The morning coffee and the strange bans

Here at the Big Bad Blog, we are probably the very last website in the world to mention that Missouri is banning Student-Teacher friendships on Facebook. What we do not think has been pointed out is exactly how silly the law actually is. From PC Magazine:

Buried within the law, however, is a provision that effectively eliminates private social relationships between students and teachers on any of the Web’s many social networks. Missouri school districts are required to develop written policies to address the “appropriate use of electronic media” by the start of 2012, which must include guidelines for social network use.

“Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian,” reads the law. “Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

Here are a few examples of things that will happen:

  • A teacher will have his or her child as a student in their class. It will become illegal for them to have them as a “friend” on Facebook.
  • A former student will grow up and marry into the family. It will be illegal for them to have them as a “friend” on Facebook.
  • Teachers will no longer be allowed to communicate via email to students.
  • Schools will not be able to set up websites to which students could anonymously report criminal activity (or abuse), as that site must be accessible to individuals who are potentially the abusers in question.

Well done, Missouri. Here at the Big Bad Blog, we are convinced that you will prevent children who need help from accessing good teachers who care. Somehow we do not think that any of this will keep predators from the vulnerable ones, though.

Photo via je suis perdu.
Webcomic is The Underfold.

Google Plus: A first look

Here at the Big Bad Blog, we were lucky enough to snag one of those early invitations to Google’s new social network. While we don’t think the invitation was given with our blogging in mind, we would be remiss if we did not give our first impressions of it.

We like it.

We like it better than Twitter. We like it better than Facebook. And — if others take to it, we will likely end up abandoning these services for the world of Google.

Plus versus Twitter

Google Plus is like Twitter.

The core functionality of each service is to allow for short status messages, readable by others on the service who follow the user. Following another person on the service is not symmetric – that is to say, there is no need to follow somebody back. Any public postings by a person are visible to anybody who follows them.

Why Plus is better

Google Plus has several advantages over Twitter:

  • Built-in photo service. Twitter users use yfrog, twitpic, and other services to include photos in their tweets. This has two effects – first, users have to actually leave Twitter to see what’s being posted; second, the content becomes distributed across multiple platforms. The availability, security, and terms of service involved in a Twitter account involve several extraneous accounts that the Twitter user might pay little attention to.
  • Nested conversations. Interaction on Twitter is messy. The option to follow a conversation is very hit-and-miss, and conversations involving one or more party that you do not follow might be invisible or semi-visible, depending on who is making the comment, and who is being tagged first. Nested commments? Yes, please.
  • Privacy. While we are not fans of people who lock down their Twitter stream, it is nice to be able to easily flip between public and locked-down posting.
  • Save your stream. Google+ has easy downloads of everything you’ve put there. Back it up. Save it because you’re leaving. It’s a strong indicator of both confidence and an intention to leave you in control of your own content.

Of course, Twitter does have some aspects that Google Plus lacks:

  • Trends
  • Hashtags
  • A general feeling of being public – Google Plus seems confined to Plus users

These are three things that don’t apply to us at the Big Bad Blog. We have clicked on a trend twice. Both times, we shook our head and closed the window. We didn’t stay long.

We don’t use hashtags, except as jokes. Hashtags are an ugly little piece of SEO; people begging to have people read their Tweets. They seem desperate. We are happy to use a service that doesn’t litter our stream with them.

And the “feeling of being public” is really a lie. How many non-Twitter users search through Tweets? How many people search for Tweets at all?

In the end, Google Plus performs the core Twitter functionality — it allows asynchronous following and easy public posting, without Twitter’s limitation of being a text-only medium and the forced solutions that requires. The only thing we would miss about Twitter is the forced brevity and creativity that a 140-character limit provides. Google+ probably has a limit, but so far we have been in no danger of hitting it.

Plus versus Facebook

Google Plus is like Facebook.

Both of them allow you to form connections with family, friends, nearly-forgotten acquaintances, and even strangers. You can then share with those people the minutiae of your life, photos of your dog, and all 225 out-of-focus photos that you took at the bar last night and then posted to the Internet without even checking whether or not any of them were good first.

Why Plus is better

Just like with Twitter, Google Plus outperforms Facebook at its own game.

  • Better photo service. Picassa combines with Google Plus quite nicely. It’s easier to upload photos, and easier to navigate through photos (yours and those of others).
  • Better geolocation. Facebook started their geolocation in a horrible way, essentially invading the privacy of their users. It doesn’t seem to have ever caught on the way FourSquare has. Google is the maker of Google Maps and the Android mobile Operating System. Their check-ins work well.
  • No selling your location to advertisers. Google is the advertiser. They may use your location in presenting ads, but they are certainly not sharing your information with anybody else. It’s way too valuable. Your information stops at the Google doors.
  • Save your stream. Google+ has easy downloads of everything you’ve put there. Back it up. Save it because you’re leaving. It’s a strong indicator of both confidence and an intention to leave you in control of your own content.
  • Privacy. Last, but absolutely not least. Facebook has a privacy issue seemingly every other week. Google has been on the receiving end of your embarrassing search terms and private emails for years, with nary a peep. Facebook requires you to scratch your head, and search through every nook and cranny to turn off all the privacy violations to which you have been opted in. Google makes it easy to navigate to your privacy settings, and easy to understand. If you see no other differences, you should jump from Facebook to Google for the privacy implications alone.

Of course, Facebook has several things that Google doesn’t have … yet(?).

  • Farmville. Or Mafia Wars. Or whatever-annoying-game you’re playing on Facebook. Third party apps aren’t there.
  • Events. Facebook’s big leg up is their Events mechanism, which isn’t on Google. However, it can only be a matter of time before Google Calendar is integrated into Plus.

Here at the Big Bad Blog, we won’t miss the third-party applications. And, in fact, we hope that they stay off Google — though we might not be so lucky. We would miss the Events on moving to Google Plus, but don’t think that’s the end of the world. Plus, we feel that Google Calendar will be integrated before long, and that events will not just be available, but will sync to our phone.

Why Google Plus is better

Beyond the feature set, Google Plus has three main advantages that have us excited.

First, they encompass the functionality of both Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is an open system — users broadcast to the world at large, and hope somebody is listening. Facebook is a closed system — users broadcast to a bunch of people they know.

Google Plus allows both kinds of interaction. It follows Twitter’s non-synchronous pattern of Followers and Following, allowing users to broadcast publicly to anybody who is following them, or to limit their broadcast to those people they are following (or a subset of those people). The controls to do this are intuitive, easy, and quick to use. The result is that the core functionality of both Twitter and Facebook are achieved through a single service, making each of them more appealing, and the choice of where to post less of a headache.

Second, Google Plus is mobile. Yes, Twitter was based on the mobile phone SMS. Yes, Twitter has been integrated into Apple products. Yes, Facebook has mobile applications for every platform. Yes, there are phones with Facebook integration.

These things are not like what Google has. Google has built both the social network and the mobile Operating System. They own both; they can be aligned. Apple and Twitter will not always agree on how things should be done — just like Apple and Facebook have disagreed in the past. Facebook is not getting into the mobile OS game, or designing phones.

Apple and HTC having integration with these services are gimmicks and marketing ploys. Only Google will offer a truly integrated experience.

Third, Google Plus is built on Google’s existing services. Yes, there is a lot of integration left to go, but let’s not pretend that Google Plus won’t have events tied in with Google Calendar, and won’t manage to tie in Google Apps to the service. Google is more than a search company, they are a cloud computing company. They have been since Google Mail began.

Facebook? Facebook was built in 2004, as a Web 2.0 type of project — Web 2.0 being a term first coined in 1999. It is a website. It predates the iPhone by three years, and was built before anybody other than Steve Jobs was imagining a miniature computer in every pocket.

Twitter? Twitter was built in 2006, not so much as a web site, but as a web service that could function through the mobile phone SMS. That’s why you’ve got 140 characters — it’s what they could fit in a text message. When you followed somebody, you would receive a text message from Twitter when the person you were following texted Twitter. Genius.

But today, we have smart phones. And upload photos. And geotag our location. And all these things are being built on top of Twitter’s SMS-based architecture. Mobile functionality is being forced onto Facebook’s website, first conceived when the web wasn’t mobile.

Google Plus? Built in 2011, by a world leader in cloud computer and mobile Operating Systems. It’s less than a week old, but it’s already clear that it’s going to leave these services in the dust.

So why are we still on those old services?

Google Plus is lacking one thing: people.

Right now, we’re updating twice on Google+ for every update on Facebook or Twitter (links to the blog and Flickr aside). Eventually, so the theory goes, Google+ will hit a critical mass, and we will leave Facebook and Twitter and do all our social networking on Google+.

We encourage you to switch now. We breathlessly await your arrival.

Image is XKCD by Randall Munroe.

The morning coffee, with lemons and snails

One of the things that the Internet has been all abuzzed about (at least in the corners I visit) for most of this past week is the odd PR-smear-campaign by Facebook against Google. The odd parts, of course, being the caught-in-the-act and kettle-calling-the-pot-black aspects of the whole thing.

The article that best captures the true ramifications of this is by Steven Levy, published in Wired. I post his conclusion here:

I conclude that Facebook was running a smear campaign against itself

And who is to argue with that, really?

Assuming Google did not hack Facebook, or perform some other malicious activity (and if so, evidence please), the only reasonable argument that Facebook can make is that Google is using information that Facebook made public. It is fair to argue whether or not Google should (or should not) use this information, but the blame clearly ought to go Facebook’s way.

Photo found at Things Organized Neatly. Credit unknown.
Webcomic is Octometry, by Jamie Canepa.