issued a mandate that was so out there, so huge and eye-bulgingly ponderous, that it made all of his other mandates look like unsolicited peer bonuses.

His Big Mandate went something along these lines:

1) All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.

2) Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces.

3) There will be no other form of interprocess communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team’s data store, no shared-memory model, no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network.

4) It doesn’t matter what technology they use. HTTP, Corba, Pubsub, custom protocols — doesn’t matter. Bezos doesn’t care.

5) All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.

6) Anyone who doesn’t do this will be fired.

7) Thank you; have a nice day!

Ha, ha! You 150-odd ex-Amazon folks here will of course realize immediately that #7 was a little joke I threw in, because Bezos most definitely does not give a shit about your day.

#6, however, was quite real, so people went to work. Bezos assigned a couple of Chief Bulldogs to oversee the effort and ensure forward progress, headed up by Uber-Chief Bear Bulldog Rick Dalzell. Rick is an ex-Armgy Ranger, West Point Academy graduate, ex-boxer, ex-Chief Torturer slash CIO at Wal*Mart, and is a big genial scary man who used the word “hardened interface” a lot. Rick was a walking, talking hardened interface himself, so needless to say, everyone made LOTS of forward progress and made sure Rick knew about it.

Over the next couple of years, Amazon transformed internally into a service-oriented architecture. They learned a tremendous amount while effecting this transformation. There was lots of existing documentation and lore about SOAs, but at Amazon’s vast scale it was about as useful as telling Indiana Jones to look both ways before crossing the street. Amazon’s dev staff made a lot of discoveries along the way. A teeny tiny sampling of these discoveries included:

– pager escalation gets way harder, because a ticket might bounce through 20 service calls before the real owner is identified. If each bounce goes through a team with a 15-minute response time, it can be hours before the right team finally finds out, unless you build a lot of scaffolding and metrics and reporting.

– every single one of your peer teams suddenly becomes a potential DOS attacker. Nobody can make any real forward progress until very serious quotas and throttling are put in place in every single service.

– monitoring and QA are the same thing. You’d never think so until you try doing a big SOA. But when your service says “oh yes, I’m fine”, it may well be the case that the only thing still functioning in the server is the little component that knows how to say “I’m fine, roger roger, over and out” in a cheery droid voice. In order to tell whether the service is actually responding, you have to make individual calls. The problem continues recursively until your monitoring is doing comprehensive semantics checking of your entire range of services and data, at which point it’s indistinguishable from automated QA. So they’re a continuum.

– if you have hundreds of services, and your code MUST communicate with other groups’ code via these services, then you won’t be able to find any of them without a service-discovery mechanism. And you can’t have that without a service registration mechanism, which itself is another service. So Amazon has a universal service registry where you can find out reflectively (programmatically) about every service, what its APIs are, and also whether it is currently up, and where.

– debugging problems with someone else’s code gets a LOT harder, and is basically impossible unless there is a universal standard way to run every service in a debuggable sandbox.

That’s just a very small sample. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of individual learnings like these that Amazon had to discover organically. There were a lot of wacky ones around externalizing services, but not as many as you might think. Organizing into services taught teams not to trust each other in most of the same ways they’re not supposed to trust external developers.

This effort was still underway when I left to join Google in mid-2005, but it was pretty far advanced. From the time Bezos issued his edict through the time I left, Amazon had transformed culturally into a company that thinks about everything in a services-first fashion. It is now fundamental to how they approach all designs, including internal designs for stuff that might never see the light of day externally.

At this point they don’t even do it out of fear of being fired. I mean, they’re still afraid of that; it’s pretty much part of daily life there, working for the Dread Pirate Bezos and all. But they do services because they’ve come to understand that it’s the Right Thing. There are without question pros and cons to the SOA approach, and some of the cons are pretty long. But overall it’s the right thing because SOA-driven design enables Platforms.

That’s what Bezos was up to with his edict, of course. He didn’t (and doesn’t) care even a tiny bit about the well-being of the teams, nor about what technologies they use, nor in fact any detail whatsoever about how they go about their business unless they happen to be screwing up. But Bezos realized long before the vast majority of Amazonians that Amazon needs to be a platform.

You wouldn’t really think that an online bookstore needs to be an extensible, programmable platform. Would you?

Well, the first big thing Bezos realized is that the infrastructure they’d built for selling and shipping books and sundry could be transformed an excellent repurposable computing platform. So now they have the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, and the Amazon Elastic MapReduce, and the Amazon Relational Database Service, and a whole passel’ o’ other services browsable ataws.amazon.com. These services host the backends for some pretty successful companies, reddit being my personal favorite of the bunch.

The other big realization he had was that he can’t always build the right thing. I think Larry Tesler might have struck some kind of chord in Bezos when he said his mom couldn’t use the goddamn website. It’s not even super clear whose mom he was talking about, and doesn’t really matter, because nobody’s mom can use the goddamn website. In fact I myself find the website disturbingly daunting, and I worked there for over half a decade. I’ve just learned to kinda defocus my eyes and concentrate on the million or so pixels near the center of the page above the fold.

I’m not really sure how Bezos came to this realization — the insight that he can’t build one product and have it be right for everyone. But it doesn’t matter, because he gets it. There’s actually a formal name for this phenomenon. It’s called Accessibility, and it’s the most important thing in the computing world.

The. Most. Important. Thing.

If you’re sorta thinking, “huh? You mean like, blind and deaf people Accessibility?” then you’re not alone, because I’ve come to understand that there are lots and LOTS of people just like you: people for whom this idea does not have the right Accessibility, so it hasn’t been able to get through to you yet. It’s not your fault for not understanding, any more than it would be your fault for being blind or deaf or motion-restricted or living with any other disability. When software — or idea-ware for that matter — fails to be accessible toanyone for any reason, it is the fault of the software or of the messaging of the idea. It is an Accessibility failure.

Like anything else big and important in life, Accessibility has an evil twin who, jilted by the unbalanced affection displayed by their parents in their youth, has grown into an equally powerful Arch-Nemesis (yes, there’s more than one nemesis to accessibility) named Security. And boy howdy are the two ever at odds.

But I’ll argue that Accessibility is actually more important than Security because dialing Accessibility to zero means you have no product at all, whereas dialing Security to zero can still get you a reasonably successful product such as the Playstation Network.

So yeah. In case you hadn’t noticed, I could actually write a book on this topic. A fat one, filled with amusing anecdotes about ants and rubber mallets at companies I’ve worked at. But I will never get this little rant published, and you’ll never get it read, unless I start to wrap up.

That one last thing that Google doesn’t do well is Platforms. We don’t understand platforms. We don’t “get” platforms. Some of you do, but you are the minority. This has become painfully clear to me over the past six years. I was kind of hoping that competitive pressure from Microsoft and Amazon and more recently Facebook would make us wake up collectively and start doing universal services. Not in some sort of ad-hoc, half-assed way, but in more or less the same way Amazon did it: all at once, for real, no cheating, and treating it as our top priority from now on.

But no. No, it’s like our tenth or eleventh priority. Or fifteenth, I don’t know. It’s pretty low. There are a few teams who treat the idea very seriously, but most teams either don’t think about it all, ever, or only a small percentage of them think about it in a very small way.

It’s a big stretch even to get most teams to offer a stubby service to get programmatic access to their data and computations. Most of them think they’re building products. And a stubby service is a pretty pathetic service. Go back and look at that partial list of learnings from Amazon, and tell me which ones Stubby gives you out of the box. As far as I’m concerned, it’s none of them. Stubby’s great, but it’s like parts when you need a car.

A product is useless without a platform, or more precisely and accurately, a platform-less product will always be replaced by an equivalent platform-ized product.

Google+ is a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership (hi Larry, Sergey, Eric, Vic, howdy howdy) down to the very lowest leaf workers (hey yo). We all don’t get it. The Golden Rule of platforms is that you Eat Your Own Dogfood. The Google+ platform is a pathetic afterthought. We had no API at all at launch, and last I checked, we had one measly API call. One of the team members marched in and told me about it when they launched, and I asked: “So is it the Stalker API?” She got all glum and said “Yeah.” I mean, I was joking, but no… the only API call we offer is to get someone’s stream. So I guess the joke was on me.

Microsoft has known about the Dogfood rule for at least twenty years. It’s been part of their culture for a whole generation now. You don’t eat People Food and give your developers Dog Food. Doing that is simply robbing your long-term platform value for short-term successes. Platforms are all about long-term thinking.

Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product. But that’s not why they are successful. Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. So Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of different high-quality time sinks available, so there’s something there for everyone.

Our Google+ team took a look at the aftermarket and said: “Gosh, it looks like we need some games. Let’s go contract someone to, um, write some games for us.” Do you begin to see how incredibly wrong that thinking is now? The problem is that we are trying to predict what people want and deliver it for them.

You can’t do that. Not really. Not reliably. There have been precious few people in the world, over the entire history of computing, who have been able to do it reliably. Steve Jobs was one of them. We don’t have a Steve Jobs here. I’m sorry, but we don’t.

Larry Tesler may have convinced Bezos that he was no Steve Jobs, but Bezos realized that he didn’t need to be a Steve Jobs in order to provide everyone with the right products: interfaces and workflows that they liked and felt at ease with. He just needed to enable third-party developers to do it, and it would happen automatically.

I apologize to those (many) of you for whom all this stuff I’m saying is incredibly obvious, because yeah. It’s incredibly frigging obvious. Except we’re not doing it. We don’t get Platforms, and we don’t get Accessibility. The two are basically the same thing, because platforms solve accessibility. A platform is accessibility.

So yeah, Microsoft gets it. And you know as well as I do how surprising that is, because they don’t “get” much of anything, really. But they understand platforms as a purely accidental outgrowth of having started life in the business of providing platforms. So they have thirty-plus years of learning in this space. And if you go to msdn.com, and spend some time browsing, and you’ve never seen it before, prepare to be amazed. Because it’s staggeringly huge. They have thousands, and thousands, and THOUSANDS of API calls. They have a HUGE platform. Too big in fact, because they can’t design for squat, but at least they’re doing it.

Amazon gets it. Amazon’s AWS (aws.amazon.com) is incredible. Just go look at it. Click around. It’s embarrassing. We don’t have any of that stuff.

Apple gets it, obviously. They’ve made some fundamentally non-open choices, particularly around their mobile platform. But they understand accessibility and they understand the power of third-party development and they eat their dogfood. And you know what? They make pretty good dogfood. Their APIs are a hell of a lot cleaner than Microsoft’s, and have been since time immemorial.

Facebook gets it. That’s what really worries me. That’s what got me off my lazy butt to write this thing. I hate blogging. I hate… plussing, or whatever it’s called when you do a massive rant in Google+ even though it’s a terrible venue for it but you do it anyway because in the end you really do want Google to be successful. And I do! I mean, Facebook wants me there, and it’d be pretty easy to just go. But Google is home, so I’m insisting that we have this little family intervention, uncomfortable as it might be.

After you’ve marveled at the platform offerings of Microsoft and Amazon, and Facebook I guess (I didn’t look because I didn’t want to get too depressed), head over to developers.google.com and browse a little. Pretty big difference, eh? It’s like what your fifth-grade nephew might mock up if he were doing an assignment to demonstrate what a big powerful platform company might be building if all they had, resource-wise, was one fifth grader.

Please don’t get me wrong here — I know for a fact that the dev-rel team has had to FIGHT to get even this much available externally. They’re kicking ass as far as I’m concerned, because they DO get platforms, and they are struggling heroically to try to create one in an environment that is at best platform-apathetic, and at worst often openly hostile to the idea.

I’m just frankly describing what developers.google.com looks like to an outsider. It looks childish. Where’s the Maps APIs in there for Christ’s sake? Some of the things in there are labs projects. And the APIs for everything I clicked were… they were paltry. They were obviously dog food. Not even good organic stuff. Compared to our internal APIs it’s all snouts and horse hooves.

And also don’t get me wrong about Google+. They’re far from the only offenders. This is a cultural thing. What we have going on internally is basically a war, with the underdog minority Platformers fighting a more or less losing battle against the Mighty Funded Confident Producters.

Any teams that have successfully internalized the notion that they should be externally programmable platforms from the ground up are underdogs — Maps and Docs come to mind, and I know GMail is making overtures in that direction. But it’s hard for them to get funding for it because it’s not part of our culture. Maestro’s funding is a feeble thing compared to the gargantuan Microsoft Office programming platform: it’s a fluffy rabbit versus a T-Rex. The Docs team knows they’ll never be competitive with Office until they can match its scripting facilities, but they’re not getting any resource love. I mean, I assume they’re not, given that Apps Script only works in Spreadsheet right now, and it doesn’t even have keyboard shortcuts as part of its API. That team looks pretty unloved to me.

Ironically enough, Wave was a great platform, may they rest in peace. But making something a platform is not going to make you an instant success. A platform needs a killer app. Facebook — that is, the stock service they offer with walls and friends and such — is the killer app for the Facebook Platform. And it is a very serious mistake to conclude that the Facebook App could have been anywhere near as successful without the Facebook Platform.

You know how people are always saying Google is arrogant? I’m a Googler, so I get as irritated as you do when people say that. We’re not arrogant, by and large. We’re, like, 99% Arrogance-Free. I did start this post — if you’ll reach back into distant memory — by describing Google as “doing everything right”. We do mean well, and for the most part when people say we’re arrogant it’s because we didn’t hire them, or they’re unhappy with our policies, or something along those lines. They’re inferring arrogance because it makes them feel better.

But when we take the stance that we know how to design the perfect product for everyone, and believe you me, I hear that a lot, then we’re being fools. You can attribute it to arrogance, or naivete, or whatever — it doesn’t matter in the end, because it’s foolishness. There IS no perfect product for everyone.

And so we wind up with a browser that doesn’t let you set the default font size. Talk about an affront to Accessibility. I mean, as I get older I’m actually going blind. For real. I’ve been nearsighted all my life, and once you hit 40 years old you stop being able to see things up close. So font selection becomes this life-or-death thing: it can lock you out of the product completely. But the Chrome team is flat-out arrogant here: they want to build a zero-configuration product, and they’re quite brazen about it, and Fuck You if you’re blind or deaf or whatever. Hit Ctrl-+ on every single page visit for the rest of your life.

It’s not just them. It’s everyone. The problem is that we’re a Product Company through and through. We built a successful product with broad appeal — our search, that is — and that wild success has biased us.

Amazon was a product company too, so it took an out-of-band force to make Bezos understand the need for a platform. That force was their evaporating margins; he was cornered and had to think of a way out. But all he had was a bunch of engineers and all these computers… if only they could be monetized somehow… you can see how he arrived at AWS, in hindsight.

Microsoft started out as a platform, so they’ve just had lots of practice at it.

Facebook, though: they worry me. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure they started off as a Product and they rode that success pretty far. So I’m not sure exactly how they made the transition to a platform. It was a relatively long time ago, since they had to be a platform before (now very old) things like Mafia Wars could come along.

Maybe they just looked at us and asked: “How can we beat Google? What are they missing?”

The problem we face is pretty huge, because it will take a dramatic cultural change in order for us to start catching up. We don’t do internal service-oriented platforms, and we just as equally don’t do external ones. This means that the “not getting it” is endemic across the company: the PMs don’t get it, the engineers don’t get it, the product teams don’t get it, nobody gets it. Even if individuals do, even if YOU do, it doesn’t matter one bit unless we’re treating it as an all-hands-on-deck emergency. We can’t keep launching products and pretending we’ll turn them into magical beautiful extensible platforms later. We’ve tried that and it’s not working.

The Golden Rule of Platforms, “Eat Your Own Dogfood”, can be rephrased as “Start with a Platform, and Then Use it for Everything.” You can’t just bolt it on later. Certainly not easily at any rate — ask anyone who worked on platformizing MS Office. Or anyone who worked on platformizing Amazon. If you delay it, it’ll be ten times as much work as just doing it correctly up front. You can’t cheat. You can’t have secret back doors for internal apps to get special priority access, not for ANY reason. You need to solve the hard problems up front.

I’m not saying it’s too late for us, but the longer we wait, the closer we get to being Too Late.

I honestly don’t know how to wrap this up. I’ve said pretty much everything I came here to say today. This post has been six years in the making. I’m sorry if I wasn’t gentle enough, or if I misrepresented some product or team or person, or if we’re actually doing LOTS of platform stuff and it just so happens that I and everyone I ever talk to has just never heard about it. I’m sorry.

But we’ve gotta start doing this right.

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2:01 pm


Google+ Circles Are Now Sharable – Not the Twitter Lists Clone You Expected

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Google just announced that users of its new social network Google+ can now share their meticulously curated circles of users with the rest of the world. Owen Prater, a software engineer on the Google+ team made the announcement on the service earlier this afternoon and noted that Google hopes that this new feature will allow users “to share and find lots of great content in Google+, while still giving you important controls over how you read and share.” Sadly, it’s exactly those controls that make this feature somewhat different from Twitter’s list feature – and likely not quite what Google+ users expected it to be.

No Subscriptions, Just Copies

While lists on Twitter, for example, are automatically updated for all subscribers when you add or remove accounts from the list, shared Circle won’t reflect these updates. What you are sharing then, in effect, is a version of your Circle as it looks today and that is frozen in time.

Google shared list example

Because of this, you can’t “subscribe” to somebody’s circles either. Instead, you can only make a copy of a circle and add it to your account. That’s easy enough (just give it a name and you’re done), but it’s not quite the same as having an automatically updated list of people that a curator is keeping up to date for you. For power users, that’s a bit of a letdown.

Some of the privacy mechanisms, of course, are smart. When you share a circle, for example, you have to give it a different name, helping you to ensure that you don’t inadvertently give away the derogatory name for the Circle you may have used in private.

This new feature is currently rolling out to all Google+ users, so if it’s not available in your account yet, just give it another hour or two and you should be able to share your Circles as well.



10:25 pm


iStatus+: Post to Google+, Facebook and Twitter With Just One Click

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As of now, Google isn’t making it easy for developers to create apps that can write status updates to the service, but that didn’t stop Nadan Gergeo from building iSatus+, a little iPhone app ($0.99) that lets you post to Google+, Facebook and Twitter at the same time. I’m a big fan of simple apps that only do a few things, but do those right. iStatus+ is exactly that kind of app. You enter your account information for any of the networks you want to use – and if you are in the market for this kind of app, you’ll probably put in all three anyway – and start posting. It really couldn’t be any easier.

Istatus iphone update google plus

Given that Google+ isn’t actually giving developers the ability to post status updates directly yet, Gergeo had to hack his own way to do this, but it works perfectly fine. You can even choose which circles you want to post your updates to. Because of this, tough, you are currently also relegated to just posting text updates. The app doesn’t support any media uploads (yet).

As it also supports Twitter, the app is probably best suited for short updates under 140 characters, but you can easily exclude Twitter from longer updates by just tapping its icon above the keyboard.

One additional small caveats: the app doesn’t handle links very elegantly. On Google+, likely due to the nature of how it’s accessing the service, links won’t show up as snippets and there is no auto-shortening of Twitter links either (so they count as part of your 140-character limit).

If you want to give the app a try, just head over to iTunes.

 



9:26 pm


Google + Now Open for Everyone – Gets Search and Better Hangouts, Too

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Google just announced that it is taking its new social network Google+ out of its semi-private field trial today. Google+ is now in an open beta and anybody with a Google account can now sign up without the need for an invite (though Google Apps users still can’t get in). As part of this, Google is also making a plethora of new features available today. Among these are a number of new features for its Hangout video chat service and new tools for mobile users. Google is also finally making it possible to search through old Google+ posts.

New Features: Mobile Hangouts, Screensharing, Collaboration, API

The area that is getting the most attention today, however, is Google’s Hangout feature. Among other things, it is now possible to use hangouts on the go (Android-only for now, though support for iOS is coming soon). Users in a Hangout video chat can now also share their screens, draw an a shared sketchpad and write on shared Google Docs. Google also announced a new “Hangouts on Air” feature today, which will soon allow anybody to broadcast and record their hangouts and share them with an unlimited number of viewers.

Google is also launching a basic API for this tool.

Search

As for the search feature, Google will now let you search through both public and private posts. It’s not quite clear how Google is ranking these search results, but Google is clearly trying to rank posts by relevance as they are not ordered chronologically. It’s good to see that the company is finally making this feature available. Given Google’s expertise in search, the omission of a search feature for Google+ was always a bit puzzling.

Search google plus

New on Mobile: Post by SMS; Goodbye Huddle, Welcome Messenger (With Photo Sharing)

Among the other interesting new features for mobile users is the ability to use text messaging to post to Google+. This feature is currently only available for users in the U.S. and India, but more countries should follow soon. To get started with this, just verify your phone number in your Google+ settings.

Huddle, the group messaging feature that was only available in the mobile Google+ clients for Android and iOS is now being renamed “Messenger.” Besides renaming the service, Google is also adding one cool new feature to it: photo sharing. When you are in a group chat, you can now upload photos from your phone directly into the chat.

hangouts on air

100 New Features Since Launch

With these additions, Google today announced, the company has now released 100 new features since the initial launch of Google+ earlier this year. All of these new features will roll out globally over the next few days.

 

 

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4:10 pm


Google+ Now Lets You “Ignore” People You Don’t Like

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When it comes to dealing with annoying people on social networks, the options are usually pretty limited. You either deal with them or use a blunt “block” feature that virtually every social network today  offers. Google+, however, just added a bit of nuance to its block function. Instead of just having to cut off people completely and ensure that they will never see any of your posts, you can now also choose to just “ignore” people. While Google+’s “block” feature makes you practically invisible to those folks, the new “ignore” feature is slightly less dramatic and takes a different approach. It basically just ensures that you don’t have to deal with these people, won’t see their posts and won’t get notified about their activities on the service, but still lets them see your content and interact with it.

Here is how Google explains the difference:

The Ignore option is available from multiple places on Google+. And importantly: we don’t notify people that you’ve ignored them. Let me show you how it works: [list]

  • you won’t see any of their posts in the Incoming stream
  • you won’t get notifications about their activities
  • you won’t see them on your Circles page[/list]

Overall, this looks like a good idea that brings a useful real-life metaphor to social networks. We don’t, after all, always just completely block out all the people we don’t really want to deal with – we just ignore them.



4:40 pm


A Sign of Things to Come: Google Books Gets Support for Easy Google+ Sharing

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Google just announced that you can now easily share links to Google Books on its new social network Google+. That, by itself, isn’t really the most exciting news of the day – and the implementation could still be improved – but I think it is a sign of what’s to come once Google gets around to integrating Google+ sharing into more of its products.

Share Books With Your Literary Circles

If you are a Google+ user, you are already familiar with the new black bar at the top of your screens that gives you access to Google’s various properties and also alerts you of any activity in your Google+ account. This bar also features a “share” button, but by default, the share feature isn’t populated with any information from the site you are visiting when you click on it. On Google Books, however, Google will now automatically add the title, book cover and description to your post when you click the “share” button.

Still Room for Improvement

None of this is highly spectacular, but Google will hopefully get around to adding this functionality on more of its sites. Currently, for example, you can’t easily share a Place Page you found on Google Maps on Google+ without copying and pasting the URL. Indeed, it is somewhat surprising that the Google+ team chose Google Books – a relatively underused service – as the first property for this feature.

As Google expands its Google+ service to more sites – and maybe even launches a sharing button for third-party sites as well – it will hopefully learn to automatically extract more relevant information from these sites and services automatically and pre-populate the sharing dialog with these. While adding the link, cover and description from Google Books is nice, for example, there really is no reason why it couldn’t be formatted a bit nicer and why Google doesn’t add some more info (publishing date, name of author etc.) here as well.



5:20 pm


Share and Share Alike – Where Is the Google+ Etiquette Manual?

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Anyone who has used Google+ for more than a few hours has, no doubt, discovered a very high level of engagement. Users are sharing great content and are eager to share opinions on just about any topic, and there are many ways to share and connect. One can share, re-share, comment, +1, tag others, and even comment on comments and re-share re-shares. How, then, does one effectively participate? Are there established rules of etiquette for all of this communication?

The short answer is no. What follows is not intended to read like rules. It is simply a collection of my opinions based on what I’ve learned over more than twenty years communicating with others online. Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong, but please be nice.


This guest post was written by Bill Soistman. Bill is a programmer, educator, and trouble maker who has been sharing his opinions online since 1995.

He has more than twenty-five years experience solving real world problems and turning ideas into websites, mobile applications, and actionable strategies. He lives in Delaware with his lovely wife and two brilliant children. He cares far too much about baseball and blogs about faith, family, freedom, and fun. He currently spends a lot of time hanging out on Google+.


Sharing “Your” Content

If you have something original to share, share it. If you discovered something great online, share it. Sounds easy, right? So, what about the noise? With whom should one share and how often? I can’t answer those questions. I have a much better handle on what to do with content posted by others, but the same standard should apply to original content. That standard is added value. In the end, quality should always win out over quantity.

Comments

Comments should be reserved for real commentary, but the value of a comment is relative to the nature, tone, and intended audience of the post. A well thought out opinion on an important social issue is much more valuable when followed by carefully articulated consenting and dissenting opinions.

A thousand comments of mere agreement or raging hate do not add real value to the discussion. A political rant shared with a circle of like-minded people, on the other hand, may warrant a barrage of comments reading “amen” or “you go girl!” Same goes for the pic you buddy posts of his world record waterski jump or new Lamborghini, and your friends posts about graduations, promotions, engagements, anniversaries, births, etc. Go ahead and say “Congratulations!”

What About +1?

Giving a post a +1 may be preferred to posting a very short comment simply to express agreement, disagreement, or amusement.

I tend to draw the line based on the nature of my relationship with the author of the post. If that water ski jump record was set by a close personal friend, I will +1 but I am more inclined to also add a comment. A casual acquaintance of mine posts the same thing and I will +1 and leave my commentary out of it, even though I am just as impressed. On the other hand, if a complete stranger is proud of his accomplishment and I have reason to believe that he cares about my two cents, I’ll comment. It all comes down to added value to others. If I find I’m commenting for my own benefit, I probably shouldn’t.

Re-Sharing

Another way to participate in the discussion is to re-share content posted by others. This is widely regarded as a favorite feature by users because it spreads content to new circles and invites others to participate in the discussion. The benefits seem obvious, but there are questions to consider before indiscriminately re-sharing everything.

In my experience, re-sharing is the biggest contributor of noise. Some in my circles have proposed an arbitrary limit to the number of re-shares as a solution to the added noise. If you see something in your stream five or more times, for example, perhaps it is best not to share it again. I disagree. I think Google could mitigate the noise with an option to hide redundant posts (though I haven’t thought of solutions to the open questions this raises). I think the consideration, once again, is one of adding value for my friends. If I have something to add to the discussion or a qualifying remark, then I’ll re-share. Otherwise, +1 is the way to go. Simply hitting the share button because I like something is not, in my opinion, the best approach.

One must also consider fragmentation before re-sharing. Inviting others to participate in a discussion is great, but if the new comments are posted on the re-shared thread, the discussion is now fragmented. Sometimes that’s fine. Re-sharing is an excellent way to take the discussion in a different direction, but what about cases where fragmentation distracts? Should there be some protocol for requesting comments be added to the original post? Should Google implement some method of comment aggregation (or have they already done so)? The best course of action, for now, is to simply consider these questions before re-sharing and act accordingly.

Finally, privacy is at issue here. If something was shared publicly, it stands to reason that it is open for re-sharing, but one should think carefully about re-sharing something that was shared in a limited context. One of the favorite features among users is the ability to selectively share content with others by using circles, but that value may be diminished when posts are re-shared. There are restrictions and polite reminders in place for re-sharing non-public content and I think Google is working on more in this regard, but the best approach is careful consideration before you re-share.

Re-Sharing Re-Shared Posts

When one re-shares content that was re-shared already, the new post will look as though it were re-shared from the original post. This takes care of proper attribution for the original author, but does the re-sharer deserve some credit? Some users have begun to add something similar to the “hat tip” or “via so and so” that many bloggers use when they comment on news stories and such. I tend to think this is the best approach for now and may be one of the better ways to use tagging.

Where Does It End?

What should one do about commenting on something that was re-shared? Is one obligated to comment on the original post? Is it appropriate to leave a “thanks for sharing” comment on the re-share, or does that add too much noise? When is it appropriate to tag someone by name? Is it necessary to return the favor when one is tagged by someone else? Is it always inappropriate to tag those who are popular simply to get the attention of the attention getters? What about the etiquette of adding people to circles? If I create a circle for the express purpose of avoiding people while leading them to believe I am “following” them, does that make me a bad person?

Bottom Line

Don’t let anyone tell you how you should or should not participate. When I first started using Twitter in 2006 there were a lot of opinions, including mine, about the wrong way to use it. Many of those opinions, including some of mine, lost in the free marketplace of ideas. Like other communities before it, Google+ will evolve based on the behavior of users. We should all stop to think about how our behavior changes the experience for others, and we should, in my opinion, adjust our behavior for the benefit of the community.

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4:00 pm


The Google+ iPhone App Has Arrived – But It’s Not Very Good

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Google+ offers a pretty nice mobile web experience, but it’s relatively slow and limited when compared to the full web client on the desktop. While Android users have had access to a native Google+ app since launch – including access to Google’s Huddle group messaging feature – iPhone users had to wait for Apple to approve the app. That approval has finally come and the native iPhone app is now available in the App Store, though it is definitely not as good as it could have been.

Disappointing

There are no major differences between the Android app and the iPhone app. Indeed, the limitations of the native mobile app on both platforms are similar to those of the web app. Posting links and other attachments (as well as giving a +1 to a comment) is still not possible, for example. Neither is resharing posts. The overall design of the app is – in Google’s best tradition – lackluster. The Facebook app-style launcher with five icons doesn’t give you a lot of information and just makes the screen look empty.

Where the app shines, however, is in allowing you to post images directly from your phone (camera or library) and in bringing Huddle – the Google+ mobile group messaging service – to the iPhone. Getting native notifications of new comments, of course, is also quite a bonus, but you don’t get granular control over which notifications you receive.

Overall, then, the app isn’t great, but does give you easier and more complete access to Google+ than the mobile web client. Maybe Google should have just waited for feedback from its Android users and then launched an improved iOS version. None of the missing features would be hard to integrate, though, so I expect we will see an improved version pretty soon.

To download the app, just head over to the App Store and get started (if you have the developer version of iOS 5 installed already, though, don’t bother, as the app just crashes).

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4:08 pm