Saturday, July 09, 2011

Early Thoughts on Google+

I've been on Google+ for almost two weeks now, but it's just starting to get interesting. Two large influxes of new users (I suppose we should still be calling them testers, actually) over the last few days have brought many of my friends to the service. It's still a lot quieter than those other services, but it doesn't feel too soon to give a few early thoughts on Plus.

It seems to me that Google is trying to position Plus in between Facebook and Twitter, and then expand out from there. With its asymmetric relationships, Plus is more like Twitter in providing the opportunity to find interesting new people for purely online interactions. But, with circles, some of those relationships can be privileged, making it more comfortable to do the kind of oversharing common on Facebook. I think the model is meant to provide the best of both worlds, which just makes sense competitively.

Facebook is so firmly entrenched in people's real lives, which is a major challenge to a would-be competitor. Think about it: When was the last time you used a service other than Facebook to invite people to an event? So, I think the Google+ strategy includes providing Twitter-style relationships and interactions while building up the user base to the point where competition with Facebook is possible. I won't even try to predict whether it will work, but here are a few promising observations.

First, circles are cool. Some have argued that they offer little-to-nothing more than friend lists on Facebook, but I disagree. I think their presence from the start and their prominence in the sharing UI, combined with the asymmetric relationships in Plus, makes circles much more useful and powerful. Even with lists, I've never felt comfortable adding acquaintances or coworkers as Facebook friends. But I really do believe that I could use Plus as a single online home for these different types of relationships, without worrying about sharing the wrong kind of information with the wrong people.

Second, the implementation is great, and already beats Facebook in many respects. The Web UI is top-notch, and I love the integration with Picasa Web Albums (a service I haven't used in the past, but plan to now). And on mobile? From day one, Google+ for Android wipes the floor with Facebook's app. Even the mobile Web version on iPhone (the native app is apparently awaiting approval) is better than the Facebook app there.

Third, I'm hearing a lot of people expressing excitement about the opportunity to dump Facebook. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising, and it's a sentiment I definitely agree with. We hand over all kinds of personal data to this company that holds it captive and gives us reason after reason not to trust them with it. Why? Because there doesn't seem to be a viable alternative. What's interesting, though, is that I'm now hearing these anti-Facebook sentiments from people I wouldn't expect to be concerned about issues of privacy or lock-in.

A final couple of thoughts on glaring omissions from Plus. Huddles and Hangouts are interesting new features, but I really don't think they make up for what's missing. Notably, that's some facility for company/organization/brand presence (i.e. Pages on Facebook) and events. Apparently, the former is already a work in progress, but I'd argue that the latter is just as important, if not more so. As I alluded to above, I think Facebook Events connects with people's real lives more than any other feature, so it's vital for any would-be Facebook replacement. Google has the opportunity for another integration, with Google Calendar, which could be very interesting.

Even at this point, well in advance of its official launch, Google+ is an impressive offering. I'm looking forward to seeing where Google takes it next. Happy +ing!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Jarvis Bike Lanes

As you probably heard, the Jarvis Bike Lanes are on the chopping block. The War on the Car is over, long live the War on the Bike.

City Council is set to vote on the issue on July 12 or 13. If you support the bike lanes, please write your councillor (you can find your councillor and his or her e-mail address here). You might consider cc'ing all of the "mushy middle" councillors and the hard-line Ford supporters who previously voted for the installation of the bike lanes in 2009.1 Their votes will decide this.

Also, give the mayor a call at 416-397-FORD. He claims to be hearing only from people who want the lanes gone, but I doubt that's entirely accurate.

In any case, here is the e-mail I sent to my councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, and the others mentioned above:

Dear Councillors,

I am writing to express my concern about the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee's recommendation to remove the Jarvis bike lanes, and to you urge to oppose that measure when it comes before Council. As a driver, a cyclist, a resident of the neighbourhood, and a taxpayer, I strongly believe that such a move would be a big mistake.

I live on Jarvis, so I have seen first-hand the dramatic improvement resulting from the addition of the bike lanes. The reality is that cars and bikes are coexisting much better than they ever had before.

I drive on Jarvis daily, and my observation is that traffic has not become noticeably worse since the centre lane was removed. The recent staff report supports this view, demonstrating that average travel times have increased only slightly. It also makes recommendations for advance left turn signals that could address what congestion does exist.

The same report shows that, while vehicle traffic has not been reduced at all, bike volume has tripled since the lanes were installed, increasing Jarvis's total capacity by almost 5%. This is great news for everyone: The gridlock problem we face in Toronto will only be ameliorated by using our limited infrastructure more efficiently.

Moreover, I'm very worried that removing the bike lanes will just add that new bike traffic back into the vehicle lanes, slowing them down as a result. Separating bike and vehicle traffic allows both to travel better, keeping bicyclists safe and drivers moving.

What concerns me most is the apparent rush to push through a decision on removing the bike lanes, without due consideration or any kind of consultation with the public. Even my local councillor was cut out of any discussion before the Committee's decision.

Does the proposal to remove the bike lanes even include a plan for what to do with the road space that would be recovered? If it does, the public hasn't been told, and we certainly don't know what it would cost. The indications are that it could be very expensive, indeed. The disrespect for taxpayers, and for citizens of the area in particular, is galling.

Once again, I urge you to please vote against the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes.
[1] Thanks to Ford for Toronto for the full list:,,,,,,,,,,,,