Reviews

Google+ gets social networking right

On June 28 at 10:17 PM UTC, I got an invite to Google+ from Brian Rose (a Googler). I was in for a treat! 🙂

Here’s what the home screen looks like:

After multiple previous tries, I think Google’s finally got it with Google+. I’ve used both Wave and Buzz, and while they were interesting and innovative in their own ways, I just wasn’t drawn to them to the point where I wanted to use them multiple times a day, like I do with Facebook.

With Google+, I’m naturally drawn to the platform, because of its capabilities, and because of its design. I think Google finally bested Facebook.

Selective sharing and contact grouping

The feature I consider most important is Circles. The equivalent feature on Facebook is Lists, but there, it’s almost impossible to manage and use. On Google+, the platform was designed from the ground up around Circles, and this offers me the capabilities I’ve always wanted on a social networking platform:

  1. To share stuff selectively and privately, if I so desire, and do it effortlessly and safely. Facebook doesn’t do this. When you post an update, it goes out to everyone, and by that I mean all your contacts on that service.
  2. To easily group my contacts into categories. Again, Facebook doesn’t do this. There, you’re forced to Friend someone regardless of their relationship with you (online contact/person you barely know/acquaintance/actual friend/vip/business contact, etc.).

Here are a couple of screenshots from Google+ that demonstrate this.

I can’t emphasize enough how important selective sharing truly is on the web, and how refreshing it is to see it working so beautifully on Google+. The service even includes safeguards against accidental re-sharing of posts outside their intended group, with a feature that disables resharing. (I know you can still copy and paste or take a screenshot, but with this feature, you can indicate clearly to your contacts that you want that post to stay private. What they choose to do with it depends on their respect for you and your wishes.)

Gorgeous design

I’m floored by Google+’ gorgeous design. I love the whitespace, the clean color scheme, the layout and the button styles. I love that this same design now extends to my Google Profile, and to the photos posted to my PicasaWeb account. (Incidentally, isn’t it about time to change the name of PicasaWeb to Google Photos?)

All this design beauty makes me wonder where Google will stick the ads that will pay for Google+? I do hope they’ll use the same design philosophy for the ad boxes.

Instant video chat and topic-based web filtering

The other two important features of Google+ are Hangout and Sparks. Hangout is a super-easy group video chat, and Sparks gives you the chance to subscribe to topics of your choice, which then Google uses to filter the web and to present you with articles for your perusal.

Hangout is another fantastic (and sticky) feature for Google+. It builds on the power of Google Voice and Video Chat, which has been a feature of Gmail for years, and expands it to the point where you can chat with up to 10 people, live. This is going to be incredibly useful for families and (perhaps more importantly) for businesses. They’ll be able to hold web meetings instantly and easily now.

Sparks is a neat feature, but it still needs a bit of work. I’m not sure how the articles it presents are curated. And I get that you simply type in the topic you want, then click Add, but some (or most) people won’t get that. Perhaps a directory-like interface, where more choice and sub-choices are presented to people, will make it easier for them to use Sparks.

Areas of improvement

Right now, when I upload a video to Google+, it gets stored in a new album named after that day, in PicasaWeb. Same deal for new photos uploaded to the service.

This is the same approach used for Blogger. It’s a headache-free approach to handling media storage, but for those of us who have YouTube accounts, I’d rather have a choice of storing the video at YouTube instead of PicasaWeb. I want to manage all of my videos in one place instead of mixing them with my photos, particularly since I’m a YouTube Partner.

I’d also like to have the choice of storing uploaded photos in a gallery of my own choosing, or in a new gallery that I name myself. I think Google engineers will readily see the advantages of this without further explanation.

Where’s the integration with Google Docs? It’d be great if Google+ allowed easy sharing of documents from that service.

I like that you can’t auto-publish feeds to Google+, because it makes it harder for spammers to pollute the service. All of the input is manual, which means you have to physically be there and type it in. It does mean a bit of extra work after you’re written a blog post and want to share it. Perhaps some middle ground will be reached in the future, where blog posts, photos and videos will be automatically brought in.

That’s it for now. If I have further feedback, I’ll write another post. If you’d like to add me on Google+, here’s my profile.

Thank you Google, for the service and for the early invite! 

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Thoughts

Now I can upload longer videos to YouTube

On Friday, as I visited the Upload page at YouTube to put up another video, I noticed this announcement.

It says I’m now allowed to upload videos longer than 15 minutes. I checked the official YouTube blog, just to make sure, and it’s true. This past Thursday, they started to allow selected users to upload longer videos. According to the blog post, there are no limits on the video’s duration, though there’s still a 2 GB limit per video file size.

This is wonderful. Thank you, YouTube!

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Reviews

Who gets my vote for online video?

I wanted to upload a 25 min/525 MB video to a video sharing site recently. I found myself out of options. Ever since Google Video stopped allowing new uploads, there is no other site where you could upload a video this long, at that file size, without having to upgrade to some sort of paid account. Still, there’s one site that gets my vote for being a whole lot friendlier to its users.

First, let’s look at what’s available.

YouTube

They’re the giant with the huge market share. We already know we’re up against the 10-minute limit there, which can only be lifted if you’re some sort of government or news organization.

youtube-video-upload

The nice part about YouTube is that they’ll allow video clips to be up to 2 GB in size, but I do wish there’d be a way to lift that 10-minute limit, at least for some of the videos we upload, say, something like 1 video per month can be up to 30 minutes in length, or something like that. There’s no Pro option at YouTube, although it’d be nice if there was a low-cost one that would have longer time limits for uploads.

Vimeo

Vimeo is up next. It’s a much smaller site than YouTube, but it’s geared more toward video pros and amateurs, people who tend to do more with their videos than just turn on a webcam and hit record. If you have a free account there, you’re up against a 500 MB weekly limit, which is generous, but in my case, it turned out to not be enough.

vimeo-video-upload

The Pro option at Vimeo is $60/year, and it ups the weekly quota to 5 GB (from 500 MB), with unlimited HD uploading. It’s pretty cool, but since I don’t work with a lot of video, it’s not the option for me.

SmugMug

SmugMug has NO free video uploads, but they offer that option to those with paid accounts (Power and Pro users). I have a Pro account with them, which lets me sell digital downloads and prints of my photos very easily. I appreciate that a lot. The Pro account also lets me upload SD and HD video, but the really annoying part, the part that gets me steamed up, is that I’m limited to 10 minutes in length and 600 MB in file size per video clip.

I’m sorry, but that’s even lower than YouTube standards! Why am I paying $130/year when the video uploads are so hamstrung? I don’t care so much that the codecs used for compressing the uploaded videos are better than those at YouTube; I happen to care when I can’t upload a video and have paid for a Pro account…

smugmug-video-upload

SmugMug should seriously reconsider upping their limits to 30 minutes per video and at least 1 GB per file. They’re behind the times.

Facebook

I got a really pleasant surprise when I checked into Facebook’s video upload requirements.

facebook-video-upload

They have a 20 minute limit and 1 GB file size limit per video clip. In my opinion, that’s better than what YouTube, Vimeo and SmugMug provide. The best part is that they’re free. As far as I’m concerned, they get my vote for the best online video offering. It may not be the highest-quality compression, and it may not be the biggest free offering, but I think they’ve struck a great compromise between video clip duration and size.

I should mention that WordPress also has a video upload option, which I reviewed recently, but have not included here because it’s tied into their blogging platform. They have no standalone video upload and share option.

There you have it. If you want to share larger videos online, use Facebook.

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