Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Everyone's a dummy - my review of Jesse Stay's Google+ for Dummies, Portable Edition

I love it when I make detailed plans that go completely awry.

Even before I received my copy of Jesse Stay's Google+ for Dummies: Portable Edition, I was musing upon the nature of printed books about technical topics. (Actually, I started to muse about this when Shel Israel was talking about his progress in writing Twitterville - when it became clear that it would take months to write the book, I wondered if it would be out of date by the time Israel actually published it.) I really began thinking about this AFTER I ordered the book - you see, a few days after I ordered the book, Google announced the long-awaited availability of business pages. Unless Stay had advance notice of this and was not prevented from talking about it, I figured that Stay's book would be out of date before I even got it.

According to the U.S. Postal Service, I'd receive the book on Thursday. So I figured that I could spend Wednesday night musing upon the nature of book publishing in today's age, and get all of that out of the way BEFORE I read, and reviewed, Stay's book.

You can guess what happened. The book arrived today - Wednesday - before I got a chance to write my musings.

So rather than doing that, I'm launching straight into my review of the book. It's been years since I've read a Dummies book - not because of any intellectual superiority of my own, but just because I haven't read one. And, of course, I've been following Stay for years. And, of course, I have a deep interest in Google+ (I read somewhere - page 47 - that you should write about things you're passionate about). I was curious how the Dummies format in general and Stay's writing in particular could benefit me, a somewhat experienced user of Google+ and other tools.

I intentionally did something - as I read the book, I kept a running list of comments in a Google+ thread. This not only allowed me to remember my thoughts as I read the book, but also allowed for possible interaction with others as I read.

After reading good chunks of the book and thinking about it, here are my comments:
  • Stay and the Dummies people answered my question about book updates right off the bat. Obviously Stay's book isn't the first book that had the potential to become outdated quickly. The last paragraph of the Introduction included a link to receive updates to the book, The printed link was - this link redirected you to another page on the Dummies site, which included a link to Not only is this a page in Google+ itself, but it also happens to be one of the business pages that wasn't available until after the book was already published. So yes, you can get updates.
  • Stay identified his target audience as people who were familiar with older social media services such as Facebook, but who weren't familiar with Google+. Stay therefore took the approach of comparing the way that Google+ works to the way that Facebook works - although sometimes even Facebook users might not be familiar with some Facebook features, such as lists. To accommodate these users, there is a Facebook page about the book - - and Stay spends some time talking about Facebook when warranted.
  • A Dummies book - or any book, for that matter - is not going to answer every specific question that every person will ever have about a topic. Heck, this is explicitly described as a "Portable Edition" - and therefore the book isn't going to talk about topics that would be esoteric to most of the audience, such as FriendFeed or netbook limitations. One relevant omission that I did find - in Chapter 1, when Stay described the procedures to create and set up a Google+ account, Stay neglected to mention that Google+, unlike some other Google services, is only intended for people who are 18 years of age or older. (At least this week; this could change by next week.) This has been a big issue for some users, and probably should have been mentioned in the book. Stay does mention the whole "real names vs. pseudonyms" controversy, however.
  • If you think that you already know everything that there is to know about Google+, think again. I found it very helpful to go through the steps in the book to see what I had missed. For example, I had never set up the "Bragging rights" section of my profile; my Google Voice number (which I advertise publicly) was only visible to myself; and my work information had not been entered, and therefore wasn't accessible to my "work" circle. And I got all that after reading pages 11-14. Experienced Google+ users will find similar helpful hints throughout the book - it's often good to review things that you already know, because you may not know what you think you know.
  • As I read through the book, I discovered a lot of Google+ features that I had never used before. For example, even though the "Share" button is right there on the sandbar (and I didn't know that it was called a "sandbar" until I read Stay's book), I had never actually used that button. I tried it out - it works well. I also didn't realize that Google+ was available via a mobile web browser, so I tried that also. (For the record, it didn't work on my LG env3 phone - I got stuck in an endless loop when trying to accept the mobile terms of service.) The biggest thing that I tried? I had never exported any of my data from Google before, so I followed Stay's steps (on pages 119 and 120) to "liberate" all of my Google+ data, including related data such as Picasa pictures. Now I just have to do this for my Blogger data...
  • As he wrote the book, Stay realized that Google+ was going to go through incremental updates, and the text often cautioned readers by noting that things were working one way at the time the book was written, but could be working entirely differently by the time the reader actually received the book. The availability of business pages is but one example. Stay mentioned that some features, such as the ability to list pseudonyms in your profile and the ability to +1 things, would probably be fleshed out in future iterations of Google+.
  • The book also includes some advice about how to actually use Google+. Stay has been around the block a few times - remember, he also co-wrote a book about using Facebook - so he is able to provide helpful advice to readers, ranging from the best ways to engage your friends and family on the service, to how to deal with spammers. He shares his view on why Google+ doesn't have a "-1" button (and why Facebook doesn't allow "dislikes"). He provides a wise caution regarding what not to share - "Social networks are a lot like high school - after one rumor gets going, they're pretty hard to stop!"
  • Other than the lack of a mention of the age restriction on Google+, I really didn't have any issues with the book. I shared a minor quibble or two in my thread on the book, but you have to remember that I'm a person who obsesses about minor things, such as improper use of ID3 tags on mp3 files and incorrect references to "standard time" during a daylight saving time period. 99.9% of the people who read the book aren't going to care about whether game notifications can be redirected.
In short, the book succeeds in its primary purpose - teaching users of services such as Facebook how to use Google+ - and also succeeds at providing tips for experienced Google+ users to use the service more effectively.
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