Putting the PLUS in Google

Recently, while at the 4th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA – a discussion on wine and technology was moderated by John Meyer who started 9 Clouds, Paul Mabray of Vintank, and Philip James from Lot 18 and Snooth.

Part way through the session, which included a lively discussion on flash sale sites like Lot18 and whether harm or help the wine industry, a vibrant discussion (ok fine it was me) erupted about Facebook, Twitter, and various forms of Google.  Currently, the latest hot button platform is Google+.   What is Google+ you ask?  Like it’s predecessors Google Wave and Google Buzz (which are both alive but atrophied), Google+ promises to be the next social media flashmob trigger.  Basically, I call it Twitter on steroids, with a dash of Facebook thrown in for good measure.

Essentially, on Google+ you friend up people by adding them to Circles.  Circles are groups of people you are following, and can be defined any way you want.  Social media experts advise creating as many circles as possible, so you can slice and dice your followees and folowers; I might have gone a tad overboard on this but it will shake it self out. Based on your circles, you will have a stream.  Wait, isnt’ that Twitter?  Or Facebook?  Sort of.  The cool thing about Google+ is that you can target your stream, based on circles.  So I can see just my wine circle or just my friend circle in my stream.  This is simliar functionality to twitter lists, but where you get the power of google+ is that you can now target your posts to specific people, and specific circles.  This functionality currently exists in Facebook via Lists, so it’s not news to those of us who like to keep grandma out of my morning rants on The ‘Book.

One thing that Google+ is lacking however is the ability to expressly BLOCK peole from reading a post.  This can be helpful if you don’t want someone who might be in a group to see a post.  Say you’re planning a surprise party for Joe, and you want all the Wine Bloggers to plan but dont’ want Joe to know.  you’d hav eto create a new group with everyone except Joe.

A feature that that G+ has already proved to add great value and provide content is the Hangout.  This weekend, at the WBC, our illustrious leader Joel Vincent started a Hangout – or group chat room basically – to broadcast WBC news and keynote videos to people not in attendance.  As I was stuck in my room in the depths of some nasty bug, I would have loved to watch via the stream.  It’s my own fault I didn’t know the hangout existed, but bloggers who weren’t’ at WBC were able to watch Eric Asimov’s speech real time, via G+.  Pretty powerful!  Yes you can accomplish this with WebEx or a recorded video, but this allows you to share LIVE data in a real time stream. The only thing that Hangouts don’t do is save content.

A feature that is NOT available on the web platform (wtf?  Come on people, that is stupid) but IS available on the mobile app is the Huddle.  A huddle is another group chat, which allows you to have text conversations with a group of folks on the go.  You simply start a Huddle and add a circle or individuals.  We had a mini WBC huddle going pre-conference, and it was a very effective way to community pop up parties and meetups to a small group quickly.

Are you looking for more blogs to follow?  Maybe more information about a specific subject to augment your already overflowing knowledge stream?  Sparks are great to augment your information stream.  Enter a few sparks in the search box, and you will get a ton of posts and data that you can read, share, and contemplate.  This is a great way to discover new blogs, and in turn. have your blog discovered.  Type in wine.  Type in a specific wine.  Go ahead!  See what happens! If it works well, then it could be a invaluable service that means you’ve always got something cool to check out – if not, there’s a danger that it could become a very annoying form of spam. You can delete interests from your list if they begin to bore you and we would expect that they’ll be a few other ways of tweaking the settings, too.

The real power of Google+ comes when you use extended sharing or public sharing to post links, information, content, pictures, and whatever else you want.  If I post a blog to Google+ and select all of my wine circles, and use extended sharing, then that post will be visible to everyone that is in a circle of a person in my circles.  Capice? Additionally, if you enable Public sharing, your post is in the public stream and is visible to everyone.  If you are trying to get more traffic to you site, this is a great way to be picked up on the Spark stream and broadcast your message.

So why is Google+ better than Twitter or Facebook? I don’t want to say better, I want to say different.  I am one of the few people that do NOT think that Twitter has jumped the shark. I love twitter.  not only for my personal snipes, rants, and chirps, but also – as a wine blogger, there is a vibrant community of wine writers, lovers, and business people on twitter.  You can cast a wide net.  If you’re account is open and you use hashtags that are relevant, you can reach a targeted audience.  It’s the most effective crowd sourcing, and information gathering tool I use.  I can generally get an answer to a question with a few tweets, retweets, and please helps.  Google+ has the potential to be better at this.  Twitter also ha sa list ability.  While you cannot compartmentalize your tweets by list, you CAN follow people by lists.  Because i have 4000 followers, I can’t possibly follow the primary stream on a regular basis.  To streamline the info that I want, I rely heavily on lists.  Lists in twitter allow you to add people (even without following them) to your stream.  I have Friends, Wine Bloggers, WIne Biz, and many more lists that make up my Seesmic dashboard.  Occasionally, I also look at the main stream, if I neglected to add someone to a list.  This helps manage the constant influx of tweets at a reasonable speed.  Facebook is aslo becoming an important tool in social media reach.  My blog page gets readers on Facebook that I dont’ garner from any other source.  For that reason alone, Facebook matters.  I can also talk to my best friend from high school.  There is a powerful tool in Facebook with Lists; you can compartmentalize your posts.  When I talk about makeup, I don’t think my wine friends care.  So I don’t share it with them.

Bottom line, Google+ has the POTENTIAL for being ANOTHER great resrouce.  It is not the end all be all, because as most Google products go, early adopters and tech geeks are there first and in depth.  If you don’t use Chrome, you run at a deficit because many of the tools that make Google+ more useful are Chrome extensions.  If you don’t use Google email, you are also at a deficit because Google integrates email, chat, and all other tools seamlessly. What I need to make Google+ part of my overall social media strategy, for persona and for my blog, is a social media desktop application that allows posting and streaming.  With multiple twitter accounts for different purposes, facebook pages for blogs and work, and Google+, I need a single sign on platform mission control. Now, as I prepare for both the next WBC Scholarship fundraising campaign, as well as the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conferecne in Portland, Oregon I will be mining Google+ for new resources and people.  Information is my diesel baby!

Are you on Google+?  Add me to a circle.  Need an invite?  Let me know!