For the last week or two the Internet has been awash with chatter about Google+, the latest brick in Google’s Great Wall. By opening it up to a relatively small number of users during its broad testing phase, Google managed to create near-hysteria around the product/service. People were begging for invitations so that they could get in early and not miss out.
In typical fashion the first I heard of it was when a friend in America, someone far more savvy and deeply esconced in the technical world than I, emailed an invitation; more accurately, I discovered the invitation a little later when I went to empty the spam folder (a common problem, it would seem, as several people I know received these early invitations and deleted them without realising what they were). The latest fad rarely captures my attention until it has settled in and become part of the esablishment, but given the source of the invitation I decided to set up a Google+ account.
I don’t use Facebook. I did, once, set up a Facebook account solely in order to get a message to someone I could apparently contact in no other way and had to deal with over an hour of nonsense (and lots of spammy emails) and security warnings in the process, so I shan’t be changing my stance any time soon. Endless games, prods and so forth really don’t appeal. On the other hand, I do use and like Twitter, with its restricted message length and simple rolling wall of text. Google+ seems to lie somewhere between the two, with a fairly clean and simple design, but certainly more options than Twitter has. It allows you to organise contacts into “circles” so that you can easily send a message to a predetermined group of people. It lets you know when there are comments on posts you have initiated or added to, essential given how quickly things drop out of sight (lacking the 140 character limit of Twitter, Google+ fills up the screen space extremely rapidly, especially if you view it on a mobile ‘phone). More interestingly, it has a Skype-like video ‘phone function called a “Hangout” (rather unfortunately, as “Jon is hanging out” is not what I particularly want displayed to my friends. Then again, it also told me that a friend of mine was idle, so perhaps it’s offering some sort of judgemental commentary) which I can see being very useful, particularly once they add the ability to record the audio.There is also the “+1” button, which seems to be a way of letting the world know that you approve of a particular post or site, although I’m not terribly clear on what that actually means. One guide I saw unhelpfully descibed the “+1” button as being just like the “like” function on Facebook, which is as effective as saying that a Volkswagen is very much like an Audi when explaining the whole notion of cars to somebody who has never seen one.
In many ways I’m not an ideal tester for this sort of thing. Google+ is attempting to fill a need I don’t really have, so my explorations of it have been slightly distant, pottering around and doing a bit of background reading, but while I’m interested in it I can’t say it generates any huge excitement. The integration with other areas of Google is probably where real benefits will become apparent to me, something that is likely to expand and improve as Google+ develops and moves into its full release. Already there is the option to have photos taken on a ‘phone camera automatically upload to a Google+ album, for example, and from there they can be shared to any contacts (from your Google Mail list, say) via posts on Google+. Presumably the result of this will be a 1984-style Newspeak where much of the English language will be replaced by the word “Google.”
For now, I find myself checking Twitter throughout the day and using it to engage with friends (and occasionally people I really don’t know at all) whereas Google+ is something I drop in on to have another look and tinker and see if it’s doing anything useful yet. There is potential there, lots of lurking benefits for the time when it grows up and people find genuinely useful things it can do. Hopefully adding Farmville won’t be one of them.
The return from Scotland and the rare luxury of the TGO Challenge (and for me a fortnight of walking and wild camping is, alas, rare indeed) was bound to leave me feeling a little down once the elation had time to fade, but the UK Games Expo was hard enough on its heels to keep my spirits high for a while. With those two big events gone there was just the humdrum workaday business of the humdrum working day to face.
Something I noticed after my last Challenge was what little appetite I had to go walking in the weeks after the TGO. Compared to the self-powered near-wilderness experience offered there any local day walk looked a bit wan and anaemic, hardly worth the effort, so it was probably a very good thing that this time I had a call from my friend and old hiking partner Martin asking me to sort out a short walk suitable for his young son. Ironically I’ve been trying to get Martin back out onto the hills for several years, always scuppered, quite understandably, by the demands of his business and family life, but now that his First Born Son is old enough to manage a few miles without complaint things may gradually change.
By the time I’d settled on a likely route from the Jarrold Pathfinder series (for convenience, as much as anything) word had spread; and as you can see from the photo we were joined by a few additional bodies, including Mr and Mrs Weasel who were with me at the Expo last month. The particular walk – number 4 in the Cheshire guidebook, for those of you following along at home – was around Bollington, picked partly because there was an option to go either the full 3.5 miles including a climb up to Nab Head, or to skip the hill and walk the route as a 2.5 mile circular instead. Exceptionally lovely weather made for a meadow lunch stop looking like something out of a 1970s chocolate selection advert, but it also wilted a couple of our party a little and we took the shorter route. Nice to be able to make the decision mid-walk, rather than having to plan it in advance.
There’s a lot to recommend the area, with its aquaduct, viaduct, canal, industrial heritage sculpture, attractively rugged buildings and glorious countrside, and it certainly made for a delightful walk. Two and a half miles is, of course, pretty much nothing in terms of hiking, nor was the terrain strenuous. Pacing was awkward for me, having to slow down not only because the kids don’t walk very quickly but also because they don’t keep walking, and having to navigate for a group is a strangely uncomfortable thing. On my own I never actually worry about navigation. I’m careful, occasionally methodical when needed, and on the whole it doesn’t bother me if I cock things up now and then and have to put in some extra walking or retrace my steps, yet potentially asking the same of others certainly does bother me. All in all, this should not have been much in the way of an enjoyable day out in regular hiking terms.
And of course it was fine, lovely even, because it was a day out with good friends exploring attractive countryside. There was even a cricket match underway when we returned to Bollington, just in case the complete scene hadn’t seemed quite English enough. Martin must have been overwhelmed by the Englishness, come to think of it, as he took us all home for a cream tea and glasses of Pimm’s. It’s how we won an empire.
It’s all too easy to treat walking as a serious hobby demanding serious preparation and challenges, putting it off until the opportunity arises for a “proper” hike, so this gentle nudge was a huge help for me, a reminder that getting out there and getting on with it is what really matters. Although the Pimm’s certainly didn’t hurt.