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Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Google+: the Missing Manual 104

Michael J. Ross writes "Prior to Google+, the company's previous attempts at social networking — Orkut, Dodgeball, Jaiku, Wave, and Buzz — were largely failures, and tended to frustrate users who had devoted time and effort to contributing content and establishing connections with other users, only to see the services wither on the vine. In contrast, Google+ appears to be receiving far more nurturing by the Internet behemoth, and as a result has arguably better chances of not just surviving, but expanding to the point of eventually challenging Twitter and Facebook. Like its rivals, Google+ offers online help information to explain to newcomers the basics of how to use the service. But there is little to no advice on how to make the most of its capabilities, and even the basic functionality is not always clearly explained. That is the purpose of a new book, Google+: The Missing Manual." Keep reading for the rest of Michael's review.
Google+: The Missing Manual
author Kevin Purdy
pages 232 pages
publisher O'Reilly Media
rating 7/10
reviewer Michael J. Ross
ISBN 978-1449311872
summary An introduction to Google's social networking service.
Authored by Kevin Purdy, the book was published by O'Reilly Media, on 30 December 2011, under the ISBN 978-1449311872. The publisher's page has a brief description of the book, its table of contents, some comments on the book from customers and reviewers, a couple errata (as of this writing), and links for purchasing the print version (such as the one kindly provided to me by the publisher) and/or the e-book versions (in EPUB, MOBI, and PDF formats). The "missing CD" page has links to most if not all of the online resources mentioned in the text.

Like the other entries in the Missing Manual series, this one starts with the basics, and builds upon that foundation. It does not assume any knowledge of Google+, or even possession of a Google account.

The book's material is organized into nine chapters, for a total of 232 pages. The first chapter, "Getting Started," explains exactly how to join Google+, invite friends to your new network, and configure your profile, including your privacy settings and a photo (even tweaking it online). The second chapter, "Managing Contacts with Circles" covers how to create new circles, edit and organize existing ones, share them with other Google+ users, and find people to add to your circles. But, oddly, the information is not presented in that logical order. The author explicates the advantages of using more than the default four circles provided by Google. Some points are repeated, but briefly enough that it is inconsequential.

While the first two chapters lay the foundation for joining Google+ and setting up your account and circles, the next three chapters explore the details of using this service — starting with "Streams, Sharing, and Privacy," which explains the various types of streams (main, circle, Notification, and the now-defunct Incoming stream), as well as the user interface elements for those streams and the individual posts they comprise. The author also demonstrates how to write your own posts, specify who gets to see them, edit your posts, and interact with the posts submitted by other users. The next chapter explores the important topic of notifications, which are sent as e-mail messages, smartphone messages, etc. Helpfully, the author discusses the differences between the user interfaces of the Android and iPhone notification apps. The subsequent chapter fully explains how to share photos and videos with other Google+ users, as well as how to upload and perform basic editing of images. However, it may have been more logical to present the latter information before the former.

For people who want the capabilities previously only provided by commercial web conferencing services, hangouts might be the most welcome feature of Google+. Chapter 6 explains how to set up and participate in these videos/audio meetings online, as well as how to incorporate Google Chat, YouTube videos, and Android devices. The subsequent chapter, "Searching and Sparks," has plenty of advice on how to search for other Google+ users and the content they contribute. The penultimate chapter dives into the differences you may encounter when using Google+ on small screen devices — specifically, Android and Apple smartphones and tablets. The last chapter, which is the briefest of the bunch, is also likely to prove the least useful to most readers, as it covers how to get started playing the games built into Google+.

The book does not cover Google+ Pages, which was likely introduced after the final draft of the book was submitted to the publisher. Readers are directed to an untitled 14-page PDF file that covers the essentials of Google+ Pages. Oddly, the publisher's page links to that file with the text "Download Example Code"; but there is no example code for this book. The supplement contains a few flaws: "box pop-up box" (page 4), "using a promoting your Page" (9), and "his her name" (11).

Speaking of which, given the relatively modest number of pages in this book, and the limited amount of text on each one, this book contains far too many errata: "works different" (page xiii; echoes of Apple's infernal "Think Different" marketing campaign?), "If typing web addresses by hand that isn't" (page 3), "a different a social networking site" (4), "she's added you [to] her" (54), "added to [the] +Add box" (58), "even if [you] just" (79), "and the[n] click the" (79), "settings that lets you can choose" (83), "modicum [of] more fuss" (105), "share its photos [with] specific circles" (117), "where [the] photo" (124), "just like [the] lightbox view" (126), "and or" (147; should read "and/or"), "an job" (148), "how to [use?] Google+ running" (169), "search find" (170), "bring up to the same list" (180), "The form exact" (185; should read "The exact form"), "you can't get start" (191), "in in" (193), and "a box let you know" (194).

Some of the statements in the narrative are odd — for instance, "Halloween right around October 31" (page 7; when else would Halloween occur?). Other phrases are poorly worded — for instance, "whenever you feel irked or like something must be broken" (44), "maybe an extra like a link" (60), and "select an item from the menu that appears to see only circle-related notifications" (80). Lastly, at least one pair of verbs have inconsistent form ("start" and "mentioning" on page 62). All of these blemishes should have been caught by the copyediting crew. But for the most part, the narrative is straightforward. It is occasionally livened up with a bit of humor, which is good, because portions of the text begin to sound the same, as a result not so much of the author's writing, but more the Google+ interface itself.

Only a few technical errors are immediately evident — for instance, on page 61, the author refers to a for-loop in computer code incorrectly: "+1 is a common way of making a program run over and over again." But it is not a program that is being repeated, but rather a code block.

Scattered throughout the text are numerous text boxes — most of which are labeled "Note" or "Tip." Unfortunately, they are set in a font that is a bit too small for comfortable reading. Also, there does not appear to be any difference among these types of information sections, yet there are at least half a dozen different names for them.

All of the key topics are nicely illustrated with sample screenshots, in grayscale, oftentimes with relevant controls circled or otherwise indicated. The only weakness is that the author typically does not mention which figure is being referenced in the text — not that that would help much anyway, since none of them have figure numbers. It's usually clear from the context, but not always.

Yet the very existence of this book may give readers some pause: If a book of this size is required to explain how to use a social networking service aimed at the general public, perhaps the Google+ user interface needs to be overhauled and made more intuitive? Yet that process is probably underway, because Google+ is under constant revision. Thus there will be portions of the text and screenshots that differs somewhat from the current incarnation of the user interface and its features. But for most of these instances, it is easy enough to determine how what you read in the book correlates with what you might see on the screen.

The primary weakness of this book is that it does not attempt to explain how Google+ might be integrated into a business's online marketing strategy, nor how it compares against Facebook or Twitter in terms of its advantages and disadvantages. In fact, as noted above, the book addresses Google+ Pages only in a supplementary document. Such information would have made this entry in the Missing Manual series far more valuable.

However, one forte of this book is that the author has clearly put effort into learning and explaining the privacy implications of the various Google+ features — critical in this era of evaporating privacy and data breaches on an unprecedented scale.

On balance, he largely achieves his objective. Google+: The Missing Manual is an informative and approachable introduction to Google's social network.

Michael J. Ross is a freelance web developer and writer.

You can purchase Google+: The Missing Manual from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Book Review: Google+: the Missing Manual

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @03:43PM (#39356739)

    Was there really a huge clamor of people wanting a Google+ manual? You would probably make more money selling a collection of annoying animated gifs and hideous wallpapers for peoples' MySpace pages.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Shit, even the once-venerable Gmail has turned into a boated, convoluted, unreadable mess of cryptic and contradictory icons swimming in a steaming pile of bloated web 2.0 shite. Good thing they still allow you to use the HTML version, right?

      -- Ethanol-fueled

      • What, they have a webmail service too?

        IMAP all the way, baby. IMAP all the way. (Or, "It's IMAP all the way down.")

    • ...the manual nobody knew was missing
    • by jd ( 1658 )

      Google+ has online documentation, but it sucks, is poorly maintained and/or is grossly incorrect. It's also hard to find anything of any consequence.

      I'm using Google+ for one reason only - Picasa won't talk to anything else and I need face recognition for a photo project I'm working on. I'm looking at OpenCV and other software, but writing a wholly new, properly collaborative, version of Google+ Photo will not be a small undertaking. Unlike Linus, I'm not starting with a simple need like a terminal emulator

  • 90 million (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @03:46PM (#39356769) Journal

    90 million people will buy the book, skim through it over the course of a day or two, and never open it again.

    • Re:90 million (Score:4, Insightful)

      by chill ( 34294 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @03:54PM (#39356879) Journal

      If 90 million people buy the book, I don't think the author will care if they read it or use it to clean up after their dog. He'll be on an island somewhere sipping fruity drinks while a bevy of scantily clad young women (or men, depending) attend his every need.

      I think a more correct statement is "90 people will buy this book,..."

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It was an analogy. As of January 2012, Google claimed 90 million users in its Q4 2011 report.

      • by jd ( 1658 )

        If he can't have the scantily clad women, feel free to send them to me. For safe-keeping, just in case he does sell the other 89 million, 999 thousand and 901 copies.

  • Google+: The Missing Mindshare
  • Stupid Images (Score:4, Insightful)

    by linuxrunner ( 225041 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @03:49PM (#39356799) Homepage

    Does it tell me how to handle the images? I upload one from my phone. Now... ALL I WANT TO DO, is right click it, and view it, so I can hot link it and post it elsewhere.

    You would think that would be easy. But no... the scripting won't allow me, and I can't figure it out. So I would rather use flickr.

    That and it's just a bit too confusing on what's viewable, what's private, etc. They really need to fix the images. I really think that's holding them back.

    • Re:Stupid Images (Score:5, Interesting)

      by wintercolby ( 1117427 ) <winter.colby@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @04:05PM (#39357021)
      Wow! I only share pics online with Google+, precisely because of the circles. I don't want people who pledged the same fraternity as I did getting pictures of my 4 year old daughter's birthday party. I may want to share the picture of the latest glass of home brew with the fraternity brothers, and not all the friends in the area who have children who go to school with my 6 year old. It's interesting to me that the reason you don't like Google+ is the exact reason that I chose to use it for sharing pictures.
      • Re:Stupid Images (Score:4, Insightful)

        by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @04:45PM (#39357515)

        Wow! I only share pics online with Google+, precisely because of the circles. I don't want people who pledged the same fraternity as I did getting pictures of my 4 year old daughter's birthday party. I may want to share the picture of the latest glass of home brew with the fraternity brothers

        Its also a circle/hobby thing. The only public posts you see are "really public" like my spouse and I gave birth to a child (odd how the guy always takes some credit despite merely being there at the kickoff meeting).

        Very early on there were a couple ham radio guys and at least one prominent linux tech guy making ridiculous public posts about their religion and also the political ranters. I don't want that "spam" in my ham radio circle or my linux circle. Those people are uncircled, blocked, or gone from G+ cause no one listens to them anymore.

        If you have a "ham radio circle" and know you're in about 900 peoples "ham radio circle" please don't post bible verses and/or political slogans either to public or to your "ham radio circle". Or you'll quickly find yourself in just about no one's "ham radio circle", and you'll be bored as heck since "nothing is going on in G+"

        I appear almost completely dead to the public on G+. To people in the ham radio world, in that circle I'm F-ing around with HF digital modes and weaksignal VHF operations on a semi-regular weekly-ish basis. To people in the hardware hacker circle, every couple weeks something interesting happens on my workbench. But again, I reiterate, without being in someones hobbiest circle, you look dead on G+ to the general public.

        Here's an experiment... if you like "slashdotty type of stuff" then circle a guy named Dan McDermott (If there's more than one... it'll be pretty obvious when you've found the right one). No, that's not me. If he read my other /. posts he'd probably be pissed at that idea LOL. About half of his stuff is interesting, which is actually pretty good. Your stream will never be empty or boring again...

        Also, no one will add you to a their hobby circle unless you fill out your profile, comment occasionally in other peoples posts, and make useful posts. Lurkers see nothing. If you're the worlds biggest lego maker dude, but no one knows, none of the worlds other lego maker dudes are going to circle you so you can see their posts.

    • this exactly. When I see google+ on a pc browser, and it tells me that my photos have auto-uploaded, it still isnt easy to quickly grab a pic and share it out or bury it. Apparently this all has effects on other picasa albums, and as I was never a picasa user I dont have anything set up for sharing permissions and such. This just seems like such an easy things to integrate into the phone camera that would make me want to use the service, and instead it only annoys me.

      The other big fail for me is that it off

      • Android allows any app to register it's sharing service with it. all you need to do is choose the picture and get the context menu then choose to share and what service to use.

        Picasa permissions for your photos are automatically set to anyone with the link for android/G+ auto uploads.

        • you're right. I can go into my photo app and choose share, then choose either picasa or G+. I saw the dialog, but didnt go further. My original issue still stands where the image is automatically sent to G+, and then lost in a pile. Why send it up if the best way to share is to manually send it using a (potentially) different program. I will change my auto setting now, and take a look to see if picasa has any purpose as a standalone app/link on my phone now.

          • one nice thing about picasa auto upload is that you don't have to store your picture on your phone to have it with you on your phone. the photo gallery ties into picasa web albums.

    • you could share it right from your android phone by press and hold on the image in the camera app and choose share which produces a nice long list of services to share with.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @04:00PM (#39356957)

    this is why google plus will fail. no one needed a book to use facebook simply because it was better than email to communicate with people you have met.

    google plus pushes this idea of circles and "following" people because they are internet stars which most people don't care to do

    • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @04:18PM (#39357183) Homepage

      no one needed a book to use facebook

      Let me introduce you to Facebook: The Missing Manual [amazon.com] , an earlier installment in this same series from O'Reilly. Amazon also shows several other Facebook manuals in print. Eventually there's a market for Facebook help.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      O wow you are so wrong about that. I was just searching for a comment like yours. I have forever been disgusted with how poorly MySpace and Facebooks' interface is designed.

      I have two possible explanations: 1) I just don't fit the conceptual model of the target audience. 2) These social networking sites purposely make it hard to perform certain tasks that hurts the overall success of the site.

      #2 is essentially the principle seen in religions: thou shall not kill. If killing was directly permissible, the rel

      • by Anonymous Coward

        O wow TL;DR.

        GP: Shift keys, use them. We've moved past the candy colored translucent computer era.

    • google plus pushes this idea of circles and "following" people because they are internet stars which most people don't care to do

      They did it because they were trying to compete with both Facebook and Twitter at the same time. They've failed at both. The only question is how long before Google+ is officially pronounced dead.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      it's just a company meme. missing manual meme, a brand, like "for idiots".

      http://missingmanuals.com/ [missingmanuals.com]

      "the book that should have been in the box"

      your money: missing manual
      your body: missing manual

      the kindle one is just a mini missing manual though. maybe they came to their senses with that one.. "so.. we're making a book about reading books, should we publish this as an ebook on amazon?? "

      (yep.. g+ is social media for socialising with people you don't know)

  • by tunapez ( 1161697 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @04:01PM (#39356973)

    I was hoping for a manual on how to remove Google+ completely from my internet experience and re-implement the '+' operator in search. What were they taking when they decided to break what they did well in order to replace what they did not do well? [wikipedia.org]
    ... still waiting/hoping for the shrooms wear off in Mountain View.

    • Agreed. Having never created a Google+ profile, I was unsettled when the youtube homepage began featuring uploads and favorited videos of people I'd contacted via gmail. (People who had presumably set up G+ profiles.)

      I mostly use duckduckgo for searching now and switched to a non-google-harvested e-mail account.

      I wonder what Google would charge for people who wanted to use their services without being profiled.

  • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @04:05PM (#39357025)

    All my non-geek friends really have no idea what Google+ is other than it's something Google is doing, but unlike services like Gmail or Google Docs or Google Maps (all three are exactly what it says on the tin and they can relate to that) they have no idea what Google+ is. I've run across more than few people who thought it was some kind of new enhanced search engine that you had to pay to use with no ads.

    Personally I've not spent a lot of time on Google+. I have an account, but all my family and friends are on Facebook.

    • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @04:15PM (#39357141)

      Its a hobby network not a friends-family network. A somewhat different concept.

      My ham radio circle won't shut up... very busy. Slider cranked way down on those guys.

      Hardware hacker and software hacker circle kind of busy, always something cool going on.

      Linux-tech-podcaster-host-types constant chatter

      I've heard its The Place To Be if your a photographer

      Friends and family? Not that kind of thing.

      I deleted my facebook account years ago now, but when I was on it was exclusively the friends and family stuff you're talking about. I couldn't find anyone on FB interested in discussing any hobbies other than watching TV or getting drunk. Nobody talks about anything other than that on FB, even people famous for doing tech stuff. It was, frankly, boring.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Think of it as facebook where you get to shut up the annoying family members.

  • _Oh cool, let me msg this to a friend on G+_ ....

    Oh wait you can't.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Post msg.

      Choose friend.


      • by Daetrin ( 576516 )
        You don't even have to actively choose the friend after you've written the message, you can just type "+[friend's name]" in the message itself and it will automatically tag them (or whatever the appropriate verb is.)
    • They have a service for that. It's called GMail.

  • ...Sixth Sense movie quote. "I see dead people."

  • Prior to Google+, the company's previous attempts at social networking — Orkut, Dodgeball, Jaiku, Wave, and Buzz — were largely failures,...

    Prior to and including you mean. Maybe Google++ will be 'one' better.

    • Orkut has actually been hugely popular. Just not in English-speaking populations.
      • by Desler ( 1608317 )

        No it's only "hugely popular" in Brazil and to a much smaller degree popular in India.

        • by Errtu76 ( 776778 )

          Actually people in Brazil found out that only they're are using Orkut so almost everyone who has an account there either has an extra one on Facebook or has left Orkut altogether in favor of FB, so that's something people from other countries are the most likely to use.

  • Or does anyone else also think that perhaps part of the problem is that G+ requires a 232-page manual in the first place?

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.