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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 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

Comments Filter:
  • 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: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,..."

  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @04:12PM (#39357097) Homepage Journal

    This nerd isn't on Google+, or Facebook, and won't be until they officially abandon their "real name" policies. I find it odious that these companies intentionally lock out those who have a need, or even just a desire, for privacy. There are numerous situations where privacy is a critical component of security.

  • by Pionar ( 620916 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @04:39PM (#39357419)

    Why do you find it odious?

    If you want privacy, don't subscribe to a social network. Simple as that.

    How does that make them ethically bankrupt? Is there some sort of forced sign-up that I'm not aware of?

    I am actually glad they require that, so I don't have to endure stupid screen names like "KOOLDUDE" or "@yourmom" or even "Pionar".

    Quit with the hyperbole, Chicken Little.

  • 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.

  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @05:49PM (#39358151) Homepage Journal

    Why do you find it odious?

    Because it can very easily put people at risk of harm.

    If you want privacy, don't subscribe to a social network. Simple as that.

    You think so? Clearly, you've not thought it through, then. Suppose someone is already subscribed to a social network and their situation changes; a spouse becomes violent, a repressive government decides they have said something too much or too far, they "whistleblow" on some illegal activity thereby making powerful enemies, they become victims of bullying, or perhaps they become a target of a private group such as white supremicists or the like. What then? I guess they should have known beforehand, eh? Or, what if they want to join in order to create a social group that discusses issues of considerable divisiveness? Must they expose their lives and their families to possible retribution from those who disagree, or is it your contention that if they don't hew to some imaginary set of safe subject matter you approve of, that they don't deserve to participate in a social network? Perhaps you're overdue for a re-think.

    How does that make them ethically bankrupt?

    When you artificially class people into haves and have-nots, and/or insist on endangering them, under the guise of "the social" (or darn near anything else), you're ethically bankrupt. Clear enough for you?

    Is there some sort of forced sign-up that I'm not aware of?

    For a lot of people, there is something almost as compelling: their family and friends and social groups and the businesses they associate with and/or work for are there. Google+ not so much, they pretty much shot themselves in the foot as far as I can see -- but in the case of Facebook, certainly.

    Quit with the hyperbole, Chicken Little.

    There's no hyperbole here. Perhaps instead, you might wish to learn to recognize valid criticism of serious social issues.

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