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WTF Is Google+? An Artist’s Handbook

Who’s ready for a new social network? I know I am! I’m sick of ignoring Facebook events at my peril and worrying about facebook likes and I’m guessing Google knew this. Enter Google+ a new social network that aims to “fix sharing” and compete with Facebook for traffic and ad revenue.

The business end of things can be pretty fascinating, but I’m more interested in why only 24 hours after I received my  invite, the net art party had arrived. A large part of this is probably result of Google “Circles”’ friend finder, which somehow knows whom you chat with regularly over email and other social media. It’s absolutely the most intuitive interface I’ve ever used and very intimate. This may change when the site opens to the public, but as good friend Nicholas O’Brien mentioned over the site’s organic group video chat function Google Hangout, it feels a little like being on a listserv.

Community is enough to make Google+ worth a whirl, but what exactly does the site provide for artists? Conversely, what is it missing? A few initial thoughts based on a week’s worth of use.

1. Image file support is much more advanced than on Facebook, but that’s not saying much. The site doesn’t even host GIFs. Google moves a step in the right direction here — animated GIFs can be posted easily and the display sizes of images in general are much larger — but like Tumblr, artists don’t have the ability to align images side by side or in a grid. I really don’t think it should be that difficult to provide a few more image arrangement options, particularly given that igoogle’s home page already allows users to drag and drop elements. They’ve already developed the technology.

Hyperallergic guest editor John d'Addario and I on Google Hangout.

2. Google Hangout is fantastic. It’s a video chat room that hosts up to ten people at a time and allows friends to join those with an open session at any time. Press the youtube button and suddenly it’s a TV party, or a group conference. Last night, I had a very serious conversation with Hyperallergic’s own Hrag Vartanian and artist Nicholas O’Brien over puppy videos. We lamented that content from Hulu and other video websites isn’t supported and that links of jpegs and animated GIFs over chat don’t visualize.

3. Circles are Google’s answer to Facebook groups only more useful. I like them because they’re essentially a “do-over” for anyone who gave up trying to assign people groups on Facebook after a while — but they are also really great filters. Circles allow status updates to be sent a single network of friends, multiple networks, or everyone. Social media artists in particular will really enjoy this as the site gives users far greater control over who they connect with.

My homepage on Google+. Notice how much clearer the headers are as compared to Facebook. MUCH BETTER.

4. Social media artists in the bunch who turned off Google Buzz last year may want to fire it back up again. It’s the only way to stream content from sites like twitter and flickr into the network, though realistically it’s likely to be ignored here too. It’s the last of the tabs on Google+ profiles, and it’s not like those of us who remember what the service does had fond memories of it. Still, I like that it exists if for no other reason than it will give a few new friends a better sense of who users are and what they care about.

5. You know that hubbub a couple years ago that caused Sasha Frere-Jones to delete his Facebook page when Consumerist ran a scary article about Facebook’s draconian Terms of Service? By using the site you give Facebook permission to use your photo however they want, and that ruffled a few feathers. Well, Google’s done the same thing and this time PhotoFocus believes this will affect his and other professional photographer’s ability to make income.

This is not a real cause for concern. The rationale behind these terms of services is that things you upload may end up residing on servers outside google’s direct control. These broad rights protect Google from your lawsuits over some cached content on another server but it also means they can sell your photos or use them in advertising without compensating you. If you’re a professional photographer selling images on the web, you’re probably not giving them away for free on Google+. Everyone else can live with this. Those drunk photos of you and your friends don’t have any monetary value on their own anyway.

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