Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gadget Goodies 29 - Some Google+ Stuff

Logo variant copyright Jurgen Appelo, used with permission,
From his website at
Google is one of those companies that generates a lot of love or a lot of hate and distrust.  There doesn't seem to be any real in between..  Previously, Microsoft was the world champ in that category. Facebook is definitely a contender.  There seems to be an image problem with large tech companies.

One of the things I've always appreciated was how Google has been protective of the people who use its services.  Particularly the members of Google+.  I've been a part of Google+ almost from the beginning and have been a moderator of several G+ communities.  So, I have been the one protected and the one doing some of the protecting. Imagine my surprise, getting an email that said I was the one that others needed to be protected from.

Before I share the email, let me add that I'm not putting Google or Google+ down.  But I think my experience contains lessons for those on both sides of the equation.  And I'm sharing because I believe others can learn from the process I went through.  Having said that, here's the email I received"

"Dear Bill Kraski,

You've recently been violating the Google+  User Content and Conduct policies.

Content that transmits viruses or contains malware or other malicious code is not allowed on Google+.

Please review our policies to avoid violating them in the future.

If you continue to violate our policies, you may lose the ability to use some or all features of Google+ and other Google services.  Learn more

We're all in this together. Let's make Google+ a place where we all want to hang out.


The Google+ team"

The first thing I need to mention is that I looked at the email address and verified it was a real Google+ email address and that it was one of the No-Reply addresses.  And one which tells me the email was automatically generated by the system.  Then panic set in.  Not because I had done anything wrong, but because I didn't know what had caused the email and had no clue how to make contact with the appropriate people to clear up the issue and clear my name. 

The only thing I could think of was that my link shortening using had gotten me a couple of short links that looked like malware code.  As it turns out, I was close.  I later found out that spammers and those spewing links to sites that spread viruses and malware liked for hiding the real addresses, Google's aggressive pushback was to blacklist and all links. So, I was far from the only one getting that email.

That brings me to my first suggestion for Google and the G+ team.  I didn't know about the blacklisting.  I wasn't following online stuff as much as I usually do, so I missed articles about the blacklist.  But Google could have posted something in the public stream and in all the communities shortly before they did the blacklist.  The bad guys would have had to make a temporary retreat to figure out an alternative and the good guys would have been warned.  Just a thought.  I suspect the slightly more experienced bad guys already had an alternative link shortening service account ready to use.  Those following the rules could have used a better handled heads up.

The second part of the problem is two way communication.  Google says it wants communication. And directions about communication may be included in the tutorials, someplace.  But, if you're like me, reading the directions isn't usually the first option.  And, in fact, it may never happen for some of us.  But Google+ does include a way to contact them.

In my upset, as I said, I had enough understanding to verify the email was real.  When I'd done that, panic set in.  G+ is my biggest online hangout place.  I didn't want to lose it and my reputation in one shot.  I posted about my issue in the "Google+ Resources" community on Google+.  There were only four comments, but one had a link to a tech article that explained the blacklist.  And the person who shared the link also said there was an update that Google had removed the blacklisting. And they have.  That took care of the issue, but it didn't solve not knowing how to generate a discussion with the appropriate G+ staff.

While I was posting in that community, I also reached out to a friend who I knew was known and savvy about Google+ things.  I asked if they knew who I could contact to discuss my problem. They proceeded to discuss with me what my options might be and suggested two people closer to Google who could help, suggesting one as my best choice.  That person pointed me to what G+ had hidden in plain sight.  No, I'm not going to share gender and names of these people.  I was free to do what I did because of a long term connection on Google+.  Opening them up to unsolicited contacts by people they don't know is just wrong.  But I will thank them again for the help I got and share the advice that closed my G+ communication gap.

Let's start with a partial G+ screenshot:

Notice the "Home" button.  We all know about that for the navigation menu.  But there's more.  So, click that button and slide down toward the bottom of that menu.  What do you see?

Just below Settings is the word "Feedback".  Grayed to the point where if you're not looking for it, you'll probably never notice it.  And, if you're upset (like I was), even if you get there, you probably will glance right past it, never noticing it's there because it blends into the background too well. Anyway, click the word "Feedback".  That will get you into a dialogue where you can share your problem or ask questions.  In fact, if you're doing that from the location on Google+ where you're having trouble, it will allow you to create and include a screenshot of the issue, so they can see what you're talking about.

I'm told the "Feedback" option actually gets read.  If necessary, your communication is forwarded to more appropriate staff members.  Those will communicate back if they have questions or there's need for further discussion.  Which leads me to some suggestions to those of us who are members and moderators:
  1. Getting rid of the "guy thing" and actually reading the instructions gets a huge +1.  There are a lot of features that we're probably missing because we didn't read.
  2. Use the "Feedback" option.  Grumbling publicly or in our mind doesn't let G+ know there's something that needs to be fixed or isn't handled in the best way.  If they don't know something needs to be changed, they can't deal with it.
  3. Understand that our complaint might be in the minority and most people might not have the issue we do with a feature.  If it doesn't change, what may be a problem for us may be OK for everyone else.
  4. Use the "Feedback" option.  I know, that looks like a repeat.  But it's not.  If we really like something about G+, say so.  That will prevent the likelihood of the good stuff being changed.  And we all appreciate positive feedback.
My suggestions for the Google+ Team:
  1. Major changes, like blacklisting, ought to be prominently communicated.  That allows discussion beforehand that might eliminate the change.  And would prevent doing something that quickly needs to be rescinded.
  2. Make the "Feedback" option more visible.  The gray coloring allows it to blend into the background too much.
  3. Make the feedback option more prominent than hidden away at the bottom of the navigation menu.  Good communication can only make G+ better.
  4. The "Tour" option is hidden away in the same place as the feedback option.  Perhaps it, too, should be more prominently displayed.  I doubt I'm in the minority by thinking I could do all or most of what I needed to without taking the tour or reading the instructions.
Finally, some well deserved kudos:
  1. Thank you to the friends, techies, and community members who helped me get the info I needed to understand and solve my problem.  Yes, I did send feedback.
  2. Thank you to all of the G+ membership for being "professional".  With very rare exceptions, most on Google+ are serious and knowledgeable about the topics that bring them there. Which makes it a "one stop shopping" place for information because of the level of trust that's generated.  Even when we disagree, we can "agree to disagree", making G+ a pleasant place to be.
Next Wednesday, we'll talk about Google's new beta email app, Inbox.  Has this post helped you enjoy Google+ more?  Let us know.

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