Blogging about social media isn’t a regularly scheduled part of “Stories I Read, Stories I Tell” but I’ve had a few readers looking for more information about the new Google Plus (G+) social media outlet, and specifically, how G+ is, or is not, the right place for writers to network and mingle.
First, there are some interesting things that G+ does. For me, being able to share content with a select number of “friends” (in G+ language, “circles”) in an easy manner is a major plus. I have a “Writers” circle and when something comes up that I want to share with just writerly friends, I can do that really easily with G+. (As opposed to Facebook, where sharing with certain people almost always ends up messed up, in my experience, AND it is difficult to do.) Other applications of this concept come to mind quickly. I have a “family” circle, for family-specific posts. I have a “faith” circle for friends who would be interested in faith-specific posts. Education. Music. You get the idea. I can begin to sort people into categories of similar interest. (These circles can overlap, so individuals may be in several of these groups, but at the same time, I can not bug someone who’s said, “I don’t care about your writing prompts,” with posts about the writing prompt featured on the blog.)
There was one major component of G+ I was very interested in, though, and after trying it, I’d grade it a C…or, to be trendy, a C+. That feature? The Hangout.
In G+ speak, a “hangout” is a video/microphone/text chat room where you and various circle/friends can hang out. Multi-user video and chat conferencing. So, using the circles idea above, if I wanted to have a “family hangout” I could start a hangout room and invite people in my “family” circle. As a writer, I had a grand idea of being able to “hangout” with some of my writer friends. Better yet, I was hoping that the hangout feature would be ideal for distance-learning of creative writing instruction. What is a fiction writing workshop other than a group of people gathered together, talking through the workshop model, discussing the writing in question.
What I found, though, in my testing is that the features of a G+ hangout meet the bare minimum requirements of a cyber-workshop, but there are some key features missing.
For three out of four participants in my first “hangout”, the set up was quick and painless. Mics worked, cameras worked, speakers worked. We could chat easily, we could see and hear each other, the type chat screen allowed us to jot notes down (a good way to stack up questions in a lecture/teaching scenario, for example) and generally speaking, things worked pretty well. We even, with a little effort, got the YouTube video synch working so that everyone in the chat could watch the same video. (Another nice thing from an education standpoint, assuming you have some content you wish to share that you’ve hosted on YouTube.)
Plain and simple: If I were to use the hangout feature of G+ for teaching a writing class or running a workshop, I would want to be able to easily share files (word docs, PDFs, common photo files, mostly) with the participants. Ideally, I should be able to drag and drop a file into the chat, and that file then becomes available for the other participants to download. Just this feature alone would raise my grade of G+ hangouts to a B+/A-.
The other thing that would be nice, but is secondary to simple file sharing, would be the ability to share my desktop, specifically if I were running a PowerPoint/Key Note presentation that I wanted participants to see. Until a couple of these options are available, a hangout is really just a chance to chat, with limited usefulness in collaboration. It isn’t useless, by any means. It just isn’t yet useful for what I want…and isn’t it all about what I want???
Thanks for reading, and Happy Writing!!
(P.S. If you are a G+ user and a writer and want to be added to my writer’s circle, be sure to drop me a line!)