I can’t believe I’m writing a blog post about Google+

Really. I’m more surprised than you are, I promise.

Also, I promise this will not be a blog post about “What news organizations can do with Google+” or anything of the sort. Promise. Will. Not.

So the thing that consistently confuses me about social products from Google is that as a user, I have truly mixed feelings about how much I want public and private in the Google universe.

On one hand, I have a rather public persona on the Internet, where you can find (tens of?) thousands of things I’ve said on Twitter or this blog, or links I’ve saved, or comments I’ve made, or in some cases, even news articles I’ve reported.

But what’s much slightly more difficult to find, unless you bother nosing around my screen names, or you’re a closer friend than the average blogger, is the sort of thing I say on Facebook about my family or people-I-see-in-person-lots friends, or pictures that I post of my kids.

And as usual, that’s what has me confused about Google+, which clearly aims to be a ubiquitous social layer to the Web, omnipresent in my browser as I use Gmail, Calendar, and Reader, on and off all day long, on my laptop and phone.

Do I use this for personal, old-friend conversations? That’s mostly something I do on Facebook these days. And besides, where are these things going to show up? On my Google profile? Which is the first thing anyone is going to see (I think?) when they search for my name? Yikes. That’s why I hated on Buzz: I couldn’t control what showed up on that very public part of my persona. Other people’s comments and conversations around links that I share are something I want people to have to click a couple more times (like on this blog?) to get to. That’s why I removed my Google profile and stopped using Buzz so quickly way back in the day when Google stumbled over privacy issues in social products.

Do I use this for professional, branding-related knowledge trumpeting and link sharing? (Yeah, that’s how I just framed it. It happens.) Not sure. Twitter still feels like the right place for that, from time to time, when I’m not busy desperately trying to sound more clever than I am in person.

Anyway, let’s put all that aside for the moment.

The feature of Google+ that interested me the most when I saw the demo, and still seems like the biggest deal to me? Hangouts.

Silly name aside, casual group video chat with a limited (ahem) circle of friends/colleagues/cats = a winning feature for me. The YouTube thing built into it is pretty awesome, too. This makes me want to set up circles for “Soccer Fan Friends” so we can open up video chat and watch USWNT and Copa America highlights together. Or commiserate/empathize over the Gold Cup final.

That’s about it — I don’t need another status app, or link sharing app, or blogging app, or curation app in my life or workflow right now — but real live connections with my friends and acquaintances around the world? I’ll take it.

How Important are Avatars? – Bokardo

Joshua Porter on the importance of avatars in social applications: “Trust is a crucial byproduct of avatars that we can leverage in design. In one of my current consulting projects we’re working on what you might call “time to first known avatar”. That is, we are trying to speed up the time it takes for someone new to the service to see a familiar face…the faster they see the face the faster they’ll get comfortable with the software. If the time it takes for them to see a familiar face is too long, then they might very well give up because it doesn’t feel as welcoming. But if we can instill a sense of presence of friends early on, we’ll have tilted the cards in our favor.”

How Important are Avatars? – Bokardo

On IdeaLab: ReportingOn, rephrased in the form of a question

Over at the PBS IdeaLab blog, where I write about the development of ReportingOn, my Knight News Challenge project, I just posted something that starts to get into what Phase 2 of the “back channel for your beat” is going to look like.

Well, not what it’s going to *look* like exactly, but how it’s going to be framed.

Here’s a snippet:

“…the goal was always to give journalists — whether they’re a neighborhood blogger or the Baghdad bureau chief at the Washington Post — a place to ask questions about what they’re reporting on.

The shift that we’re making is a move from asking ‘What are you reporting on?’ to asking ‘What do you need to know about what you’re reporting on?

That’s where influences like Stack Overflow come into play. What’s the best way to organize and surface questions from journalists about a given topic?”

Check it out, and let me know if you think we’re on the right track.  Things are really starting to come together, and some of you should start to hear from me privately soon, as I nose around for newsrooms and neighborhood bloggers to test out Phase 2.

A podcast in which I discuss the merits and limits of Ning with Pat Thornton

I spent 20 minutes or so talking about Wired Journalists and Ning with Pat Thornton last week for a BeatBlogging.org podcast.

Here are some highlights from Pat’s list of questions:

  • Would you choose Ning again if you could start over?
  • How specific should a topic be for a Ning site to be specific?
  • How many users are needed for a quality Ning network?
  • How do you get the most out of Ning?
  • What tips or tricks do you have for people interested in setting up a network?

I hope I did a relatively decent job of answering those, or at the very least, explaining the easiest way to find the answers to those questions.

You’ll hear mentions of a few Ning-powered social networks at newspapers, including Your Santa Cruz Sports and School Matters (in Knoxville, TN).

What don’t we know about news organizations using Ning?  Say so in the comments at BeatBlogging.org.