The Best of the Blog, 2011

It’s that time of year, again — time to take a look back at 2011, and see what you liked most about the Big Bad Blog.

How can we tell? We use a complex scoring system which tracks links back to the Big Bad Blog, comments made, and pageviews. Maybe not that complicated. However we came up with the list — and truth be told, even we are not entirely sure — this is it:

5: Google Plus: A first look

We received an early invitation to the new Social Network on the block, and dutifully gave our first impressions of it — and they were positive impressions, indeed.

While an update of those impressions are overdue — first impressions, while important, are not necessarily final opinions — this blogger still feels that Google Plus has the potential to be the best of the available networks, but it still has some way to go before it arrives there.

4: Character creation and alignment

The roleplaying area of the blog has taken a big backseat this year. While the generally haphazard update schedule has reduced the amount of content published, of all types, the roleplaying section has had to address a second deficiency: I stopped running my D&D game.

Most of the content I produced was the result of running a game myself — a weekly article was easy when I was introducing myself to the fourth edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Running a game once a month was enough to provide ongoing monthly articles — ideas or actions would arise in planning or playing that were comment-worthy.

But a baby makes for little playing time, nevermind planning time, and the game only managed one session after Maggie’s birth in 2010 to prove itself to be too much work. It went on hiatus, and my impression now is that it is a permanent one.

Since then, I have been thinking about my next game, which will be of the more old skool D&D bent. Although actual game development has been minimal this year — maybe it will get off its feet in 2012 — I read something that triggered ideas about alignment, in terms of the next game, and voila. A popular D&D blog post.

If scheduling permits progress towards running this new game next year — by no means a necessity — we should see plenty of roleplaying goodness on the Big Bad Blog next year.

Otherwise? The 2012 edition might not have a roleplaying entry.

3: Bringing down the meme: Demotivationals

It seems that every year, I get excited about a meme. And then soon in the new year, I get tired of the meme and write about it.

In 2009/10 it was the FAIL meme. In 2010/11, it was the demotivational.

Next year? No idea. I sadly feel as though I’m not amused by any current memes — it could be the end of a Big Bad Blog tradition.

This particular blog entry makes me quite proud: the comments tend to be people stopping in to tell me that I’m unfunny or stupid. This, as you may be aware, is an indicator of blog excellence.

2: Because you’re all horny for Felicia Day

It has long been noted that Felicia Day nude, Felicia Day naked, and their ilk are popular search terms, when it comes to finding the Big Bad Blog, sending over 100 people our way on an average day.

The traffic from these search terms seemed to be spiking over the summer, when I saw this photo on Wil Wheaton’s Tumblr thingy. (I always call then “Tumblr thingies”. Calling it “so-and-so’s Tumblr” seems wrong. Calling it a “Tumblr blog”, also wrong. What to do?)

The forces of Google meant that I had to write something including that photo.

And the popularity of the search term guaranteed its place here.

1: Twitter to Facebook not working

Back in February, I noticed that my tweets had stopped automatically updating my Facebook page.

This was a concern — I disliked, and continue to dislike, interacting with Facebook directly. But I like all the people on Facebook (also known as “all the people”) to be able to follow me, if they so wish.

So … importation.

It had, for whatever reason, stopped working. So I did what one does in these situations, and starting to try to figure out how to fix it.

Once fixed, I figured that I would post the solution, as it was neither easy to find nor immediately evident. Mine was apparently well-indexed on Google, as it prompted plenty of re-tweets, Facebook likes and (for this blog) a healthy number of comments.

A bit boring, maybe, compared to previous year’s number ones, but it’s nice to be helpful sometimes.

My circles need to intersect

Our first look at Google Plus was quite, um, effusive. But since then, we have noted a problem.

Our circles need to intersect.

Which is to say that we expect to be able to combine our circles in two ways: as a Union and as an Intersection.

We want to be able to do this:

When we choose to share something, we want to have a full set of options:

  • Share with our guitar playing friends.
  • Share with our keyboard playing friends.
  • Share with both our guitar and keyboard playing friends.
  • Share with friends who play instruments that fit in both the guitar and keyboard families.

More seriously, I have a circle for “friends”, and a circle for “people who live in London” — if I want to share with “friends in London”, I need to … create yet another circle.

Fix this, Google.

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.