The past couple of weeks have been quite eventful. For one thing, Google released its Facebook-killer in a very very swift and well-planned move. For another, I finally got to see San Francisco thanks to this very nice cousin of mine.
First, on San Francisco. I find I’m a big-city girl at heart. I can simply not live in suburbia or anything like that… not in India, not anywhere else. Closer to nature and all is fine, but not for more than a few days. The city simply pulsates with people, with spirit, with soul.
Los Angeles does, too. But it feels very…. different. Like, most people you find taking the Metro from Union Station would be tourists or working-class folk, or the elderly and disabled. But when you take the VTA from San Jose Diridon, you find the light rail has Wifi inside, and is filled with a really much wider variety of people, and a more uniform distribution. The Bay Area feels much less stratified socially than Los Angeles or anywhere else in Southern California. Or maybe I’ve not been there long enough to see the stratification. LA somewhat reminds me of New Delhi, while San Francisco reminds me of Bangalore. (And Sunnyvale reminds me of Chennai so much that I suspect it’ll be renamed Sakthivel soon).
San Francisco seems very, very easy on the feet. It’s a pleasure to walk its streets, the narrow lanes with tall buildings which shade you from the harsh summer sun. I find it funny that in the USA, people in cities walk much, much more than people in smaller towns and rural areas… in her memoir, Tina Fey recounts this incident where she had her nieces and nephews from the Midwest visit her in New York, and were extremely tired when they were done with the day because getting around New York involved so much walking! I thought that was an outlier, there must be some quirky way to explain that off, and that that won’t generalize…. but tramping around SF makes me want to strongly believe that is indeed the case.
I haven’t really travelled around the US much, just a little here and there, but every place seems to be a clone of every other place, with only a few old places preserving their character… while being inundated with big brands everywhere. Urbanization in the US seems to be done with no soul to it. But San Francisco turned that on its head for me. Every building is different from every other building. When you look at the city from a high vantage point (like, say, Lombard Street), when you look at the rows of mismatched houses, it might probably not be as easy on the eyes as, say, looking at a street in Irvine where all the houses are uniform and prettified, but when you walk down the same street, the riot of clashing colours, the tall orange house next to the even taller red-brick pub next to the tiny bright purple art-supplies store makes such a refreshing relief from living in a StepfordWife-esque town.
And the art galleries and the art supply stores! I’m no artist, but I do like looking at pretty things that are pleasant on the senses. And while I didn’t buy any art supplies there, I got inspired enough by all the colour and hippie-ness (and even the hippies struck me as being very square hippies, the sort with a lecturership at Berkeley) to get very quirky-coloured yarn for crocheting.
There’s plenty of graffiti covering every single surface in the Bay Area. Some of it seems to be related to gangs and their territory claims or whatever, but heck, most of it looks so artsy! I wonder if people use stencils to spraypaint the walls? The graffiti has inspired me to want to do a photo-essay on the city, and call it Funky Freedom (after the song by Colonial Cousins, which is about very different things, but the title suits this so aptly). In the struggle to try and stick it to The Man, San Francisco seems to be the city in the US that’s most likely to taste success, far as I’ve seen.
What I liked best about the Bay Area however was the radio stations there. There are plenty that serve Southern California, too… in English, Spanish and Japanese. I used to be mildly annoyed with the profusion of ads on KRTH or KUCI or KALI or KLOS, and the only ad-free one was KUSC which played only classical music, and the radio jockeys on KUCI were incompetent, and the ones on KRTH were borderline sleazy. The programming and music just about passed muster…. and then I come across the Bay Area stations. They are very geared to listening during your workday. And most importantly, they seem to know exactly the sort of music I want to listen to!!
And now for Google Plus.
Clean, nice, Google-style interface. High marks for the privacy settings… I share more on it now than I used to on Facebook. I find it especially more conducive to share images. And the traffic is not so high that I’m very wary of addiction. I liked the way the hype built up. I liked how they executed it, making privacy a high priority…. they had seemingly learnt from their mistakes on Buzz, where they forced sharing down everyone’s throats. One rather hilarious incident in the early days of Buzz involved a friend changing his status message to something about someone on his chat list when that person was offline, and it got posted on Buzz automatically. It wasn’t until said person-on-chatlist logged into Buzz and saw the 40-odd responses to that update and began acting funny with him did he realize his Buzz was on. No such slip-ups on Google+… you don’t share something with someone unless and until you want to.
And Hangout has to be the single most awesome thing since sliced bread. The harate sessions so far have been nothing short of fun, and the randomness progresses quicker than on group chat. It’s heavy on memory and processing, not to mention bandwidth, and hopefully they’ll find ways of bringing it down even more soon.
While I’m very glad for circles, I really wish they allowed set operations on circles. Sometimes more than specifying who I want to share a post with, I’d like to say I want to share it with everyone in my circles with the exception of one bunch of people. Like if my extended family are organizing a surprise party using G+ for my cousin, it’d be easier for me to share a post with (Family – VidyaAkka) instead of (Amma, Appa, Sandy-mama, Suji-mami, Radhika-chithi, Viju-perima, Seenu-mama, Sriram-chitappa, Ashok-anna, Karthik-anna, Chintu, Pinky and Bubbly), (and what a pain it is to keep track of all the names).
That said, it throws up more questions about social networking. It becomes apparent that you need to have two set of circles – one for sharing with and another for reading. Both your cool cousin and your ageing uncle fall into Family, the circle with whom you share photos of the pongal you made for Pongal along with sidenotes about how you missed saying Pongalo Pongal with the whole clan, but your cousin’s set of Wilbur Sargunaraj links go better with the same thread as the one your co-internet-addict friends sharing GultRage/KannadaRage comics than your uncle’s desperately-in-need-of-a-Snopes-check email forwards. And your being specific about what you share with who removes the random component of things completely. Like, if some friends get forgotten, they stay forgotten. Unlike on Facebook where all of a sudden you get back in touch with an old friend because they see your location updated to Melbourne and comment saying hey, I’ve lived in Melbourne for two years now, maybe we should catch up. And another thing is I want to filter posts by topic than by who shared it. Like, I probably don’t care about the finance-related posts my schoolfriend shares and would rather not have them on my timeline, but I’d really really want my attention drawn to his announcing the birth of his first child. I probably don’t care for a researcher’s sharing his karaoke night photos, but I do care for when he updates his blog with a Scala tutorial. It seems a daunting task off-hand to build a system that does that automatically, but that notion needs to get out there.
Also, with privacy, the notion of being able to see who all a certain post you might comment on is going to be shared with does have a significant need. But heck, I don’t want people trying to infer what sort of circles I have by keenly observing the also-shared-with list. I want there to be a distinction I can choose to make, like a CC and a BCC in email.
And heck, when I’m on someone’s profile page, I want to be able to send them a Direct Message or an Email or something similar. I don’t want to have to add them to a circle, go back to my homepage, create a post that is shared with just them. I’d like to be able to message anyone from their profile page. It’ll I guess be just a simple few lines of code where you share an update with just them at a click of a button, but that goes a long way.
This one might come as a bit of nitpicking, but trust me, it makes a huge difference to me and possibly a lot of others. There is just too much wasted space on the G+ screen. I prefer my Facebook or Twitter timeline to this. There’s more I can take in at one glance on those screens whereas with G+, I need to scroll up and down a lot. The middle column is too narrow comparatively and the font sizes are by default too large. This is perfect when you have only a few updates everyday like I do now, but the same thing for a posting volume like the folks I follow on Twitter or on Facebook wouldn’t hold up. It would involve an unholy amount of scrolling. It’s fine when I want to read every single thing shared, but then, I don’t want to. There should be a more comfortable way of skimming past updates. And one thing I really really would like to see is to combine the same link shared by different people into just one update, like Facebook does.
All said and done, it’s not yet as wildly addictive as Facebook was when it started. The updates to my inbox are more irksome than the sort that get me going to my Plus homepage. I wouldn’t for the heck of me call it a Facebook-killer, but it sure is a great alternative, like how Chrome is to Internet Explorer. I have mostly positive feelings towards it. It feels like the mutated offspring of Facebook and Twitter midwifed by Google, and I really really wonder what it’s going to grow up to be.