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Clive Andrews

Sharing, location and privacy: updates from Google+, Facebook and Flickr

Every week there are innumerable updates to thousands of online services – too many to keep up with. But in recent days, three of these developments in particular have caught my eye, so I thought I’d flag them up here:

Google upgrades the +1 button

The Google +1 button has a long way to go to match the reach of Facebook’s ubiquitous blue ‘Like’ button, but a recent change to +1 could make a big difference. Now, through one button, users can not only +1 something, but then choose to simultaneously share it through Google+. This builds on the way a ‘Like’ is published to a Facebook feed in that Google makes it very easy to select specific people, or a circle, to see the published item.

Relevance is everything – I can show that shiny new bike to my cycling friends, and then share a link to a pub menu with my family before I meet them this weekend.

If people make use of this capability, it could make a significant difference to Google’s search developments. As this simple new mechanism makes +1ing a prequisite to sharing on Google+, the motivation to show something ‘cool’ to one’s friends on Google+ will drive much greater use of the +1 button, helping Google on its mission to make its search results far more social. Clever and easy. Coupled with a new universal +1 button as a Chrome extension, Google are really going for it.

Facebook looks again at sharing, privacy and location

Facebook users have lost track of the frequency of the platform’s numerous updates and improvements, but there’s something notable, if predictable, about the latest ones. The familiar status update box has just sprouted various additional buttons and drop-downs that, while not as pretty or usable as Google+, do seem inspired by the newer platform.

Spot the difference…

Both services are now clearly encouraging us to add locations and people to our updates, and giving us the ability to direct our communication at specific people (or groups of people). Google+, with its well-documented circles, is making a far smoother job of this, I reckon. Facebook is trying hard to reflect the strong new features of G+, but in a fairly clumsy way, with several more clicks needed in order to select someone as the recipient of an update. How many people will use, or even notice, this new functionality? Maybe Facebook wants to match Google+’s ideas of relevance, while actually still hoping we share as much stuff as possible, as widely as we possibly can.

Flickr protects location privacy with ‘geofences’

The more our internet usage shifts from our desks to our mobiles, the more geolocation is becoming integrated into our online sharing. I’m not referring to overtly location-based services like Gowalla and Foursquare, but to the subtle ways our updates, actions and media are increasingly being linked to our location. While Facebook and Google+ get to grips with this, Flickr has been on the case for a while, with the ability for users to see their photos mapped, using either the data embedded by their camera, or by manually placing their photo on a map.

There has emerged a tension between the added value of defining a photo’s location and increasing concerns about our online privacy. It’s great to see a map of my neighbourhood, with photos of its buildings, people and events, but what if I’m very cautious about showing where I live, or where my friends’ children like to play? For a while, Flickr has offered us the chance to decide who sees our location data, but as a blanket setting across all geo-located photos in our accounts.

Flickr’s new geofences feature offers a simple way to automatically discriminate between photos taken at potentially sensitive places like home or school, and photos taken while exploring the great wide world. Circular zones can be defined, within which different privacy settings can be defined. The geofences system is not flawless, and criticisms are already being made of its details, but I like the idea that we can be clever and confident about geo-location. Mappable location adds so much to a photo of a pub, performance or monument, so the more we are helped to retain control over what’s dear to us, the freer we can be with everything else. Nice one, Flickr.

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