“Google+ is the greatest leap in social media technology since the invention of the telephone”
by Ken Smith
(Part one of a two part story)
I was invited to attend a symposium at the US Naval War College in Newport, RI last summer to learn something about how our Navy deals with terrorist threats to our fleets worldwide. The speakers presenting were both dynamic, knowledgeable and interesting and after an hour or so of a PowerPoint and lecture there was a 20 minute break called. Everyone in attendance scattered quickly towards the men’s or ladies rooms and a few attendees, myself included, headed towards the refreshment bar set up at the back end of the lecture hall where they were serving soda’s and assorted juices. Standing in line with about 20 others to capture a much needed shot of cold cola on a hot summer day I accidentally bumped into a guy who turned around and looked at me through his John Lennon style glasses. “Sorry I said”, my bad.
He reached out his hand and said “No problem, I’m +Robert Anderson, and you are?”
Ken Smith I said.
Are you from around here? Said Anderson
Yes, yes I am, I live on the other side of Narragansett Bay now, about 25 miles from here, but I was born and raised right here in Newport, and actually, my mom gave birth to me, right here at the Newport RI Naval Station Hospital a long time ago.
And you? I asked? Where are you from?
I come from “Barrington Point” said Anderson, referring to a ritzy part of Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US, also known as the “Ocean State” . He lived a good 20 plus mile drive from the Naval War College too.
We both lived here in Rhode Island I thought to myself with a smile. I thought it unusual to meet someone right from my own backyard at this type of symposium. Attendees were mostly Naval officers, active and retired from all over the world.
Here is my business card he said as he handed me a small well printed, crane paper, foil embossed business card that read, Robert Anderson, CEO , ”Wind Talk”.
Thanks I said, as I handed him one of my less expensive software company cards, saying Ocean State Software
We should stay in touch he said.
Yeah, I agreed we should stay in touch.
Fast forward six months.
Like most of you, I have a ritual I follow each morning. My ritual is that I get out of bed at 04:30am, and spend the next two hours or so (before I have to get my youngest kids up for school), reading my overnight email traffic, surfing the Internet news sites I have bookmarked and writing this column.
About a month or so ago, and about six months after the Navy War College symposium, I got an email from +Robert Anderson.
So, can we meet in Google+ said the email?
Google+, what? He wants to meet me in what? I murmured to myself out loud. My babble made me spill a little coffee on my pajama’s.
But with my cocky confidence I said sure, lets meet in Google+, no problem. My reply back asked for a time to connect.
I then scrambled to get my arms around this thing called Google+
I use Face-book, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other social media software’s and I hadn’t paid much attention to this Google+ and what a HUGE mistake that turned out to be.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a teenager going to his prom, and for sure this isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to social media software, but I was absolutely, positively, “Blown away” by Google+ and here is why.
Within 5 minutes of signing up and gaining access to this platform I entered into a social media realm where millions of Google+ users congregate each day. When I say millions, I mean like, tens of millions. If you have no idea on how to get this software (Like I didn’t at first), then watch this video below that was produced just for you by a Google+ guru named +Peter McDermott.
Now,back to the story, this guy Anderson (an Army vet by the way) has been using this social media software for a lot longer than me (Google+ has only been open for general public use for like 8-months) and Anderson was there at the beginning of the launch and within 2-minutes of me joining him in a virtual video meeting room, he figured out that I was a complete novice and a rookie at Google+.
So, would you like me to show you around the platform he said?. I can show you some things you might not understand at first and I can then introduce you to some people I have met in this community and explain some feature sets that you might not have seen? He said.
Sure, why not I said.
The next hour was spent tooling around inside this online social platform and I was amazed beyond belief. It was, and is, one of the most powerful social media software’s out on the web today.
In that first day, and in those first meetings, no joke, I met and was introduced to maybe 250 people. It’s not like Face-book at all, where you put something on a wall and leave messages and wait for replies, its like, well, its like “let me introduce you to Bill” and then your looking at and talking to some guy named Bill in real time in a video conference room, you’re on the east coast of the US and Bill is in South Africa. Some introductions came at me unannounced and some folks came into the “Hangout” or meeting room where Anderson was teaching me things about the platform by invite from him it seemed. This meeting room is where you can conduct a virtual video meeting anytime for you and 9 of your friends who may want to get together, said Anderson. Google+ calls it a “Hangout” he reiterated again. You can make it either a “Public” or a “Private” hangout and that’s what it means. Anyone can come into the room when its a public hangout or they can only come by invite when you make it private.
In this Hangout room, you can actually see and speak to the other attendees using your own built in computer speakers and computer microphone, or you can wear a headset like I did, but the quality of the sound and the quality of the video was absolutely amazing and the ease of use and navigation inside of the platform was just breathtaking. It’s click click this and click click that.
Now, how does this platform impact the Veterans community as a whole you’re asking yourself?
Good Question. My first impressions of this software were mind blowing and I spent a few hours thinking of that exact same question as you.
So, I thought to myself, what if each Veterans Medical Hospital or VAMC (there are close to 200 of them around the nation), what if each hospital had a branded Google+ page with a public “Hangout” that was open during business hours of that hospital and that way a veteran could stop by that particular Hangout and contact a particular VA hospital for simple things like appointment changes, or just general purpose questions about benefits or services that disabled veterans are entitled to?
Then I thought wow, the same thing would hold true for all the Veteran Administration “Out patient” clinics (there are over a hundred of those) and even the drop in “outreach” vet centers, specializing in PTSD (there are over 200 of those too I thought)
I then wondered if this platform was screen reader compliant for the vision disabled, and I wondered to myself, could blind veterans actually find a way to use this software?
I scribbled down my first twenty questions off the top of my head and moved on.
What about the deaf and hard of hearing veteran too I thought? I didn’t want to forget them, and what about the spinal injured Veteran, the quadriplegic and those with tetraplegia?
Then I did a starboard tack (hard right turn) in my mind and thought, what about National service organizations like the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans Foreign Wars, American Legion and the Purple Heart? They could use this platform to conduct interviews to sign up and accept applications from disabled veterans who were seeking information about Veterans benefits that they might be entitled to? More questions came pouring out of my head now all at the speed of light.
I was actually tired at the end of that hour long training tour given by this guy Anderson and I took the rest of the day to process what I had seen and heard.
With 25-million veterans in the USA, and with 4.5-million of them disabled veterans, this software and this platform has got to be the future I thought.
Military reunions, finding and connecting with lost buddies, planning conferences, board meetings, connecting with Veteran Service Organization departments or chapters across the country, the whole gamete of communications between the central office of any large veteran’s organization and its state by state chapter commanders or presidents began to fall into place inside my head.
Imagine the state of Florida’s DAV state commander using this tool to speak to each of his chapter commanders in that state about the up-coming state convention in three months?
What if the National Commander of the American Legion needed to speak to his executive committee while on the road and needed some decisions in a hurry?
What if the Purple Heart Foundation wanted to talk to the finance committee chairman of the MOPH about some specific expenditure, and the list went on and on for me.
The next day, with little effort, I signed into the tool and sent a request to meet in a Hangout with my teacher, this guy Anderson. Within minutes he arrived and he brought to the meeting a Navy veteran from California.
+Gary Levin is a retired eye doctor and former Navy doctor and like this guy Anderson, somewhat of a savant about the use of this Google+ tool.
Hey Ken, Levin said, I see Robert has taught you how to get connected in Google+ and start your own hangout. Do you mind if I share your profile with those I am connected too?
What do you mean, share my profile I asked?
Well, Robert is connected to 27-thousand people worldwide, and I am one of those he connects to from time to time, and I saw that you two were in a meeting yesterday for an hour or so and so, well, I would like to share your Google+ profile so that others here in the Google+ community that I am connected to can see who you are, what you have written and accomplished and evaluate what you do for combat wounded and disabled veterans.
When I ran into Robert in another meeting this morning, he told me who you were, he showed me your profile and your bio that he got over at Veterans Today, and well, since I am in California and have some connection to the Sepulveda Veterans Hospital out here, I asked Robert if we could meet.
Anderson then interrupted to explain that he was going to ask the 27 thousand people he is connected too the same thing. You can ask 27 thousand people if they are interested in what? I asked. I can ask if they want to get connected to a veterans advocate like you, said Anderson. Let me get this right, I said. You can ask 27-thousand people you’re connected too right now, if they are interested in meeting me?
How many people use this software I asked?
Just over 90 Million chimed in both Anderson and Levin.
So I said, again, You can ask 27-thousand people you’re connected too right now, if they are interested in meeting me?
Yes, and you can watch me do it, Anderson said.
What? Watch you do it, watch you do what? What do you mean?
I am going to share my computer screen with you and Gary Levin right now and you will see, I am going to ask all of my circles, all the people I know, if they have any interest in connecting or meeting you said Anderson.
For the next 10 minutes or so, I was actually watching this guy Anderson type on his machine, and then all of a sudden I started to get email after email into my G-mail account. You’re connected to X now it said, you’re connected to Y, you’re now connected to Z, and you’re connected now to ABC and all the people they are connected too and my g-mail account went haywire and this was all happening in real time.
But wait. Let me back up a little, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Once you sign up and your working your way through the sign up process to get into this tool, your given some choices about circling some people that Google+ selects with some magic algorithm I guess (I will explain circles later), anyways, one of the choices for me to circle and follow was Richard Branson of Virgin and since I know Richard Branson (that’s another story for another time), I picked him to circle and a few others to see how they were are using this tool.
*As a side note, I think that the keeper of the keys at Google+ should give some consideration to having a “Veterans” choice like they do for art, entertainment and business and some other verticals. Veterans are an important international constituency and it’s not easy to find or see that when signing up for this software. I researched a few Google executives, like +Vic Gundotra and +Bradley Horowitz who I hope will be reading this story, so come on guys, loosen up and make the tool just a little bit more “veteran friendly” for those who have served in the military worldwide. Oh, and why your at it, I think that if I had one of those “On Air Features” I could do some magic with this tool. Maybe even build out the “World Veterans Federation” as a branded Google+ page and do advocacy work for combat wounded veterans all over the planet.
But, back to the story.
So, I spent a week or so inside of this software platform and then made a decision that I would reach out to someone inside of Google PR, looking to find a veteran if possible, to help me get a flavor of how Google the company deals with veterans who actually work there. I did some digging and I found this site (GoogleforVeterans.com) and that started me on a quest for who ran that site? Who started it in the first place and what was the site all about?
That led me to Carrie Laureno who works at Google in their New York office and then to a few PR folks of Google and here the story takes a twist.
Working at Google’s marketing department based in the New York office, Carrie Laureno has the job of her dreams. In 2007 however, the wheels came off her bus. A close friend who she was once romantically involved with, a US Army Special Forces captain who was on his 2nd tour in Afghanistan, was killed in action
Army Maj. Jeffrey Calero, Died October 29th, 2007 while serving during Operation Enduring Freedom. Just 34 years old, from Queens Village, NY, and assigned to the 1st Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Jeffrey succumbed to wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on a dismount patrol in Kajaki, Afghanistan.
I know a little bit about the pain Jeff’s family and his friends feel and how terrible a time it is every year on the anniversary of his passing. The only solace that anyone can take is that Maj. Calero died doing what he loved. He was a true “Grunt’s – Grunt” said some of his comrades that I tracked down and interviewed for this story. He will be remembered by many, me included.
The pain and suffering that Carrie experienced at Jeff’s passing has morphed into a positive and life changing event. She took that pain of that loss and turned it upside down and stood it on its head. She was determined to do something positive in memory of Jeffrey. What came next is a testament to her will power, her determination, her focus and her forever love for this fallen hero.
In my research for this story, I have read a ton of articles on Google. Everything from their earnings reports to blogs about Groupon turning down a $6 billion buyout proposal. Must be nice to turn down $6 billion big ones. The one thing that always has stuck out to me in all that I have read was the fact that Google bred creativity. I don’t mean Googlers (that’s what the employees are called inside Google I think), I mean that Google as a company actually breeds a culture in which it is IMPOSSIBLEto not create! Some day I will write more about the Google 20% thing, how that internal culture got Carrie going with VetNet inside of Google but for right now, you just need to know that at Google employees are encouraged to create something that they cherish and believe in, and they can do this on company time. But I am digressing a little here. Vet Net, created by Carrie Laureno is something that is hard for me to explain fully to you. It’s so many things and so many places at the same time that I will try my best to make sure I cover just a few of the most important aspects of its value and in future stories, I will dive deeper into this project.
Vet Net is an employee resource group inside Google created by Carrie to lend support to Veterans and also to help others within the company understand the true value of the military and what former military personnel worldwide can offer to Google. To date they have hundreds of members that are part of VetNet, many are not even veterans. The legacy that Carrie has brought to the memory of Maj. Calera is a true and everlasting “Love Story” and I am sure that there are times, late at night, when she is all alone, that she can still hear Jeff whispering in her ear. “Good Job Babe, Thank You for remembering and I love you too” .
Now within Google+, the community is huge, and very diversified. I don’t want you to think however that there are not some RUDE and inconsiderate jerks in the crowd of folks out there that you might bump into. I met this one guy in particular, a guy named Peter Fullofhimself, actually someone said I should go speak to this guy about blinded vets. Peter Fullofhimself is a guy that always seems to have a “Hangout” going, and he is supposed to be some kind of “guru” about crowd source funding, and I didn’t know him from a hole in the ground, but I went into his public hangout and introduced myself at the suggestion of another vet, and within 10 seconds he proceeded to go on a tirade about how the “US Military” is evil and the cause of all pain in the world. Well, you idiot Peter, since you reside in a European country that was “LIBERATED” by the US military in WWII, you need to learn to be a little more tolerant. Go ask some of the people who are a generation or two older than you in the country you live in, ask them for their opinion of the US Military, and in the mean time, get over yourself, your really not that cool or important anyway.
Blind Veterans and Google+
In the movie, “Scent of a woman” Al Pacino plays a role as a blind veteran ( Al is somebody I know). He has a line in the movie where he say’s “ The Day we stop Looking’, Charlie, is the day we die”. That line, and the scene where he is driving a sports car while blind sticks with me.
Have any of you ever been at a family gathering of relatives, Thanksgiving, Christmas, 4th of July? where one of the elder men attending is a veteran and at the table he starts to tell old war tales, old war stories, or goes on and on about the past and the actual story details and language seems to be getting a little, hmmm, shall I say, salted? The adult veterans children at the table begin to clear their throats in unison in an attempt to divert attention from their dad and his embarrassing ways and finally the wife says something like “Nobody wants to hear that story”. Well, I love those stories, and I would guess, at sometime in my life I might even become that elder veteran telling a story or two at one of those family gatherings that was a bit salty. But again I digress.
Veterans who are blind are people just like you and me. They do things everyday like we do and while they can’t actually see anymore, they make up for their lack of vision in ways that you can really appreciate. They compensate for no vision with their other senses and some blinded vets who are actually listening to this story on their computers right now, using JAWS or a MS Screen reader or some other screen reader software are smiling at me right now for writing about them and telling all of you that they are the same as we are, only vision disabled. Google+ may be a tool that Blind veterans can use to find work in the future. Yes, I know Work, there I said it. Think about it for a minute? Do you know anybody who is using this Google+ platform to go to work? No? Well, I see that possibility in the future for disabled veterans, where Google+ guides will take and Sheppard people through the maze of this software, just like Anderson did to me. Now, where do blind veterans find work today your asking? Selling candy bars at the post office? Come on, get real.
That stereotype was a job that was set aside for blind veterans a few generations ago, this is 2012. Inside of Google+ right now, future work for the disabled blind and deaf veteran has a ton of possibility. I know, I know, I am ahead of myself again. But those of you who will read this and say “Never, there will Never be any commerce” inside of Google+, well, your kidding yourself. There will be. Not that I know any more than you do, but since we all are collectivly the “Product” and Google is building this tool to make the “Product” enjoy themselfs, well, its my opinion that there will be some commercialization of the space, and part of that commercialization will be work for those with disabilities, not just veterans, as this tool levels the playing field big time. That leads me to a discussion about the tool in general and another interesting side story with a twist. Its about this guy, Chee Chew.
We have all watched the movie the “Wizard of Oz” as kids. The flying monkeys scene where they were pulling apart the scarecrow scared the living “Be Jesus” out of me when I was in the 3rd grade. There is another scene in that movie where Dorothy and the lion and the scarecrow go into the Emerald city to meet the wizard of Oz to see if Dorothy can go home and the lion can get some courage and scarecrow can get a brain. During that scene,Toto pulls back the curtain and we all get to see that actually the wizard is just a guy, a guy who pulls the right levers back and forth and makes huge flames and smoke and all kinds of wizard things happen. When it comes to Google+ hangouts, a guy named Chee Chew is the Wizard. He is the one with the responsibility for the actual platform and hangouts in particular and how they operate. Now, its just not him alone behind the curtain and everyone has a boss (even Chee Chew) but my research has led me to the understanding that this guy is the one guy behind the Curtain of Google+ hangouts.
All I can say is “Well done” Chee Chew and “it’s amazing”. Now at one point in my research for this story I had asked the Google PR people for permission to speak to this guy Chee Chew. Well, that request turned into a huge SNAFU and a half. You would have thought I was trying to get to the two guys who invented Google for god’s sake. No kidding, I got bounced around from a few PR folks, who for the most part were very nice by the way, and I finally ended up on the doorstep of a Google PR guy “Vinston Porter”. Porter is actually a US Army active duty Major, working at Google in something called the “Google’s Fellow program” I think, anyway, his skill set before landing at Google was he was a Public Affairs Officer (PAO) for the US Army, so, after asking his permission to speak to Chee Chew and a few other engineers who are working on the Google+ platform in respect to features for the blind I got an email sent to me by Maj. Porter.
The following statement is attributable to a Google spokesperson to answer your question he said:
“We don’t disclose our feature roadmap or comment on possible future features. We encourage you to use the feedback button on Google+ to provide comment on features you’d like to see in the future.”
Sweet mother of god, what the hell does that mean? What does that comment have to do with Blind veterans and if the platform will be screen reader complient? Nothing. Nothing at all, but it was this active duty US Army Majors way of trying to handle me as a journalist I guess, trying to filter to me what he thought, or what he thought the people at Google thought I should know. Now, if you really want to learn something about Google and Facebook filtering information, watch this video below.
What FACEBOOK and GOOGLE are Hiding from you about Search
[youtube bOE1HFEL8XA What you need to know.]
So, to try and find out the answer myself to the question “Does anyone know if Google+ will be screen reader complient?” I went out and did what anyone else who is in Google+ would do, I asked for some advice from the millions of Google+ users. Here is what I posted inside the platform. I asked a simple question.
“How can Google+ Hangouts be engineered so that Blind People can use this tool?”
Now, the actual posting that you can see shows that 27 people commented back to me, and look, one was the wizard himself.
Chee Chew – said, this is a work in progress. If you go to hangouts (regular hangouts, not Hx), you can navigate around the UI with tab & arrows. there are also hotkeys for muting video & audio (currently ctrl/cmd d & e, but in flux). the new UI is also more friendly to screen reader tools for the blind.
It’s not done, and the hotkeys may need to move as we try to avoid browser hotkeys… but you can see the work in progress….
Feb 7, 2012 (edited)
So, I answered him back and said:
Ken Smith – Thanks Chee Chew. I have been trying to get to you for a week, and know more about you, then you know about me. I am writing a story about Google+ for an online site called VeteransToday.com and one part of the story is about usability by combat wounded veterans who are blind using hangouts. Your comments are most appreciated. The screen reader’s interface when done will make a HUGE difference in the lives of many who have been wounded. Again, thanks for the answer.
And he replied back to me and said:
Chee Chew – thx for your kind comments, +Ken Smith and for the work you’re doing in general for blinded vets. If any blind vets have suggestions, I’m open ears.
I am more than amazed at the power of this tool. I have had the privilege to read postings from a slew of wicked interesting people. Here are a few of what I call the “Power players at Google+” It starts with that guy Anderson, and I can’t thank him enough for the “tour” and the “Inside scoop” on how this tool works and the “power” it possesses.
Of course this list is not comprehensive and doesn’t include everyone who is a major player in this Google+ community, and it’s in no particular order of importance.
Robert Anderson – My teacher for Google+. Click his name and see his “About” profile. If you’re a veteran, find and circle this guy when you get into this tool. If you’re lucky enough, he might have the time to teach you too.
Sarah Hill – She calls herself the News Buoy for KOMU-TV in Missouri. She should call herself the “Trail Blazer” for how news outlets should be using this platform. Again, click on her name to see her profile.
Vic Gundotra – Senior Vice President, Engineering at Google+ from all I have been told, a real nice guy who cares about the disabled user and he is a true visionary.
Chee Chew – As I mentioned, he is the wizard of Google+
Robert Scoble – A huge presence on the net and someone who has seen our military in action and up close. He actually flew onto the deck of the USS Nimitz as some of you pointed out. He knows how important this tool really is and the power it projects.
Paul Rouston – Freelance airbrush artist specializing in Body Painting. Someone and something you gotta see. Best artistic talent on the net today.
Peter McDermott – This guy embraces ideas and innovation. Must circle guy.
Randy Resnick – Wicked important user, who seems to have his arms around everything tech in the site.
In “Part Two” I will showcase another dozen or so “Power Google+ users” and give you my two cents on why they should be followed. And I will explain how I came up with the title to this story “Google+ and the “L-Shaped” Ambush, be patient Maj., part two is coming soon enough.
(Part two) Coming soon
• How Google+ pushed an e-book onto the Amazon best seller list in two weeks.
• Disability community networking and who it helps
• How cars and trucks are being sold using Google+
• Sarah Hill and her help with Blind users
• Finding the right circles and the right people to circle
• Celebrities and Google+
• Blind and deaf veterans helping each other, using Google+
• Hangouts with Quadriplegic veterans
• How a select few users are actually making money from this platform
• The right way, the wrong way and the Google+ way
• Google+ API and the search for innovation
• Veterans ask the presidential candidates to a hangout