Tag Archives: Google

Internet security: Are your passwords good enough? | Opinion | Cyberculture

HeartbleedEvery other day you’re told to change your password, and now the internet comes along and says that almost every major website has been compromised by a crippling security flaw – you just can’t win.

Of course, there’s an element of overreaction and drama to things like this. Websites are hacked what seems like all the time, but the Heartbleed bug has hit more than most. Mashable puts across what you should do more eloquently than I can (short version, there’s a few you’ve heard of, but in the UK it’s only a couple), but the bottom line is it’s always good to have a think about your password security.

Think secure

A password is a simple concept. Think of a word which means something to you but no one else would guess. Of course in the good old days you could (almost) get away with ‘Password’ or ‘Password1’, but these days you need to be a little more savvy, and, frankly, unpredictable.

How many of you are using passwords right now which are based around your pets name? Your child’s name? Your birthday? Or even you’re mother’s maiden name? Now think about how easily someone could get hold of this info…plus, if you have a public Facebook account then you’re basically doing their work for them.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, because people choose ‘memorable’ words and phrases as secure answers, but in fact it might be more sensible to choose something completely random and unrelated to you instead.

Passwords

How strong is a ‘strong’ password?

You can go too far the other way, meaning your password is impossible to remember and therefore you end up resetting it every time you try to log on. If you think you have the memory for it, you could try a strong password generator, which then you remember with a handy mnemonic.

For example, a strong password might be: Iow2ts2b18!bop, which as a sentence could be: I once went 2 the shops 2 buy 18! bags of peas. This is a random example (please don’t use this password!) but you get the idea. A really strong password would have more punctuation and more capital letters in it of course, if in doubt, add a few numbers in the middle of the word for good measure.

Another alternative is take a word you know well and reverse it to turn that into a mnemonic, of course that is less secure than a completely random word or name, but it might be easier to remember.

The key really is to be sensible, there’s no point in coming up with an incredibly elaborate password if you can’t remember it. I remember I changed some passwords recently and quickly lost track of which was for which site.

Two-step verification from Google AuthenticatorTwo-step verification

In terms of the Heartbleed sites, many of them offer two-step verification. What this does is asks you to log in with a password and a security code which is created by an app on your smartphone or tablet.

You can have the website remember a specific device so you don’t need to use the log-in process from you’re phone every five minutes, but the benefit is if someone does hack your account information then tries to log on as you somewhere else then they won’t be able to (in theory at least, there are some determined people out there).

It’s a fairly simple process, in that the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple (for example) have their own two-step process in place, go to your security settings on your account for those sites to find out more. If you ever wondered what ‘Google Authenticator’ is, then that’s what it’s for (see the video below for a quick guide), personally I would recommend it.

As a disclaimer, I would not claim to be a password or security expert, and if you have genuine concerns that your account on any site has been compromised, contact that site immediately. In all likelihood though, you are very unlikely to be targeted specifically, it’s more likely that your data gets scooped up by a targeted attack on a high profile site, and keeping your passwords fresh eliminates the security risk from that.

It might not be very exciting, but would you really want someone logging on to your email and sending malware to you entire address book? It isn’t likely, but it’s the sort of thing which could happen if you don’t do something about it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to change my password and promptly forget it.

James Michael Parry

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Google Nexus 5 | Review | Technology

Google Nexus 5Mobile phones are a fleeting concept. After only a decade and a half, or so, they may have risen to be the most often carried device on the planet – even above a simple wrist watch – but their reign is wrought with dangers.

The rise of tablets (and even phablets) puts the humble mobile’s position under serious threat. To survive then, the cutting edge of smartphones must offer things you can’t do on any other device, or at least not as easily, and a lot more besides.

Enter the Nexus 5, Google’s third foray into the world of phones (admittedly through the proxy of LG, who make the device). With a five-inch screen and genuinely rectangular features, it’s not the most original nor compact of devices, vying for a share of an arena which is already overpopulated.

The Nexus 5 is, in fact, the fifth phone in its family – far from a certainty with Apple churning out two per year and all – and the design of the phones may not have moved miles in looks, but the technology LG have packed into the 5 is a force to be reckoned with.

Have a break…

Google Nexus 5The phone comes pre-loaded with the vanilla version of Android 4.4 Kitkat, a slick, clean interface which works very smoothly. The defaulting of the Hangouts App for SMS is slightly limiting, since any contacts without Google+ don’t integrate particularly easily.

Fortunately one of the biggest benefits of Android is that there are so many excellent quality third-party apps out there and Contact+ fills the void quickly, easily and cleanly, leaving no cause for concern.

Certain features such as lock screen widgets and other customisations are quite hidden away inside the options menu, but with some searching, tweaking and some choice downloads the experience crosses its ‘t’s and dots its ‘i’s effortlessly.

Please connect your charger

Google Nexus 5Battery life is the failing of countless modern devices, with bigger, higher definition screens draining them faster than ever. The Nexus 5 has a few features which it is worth sacrificing some battery for, such as Google Now, which offers up to the minute updates for whatever you search for and wherever you go.

Integration with all of the Google Apps is stronger in this model than any other Android device I have personally used, including Samsung’s Nexus 10 (though in really in every other respect both devices are excellently matched). Equally the apps themselves perform very well, especially the Nexus’ iteration of Google Chrome, which delivers the internet more quickly and easily than a handheld device should be able to muster.

In all then a device which isn’t the greatest phone ever, the camera is still a tad slow even after an update and a few ideas miss their mark. Most importantly though, this phone does what it was designed to – to showcase the potential of what Android can offer, which is an operating system more complete, versatile and featured than iOS7.

James Michael Parry

Ten most anticipated titles of 2014 – Part 2 | Opinion | Entertainment

2014 ones to watch pt2That’s right, we ran out of space to fit in ten before – there’s just so much to talk about. In case you missed it, have a read of the first five things we are excited about this year, then take a look at another five below. After that you may go, or if you’re feeling really interactive you can leave a comment with what yours are.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – 22 May

X-Men: Days of Future PastIs more always better? We aren’t so sure. It definitely made Spider-Man 3 messy and is history is threatening to repeat itself with the second remake (see part one). That said, it’s difficult to bet against the pedigree of the cast involved with X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Promising new-ish talent in the form of Evan Peters as Quicksilver and rising star Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, while old guard like Hugh Jackman (born to be Wolverine) bring some gravitas to proceedings and knights of the realm Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart bringing up the rear.

Of course this time roles are doubled up, as both Michael Fassbender and McKellen take on the iconic role of Magneto and make uneasy alliance with James McAvoy and Stewart’s Professor X.

To say that this is an anticipated title would be an understatement. Original film series helmsman Bryan Singer is back and there’s some fantastic writers on board as well, with so many great characters, special effects and action sequences to come – what can go wrong? If the trailer is anything to go by we are in for a treat.

House of Cards: Series 2 – 14 February

The first of two multimedia TV choices on this list, both significant for different reasons. Last year House of Cards was Netflix’s first real foray into the world of original programming, and thanks to its success a handful of shows, both established and brand new, have followed suit. Now they have to do it again to prove that it’s not just a one-trick pony or a fluke – a second series is serious business.

The show isn’t strictly original, since it’s a remake of a UK show, but I think given the differences between attitudes and political systems in the two countries it can stand alone with its head held high. Kevin Spacey nails the part of Frank Underwood expertly, so much so that he gained a number of award nominations, but, alas, only a (well-deserved) Golden Globe win for Spacey’s co-star Robin Wright. Netflix will want to improve on that this time around, to prove that they ‘count’ in the big leagues.

Since the scrabble up the political ladder was vicious and frantic at times in series one, viewers won’t want Frank’s journey to get too easy this time around. All the episodes drop in at once on Valentine’s Day, will they make enough impact to tear people away from their loved ones?

The Halo TV Series – TBA

HaloThe Xbox One announcement was undoubtedly a multimedia entertainment affair, rather than a reveal of ‘a games console’. Microsoft had their sights set on something greater, and still do. Filming a TV series though, takes time, and with collaborator Steven Spielberg working on other TV projects as producer his time is sure to be in high demand.

The potential of this show is what makes it such an exciting prospect though. The Halo 4: Forward  Unto Dawn web series demonstrated fantastic production values and, crucially, a compelling story which wasn’t over-reliant on the games – a very difficult balance to get right.

The expectation from series fans is high, and as one of Microsoft’s key exclusives, they will definitely want to take the time they need to get it right first time. Particularly considering all the flack they got in 2013 for various PR mis-steps.

The potential of the concept is huge though, and there’s a lot to play for. A massive captive audience and exclusive delivery platform just waiting to get going, while the interplay between the show and the game series itself, which is also keeping its audience hungry. MS have an opportunity to make a bold statement about what they can achieve in multimedia. It might not come this year in the end, but there is sure to be more revealed by the end of the year.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – March 28

Captain America: The Winter SoldierPoor Cap. Thanks to merely his name, his origin story wasn’t as well received in the UK as it was in his homeland. Luckily he has another chance with The Winter Soldier, and early forecasts are looking extremely promising.

The character established in the first film had a surprisingly deep arc compared to his fellow Avengers, and as such was short-changed by critics. In this instalment the trailer paints a very compelling picture.

Cap is still working with SHIELD, including Nick Fury and Black Widow, and is beginning to question the motives and methods of this highly destructive organisation. Not a gritty superhero story like The Dark Knight trilogy, but a very personal story which explores his character – albeit with some explosions thrown in for good measure.

Directing are little-known pair Anthony and Joe Russo, who are sure to bring their own spin to proceedings, while the rest of the crew are equally unknown to the Marvel film universe, meaning the film has that mixture of excitement and fear you often find with an unknown quantity.

The next Google Nexus tablet – TBA

Google Nexus 10 2 concept imageGoogle have been making strides over the past few months, buying up companies left and right and making progress with both software and concept hardware such as Google Glass, but since the release of the Google Nexus 7, things have been quiet in the tablet division.

The advertising for Google Play as the place to get your music, films and TV shows has seen a marked increase, giving the softest of indications that the next logical step on their tablet journey may be coming.

Another patent deal with Samsung done and dusted in the smartphones division means there’s a few more patents to play with and since there has been a lot of expectation for a more specced iPad or wearable tech. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), product launches from Google were conspicuous by their absence and after Apple’s shares took a tumble on the back of less-than-overwhelming sales performance – now is the time to strike.

The technology needed isn’t a million miles ahead of the excellent Google Nexus 10, produced by Samsung, with its screen in particular going down well and generally performance stacking up to the equivalent offering from Apple. To really turn heads though, they will need to go further. Does that mean a Nexus 11? Time, as ever, will tell, but there’s potential there for the taking.

The ones to watch: Watch Dogs, Titanfall, Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Division, The Fray – Helios, Rancid’s new album, Robocop, 300: Rise of an Empire, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, Steam Machines, Oculus Rift, Hannibal and Game of Thrones.
James Michael Parry

An internet monopoly?: Google’s products scrutinised | Feature | Cyberculture

Google logoGoogle’s recent I/O conference revealed a number of new strategies, consolidations and initiatives, but is the search giant’s vision exceeding its capability?

A wide range of services

Google Apps
There are some big names and brands in their own right under Google’s umbrella, including YouTube.

The number of plates Google have spinning is bafflingly vast, offering over 30 products through their main site and numerous first-party apps through their own android operating system for smartphones and tablets.

‘Search’, where it all began, is currently the top ranked site for traffic in the world (according to rankings.com), followed by YouTube, which Google bought back in 2006 for $1.65billion, and is a topic of popular news almost daily.

The rise and rise of Google

The company’s philosophy states its mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Reading that out of context you could be forgiven for mistaking it for the motto of Wikipedia (which, coincidentally, is more related to the fact that the site is to provide information and not argue value judgements), but Google’s approach is far more widespread thanks to its targeted approach to every other internet-driven product on the market.

Though Google has created many of its biggest success stories, such as ‘Maps’ and ‘Gmail’, other products were acquired through the 2000s, such as Picasa and YouTube. Arguably only YouTube truly holds its own against the might of its parent company to have its own identity, partly because of how the business is run (as a subsidiary company), but most interactions surfers have with Google are with ‘Google’ prefixed products.

New-look Maps

Google Maps Beta
The new interface makes it quicker to find your house than ever before.

A redesign of the ‘Maps’ product was the most impressive innovation to be announced this year, using a vector-based interface to shrink loading times and improve accuracy.

Playing around on the beta version, the new interface is slick and effective, offering more transport options than before. Loading is undeniably snappier and the simplicity of the presentation helps things not look cluttered even in built up areas.

There are bugs to be ironed out, but it seems like a solid step forward which offers consumers what they had before quicker and more into the package as well.

One for all and all for plus

The company insists that ‘it’s best to do one thing really well’ and despite the diversification that is still true – search is clearly the strongest part of any one of their products, whether it’s tracking down a two-year-old email or picking out a restaurant you half remember from 2008.

Convergence is happening in all forms of media and the real drive for Google this year seems to be to unite their products, most likely under the banner of Google +.

The social media sharing platform has been steadily growing momentum through the past few years, and a recent tune up to the Hangouts feature has made the technology far more accessible (though not necessarily more popular).

The consistency and familiarity is something which will solve a lot of the companies brand loyalty in the long run, but the short and harsh truth is that change is hard for most people.

With nothing to compel them to switch, most users will continue with the messaging app they are familiar with, whether that is Facebook Messenger, iMessage or a third-party compiler like What’s App.

The writing’s on the cloud

Can the futuristic technology really deliver?
Can the futuristic technology really deliver?

The long-term gain may prove to be enough, but there needs to be imagination-capturing innovations such as the company’s fancy, though slightly unbelievable, ‘Glass’ product to keep people coming back to them for more than just ‘googling’ something.

In a way the company is a victim of its own success, being so synonymous with internet searching makes it difficult to really make its mark in other areas. This is despite the infrastructure of many other aspects of the business, such as Google Docs or Blogger, being more than up to their respective tasks.

Plus (pun not intended), there is scope within the ‘Labs’ area of development, but overall the company would do well to not spread their net too thinly and find holes starting to develop.

The power of brand

The operating system reportedly has a staggering 75% market share, thanks to its incorporation in a number of different brand's devices.
The operating system reportedly has a staggering 75% market share, thanks to its incorporation in a number of different brand’s devices.

Android is where the opportunity lies over the next few days, ironically because it has its own brand separate to Google, so consumers can feel more of a brand affinity than with the plain, cold image of a multi-national.

In-roads are being made in areas such as business, where the company is powering more and more companies from behind the scenes, but the ‘cool’ factor is still something which is clearly owned by the likes of Apple.

In short – Google is here to stay, but what it means to ‘google’ something might need to diversify to let the brand continue to make progress overall, rather than just in the more flexible, innovative and smaller-scale aspects of the business.

James Michael Parry

13 for 2013: Our most anticipated films, music, gaming, technology and cyberculture | Entertainment | This Is Entertainment

The fun and games of 2012 is behind us, so it’s time to stop doing Gangnam Style, put down your ‘New’ iPad and think about all the exciting things which will clamour for both your attention and your wallet this year. Here are 13 things we are really looking forward to:

  1. Ingress (Available Now)

Screenshot_2013-01-03-07-50-32It might seem strange to start with something which you probably haven’t heard of, but its mysterious nature is what makes it interesting. Currently search giant Google is beta testing an augmented reality app, which calls for users to investigate the world around them using their phone as a scanner.

Using the software from the Google glasses demo released last year, the team have come up with a narrative based around CERN’s Higgs Boson experiment. To request an invite for the beta go to the Ingress website (but expect to wait a few weeks). Expect more on the site in the coming months as we delve deeper into the mystery.

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  1. DmC: Devil May Cry (11 January)

dmcWhile the obvious candidate for the crown of ‘anticipated game of the year’ is Grand Theft Auto V, we decided to avoid tackling Rockstar’s media-teasing monstrosity and talk about some of the smaller hitters, beginning with DmC, a reboot of Devil May Cry.

Danté is back, now with a harcore-fan-outraging new look, and a more user-friendly play and combat style. Developers Ninja Theory haven’t held back in taking the series’ ingredients and throwing them in a blender to make a more dynamic and edgy game, not that it’s tricky to make a demon hunter who is half angel and half devil look edgy. What we’ve seen so far looks impressive, though the team have an uphill struggle to convincingly gain ground in the third person slash-’em-up arena.

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  1. The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law (21 January)

Wolf's LawAfter a stunning debut album from the Welsh three-piece, they are due to strike back this year with their second album. The band perform amazingly well live, and their songs have that element of originality mixed with a few familiar pop tricks which make them compulsive listening.

Lead vocalist Ritzy’s voice is immediately striking and the synergy in the group is second to none. First single ‘The Ladder is Ours’ picks up where the first album left off and drives the band’s music forward. Expect some well received live performances on the back of this CD later in the year.

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  1. Bad Religion – True North (22 January)

True NorthHardcore punk rockers Bad Religion continue to churn out albums at an alarmingly consistent rate and this latest effort is looking to be no exception. First single, ‘Fuck You’, has all the uncompromising energy and attitude you could expect from a punk band who have been making music for over 30 years.

Title track ‘True North’ reveals more, and gives a sense of the overall tone of the album itself, somewhere between the blisteringly quick songs of early days with albums like Incomplete and the philosophy of The Process of Belief.

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  1. Windows Surface Pro (28 January TBC)

Windows Surface ProWe’ve already waxed lyrical about Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, and what more could you want? Windows 8 in a handy portable package of course. The RT version of the Windows Surface tablet has been out for a few months and has sold “modestly”, but many IT enthusiasts are holding off for the full ‘Pro’ version, which runs standard windows programs as well as Windows‘ own tailor-made apps.

With boosted specs and plenty of positive reviews of the RT version already circulating, this could be the technology purchase of the year (well it’s less likely to be replaced in a few months like a new iPad might in any case).

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  1. New(ish) gaming IPs: Remember Me (May 2013) and South Park: The Stick of Truth (March 2013)

Remember MeDespite the Xbox 360 nearing the end of its life (see point 11), there are still new IPs coming to the console which look promising. South Park: The Stick of Truth, though not entirely new since it is based on the South Park cartoon series, is the first which cartoon creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been directly involved with throughout (reportedly because they were sick and tired of bad South Park games). The game riffs on the classic staples of turn-based RPGs and is sure to have plenty of the sort of laughs and cultural references the TV show is known for.

Remember Me is Capcom’s take on manipulating reality by changing people’s memory in the near future. The game features a protagonist called Nilin, a ‘memory hunter’ who has lost her own memory and is on a quest to get back what she’s lost, while forcing people to kill themselves through memory manipulation along the way. The game is being handled by newcomers Dontnod Entertainment, but reception to the game so far has been promising, so hopefully this won’t be a case of all shine and no substance like fellow near-future jaunt Syndicate was last year.

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  1. Star Trek into Darkness (17 May)

Star Trek into DarknessZachary Quinto and Chris Pine reprise their roles as Spock and Kirk as we go Star Trekking once again, this time with the help of Sherlock Holmes, well, Benedict Cumberbatch. Star Fleet is under direct attack this time around, and Cumberbatch, who plays an unknown character who may or may not be linked to classic Trek film The Wrath of Khan‘s Khan.

The first teaser trailer shows all the destruction and drama you have come to expect from J.J. Abrams’ reboot, and with the acting talent in the mix it would be difficult to not make this the cinematic spectacle of the year. At least unless a bunch of superheroes turn up…oh…

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  1. Man Of Steel (14 June)

Man Of SteelZack Snyder directs the latest in a long line of Superman films, but this time, for the first time ever, Superman himself is British. Jersey-born Henry Cavill, who you may have seen in The Tudors TV series or 2007’s Stardust, dons the red boots in a familiar tale, retold.

Not much to get excited about you might think? But with Christopher Nolan on Producer duty, the studio must be keen for some of his success with The Dark Knight Trilogy to rub off on Man Of Steel.

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  1. Comic book films return (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (4 Oct USA), Kick-Ass 2 (19 July), Thor: The Dark World (Nov 8), Iron Man 3 (26 April), The Wolverine (26 July))

Christopher Mintz-Plasse in Kick-Ass 2Superman isn’t the only superhero doing the rounds this year of course, there are a bunch of sequels on the way to astound and delight us all. Of these the most exciting is Kick-Ass 2, which sees Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and Red Mist all return, with original actors Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Morentz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, for another round of crude and comic caped action.

This time Red Mist is seeking revenge, as teased at the close of the first film and Jim Carrey also makes an appearance as Colonel Stars and Stripes. With so many dark and ‘mature’ style superhero flicks flying around it’s good to have something like this as an antidote.

(No Kick-Ass 2 trailer just yet I’m afraid, but Iron Man is shaping up nicely too).

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  1. Reading Festival 2013 (23-25 August)

Reading Festival 2012With organisers Festival Republic kicking off the hype train early this year, we already know that Eminem will be one of this year’s Reading Festival headliners. Also in the mix are Alt-J, Deftones and Sub Focus.

The event always pulls in some of the greatest acts in the world for the year and the atmosphere is difficult to beat for a full weekend festival. Plus following the re-jig and re-brand last year things will be running even more smoothly, leaving more time for drinking and moshing than ever before.

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  1. The next Xbox (Q4 TBC)

The next Xbox?The Xbox 360 has now been on shop shelves for seven years, with hardware older than that, and in some places it’s beginning to creak at the seams. The lack of big game release dates after May this year leans heavily towards a hardware reveal at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, after a decidedly by-the-numbers affair last year.

The gaming community are beginning to cry out and despite manufacturer Microsoft’s claims in 2010 that the console was only half way through it’s life cycle, the clock is ticking. The time makes sense for the company too, since they won’t want to risk falling behind rival Sony‘s next release, which is still unannounced.

At present no concrete news has come out about the next Xbox console, despite rumours being rife, but whatever happens it is likely to slot effortlessly into its parent company’s efforts with Windows 8. The question is, will they strike while the iron is hot?

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  1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (13 December)

The Desolation of SmaugAfter the success which Peter Jackson had with the first instalment of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, we have our fingers firmly crossed he can keep up the momentum for a further two films. The subtitle for this year’s film, The Desolation of Smaug, would suggest this is the chapter in which Smaug is vanquished, but what does that leave for film three?

The multi Oscar-winning director is doing it for the love at this point, so it’s hard to see him making a misstep at this stage, but the real draw for this next film is the returning cast, all of whom shone in part one. How can you say no to more Gandalf?

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  1. The digital entertainment tipping point (TBC?)

The final point in our list is more speculation (speculation you say? On a blog? Outrageous!) around the subject of digital distribution. It might not be something to look forward to if you are keen on polishing the boxes on your CD shelf, but the digital revolution is happening right now. In music in particular the market is struggling to cope, as consumers begin to buy songs online through the likes of iTunes more and more.

The BBC recently reported that in 2012 CD sales fell by 11.2% overall, with sales of physical copies down 20% to 69.4million, compared to a rise or 14.8% for digital, bringing its total up to 30.5million. Surely the day we see digital in the majority isn’t far away?

In gaming and films too things are changing, as more people stream or watch films online, sometimes through games consoles, and various on demand services such as Netflix providing access to thousands of films without the bother of popping down to Blockbuster. Games on demand on Xbox remains uncompetitively priced, but avenues such as Valve’s Steam platform are proving more popular than ever before.

The interconnected nature of technology is making viewing entertainment easier every year and this year could be the time when we start to see the digital future really come into its own.

A Digital FutureJames Michael Parry

Cyberculture: The pluses and minuses of Google Plus +

A brave new world?The internet speeds forever forward, with every online company trying their best to get you to spend time interacting with their website. Search giant Google recently introduced a ‘+1’ option to search results,  designed to encourage user feedback on the usefulness of sites.

The introduction isn’t the only way the big G is trying to ‘muscle in’ on Facebook’s screen time however, with the current trial of ‘Google Plus’.

The only way to become a part of it at the moment is to be invited someone already in it, much like their ill-fated Google Wave product from last year (a hybrid instant messenger, email and file sharing program designed to encourage communication).

So what’s it all about? The easiest way to think about it is one part Facebook, one part Twitter and two parts Windows Live Groups and Hotmail. The principle is that you invite people you know – this can only be done automatically from Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo so far, but Facebook too with some fiddling – and put them into ‘Circles’ according to their relationship to you, much as you might organise your address book contacts on Hotmail. That way when you share content through Google (such as uploading photos) you can choose who to share those pictures with, so it’s easier to put up those pictures from Friday night without the possible embarrassment of the boss seeing them!

The point of this is to give an ‘at a glance’ view of others’ internet activity, allowing you to dip in to people’s status updates, pictures, blog posts etc, much like Facebook’s newsfeed. The interface is entirely customisable, and in this way it’s more useful than Facebook, since Facebook tends to guess who you are interested in hearing about, Google Plus lets you tailor it to your needs much more easily.

It's quiet in here, can you hear the echo?Since many people have Google as their home page, this plus service aims to provide a one-stop shop for ‘checking the internet’ bringing in as much information as possible from other people you are digitally connected to.

With internet information sharing there is always security concerns, and this is another aspect where Google gains the upper hand. The way it is set up doesn’t require you to share information about yourself in order to keep tabs on others, so if you were just curious about how a friend was getting on, you could see quickly and easily without them even knowing. It only uses information people have already made publicly available, so there’s no more risk of data theft than using the websites generally, in fact it can flag up just how much information about yourself there is out there.

The next step in using Google Plus, once you have connected some friends together in ‘Circles’ is videochatting with them in a conference known casually as a ‘Hangout’, unashamedly pinpointing the likes of Skype (now owned by Microsoft) in their sites. This allows you to jump in and out at any time, though how well Britain’s troubled connection speeds will cope with the bandwidth needed for multiple streaming is anyone’s guess.

Aspects of Google Wave have found their way into plus too, such as the concept of ‘instant’ uploading, which allows you to upload photos from your phone through thin air as soon as you take them, rather than collecting them together and uploading through your computer later.

Next up is ‘Sparks’ a feature designed to bring you things you are interested in, so if you wanted something to do with rock music but didn’t know what it would choose something hip and happening, akin to MS’ ‘Bing decision engine’. So, in this example, ‘rock music’ brings up news that Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl believes drum machines ruin rock tracks.

One feature which could prove very useful is ‘Huddle’ which allows you to group people together on your phone for a group text conversation, but presumably everyone will need to be using it for it to work, and no question on how much of your data will be used.

In all it seems very casual and Google has worked hard on making the interface very ‘funky’, perhaps a lesson learned from their extremely popular Android mobile phone operating system.

While new things are always interesting, the test of the Google Plus (or +) interface, will be how many people go for it, because if people don’t sign up then you’ll end up talking to yourself…

And therein lies the biggest issue so far, despite being very active in cyberspace, my own Plus profile doesn’t show up any of my own tweets, updates or blog posts, making my home screen currently tear-jerkingly empty. Getting friends on board is fine providing you have your Hotmail contacts list in order, but having accepted the challenge and found I have 1200 people in the address book (including interests imported from Facebook masquerading as people, such as feature films and bands), it’s going to be a mammoth task whittling the numbers down to people who I actually get in touch with on a regular basis.

This is the key difference between Google Plus and Facebook, Facebook wants as many people connected as possible, Google Plus wants them talking and sharing with each other. A noble message but how many people can one person keep in touch with at once? Not 1200 that’s for sure, particularly if many of them aren’t ‘real’ or are just ‘contact us’ email addresses.

Used right, Plus could make everything about the internet more streamlined, cutting down the time needed to get the information you actually want, and so taking the clutter out of what Facebook. But half the fun of Facebook is talking to someone you haven’t seen for years just on a whim, which is something you wouldn’t get from Plus. Perhaps a dose of HTC’s ‘Sense’ technology might smooth the transition?

Time then, will be the test, as it often is on the internet, if nothing else it’s forcing me to clean up my bloated Contacts book on Hotmail, and probably Facebook as well.

James Michael Parry

Links:
Google Plus project – http://www.google.com/+/demo/
In-depth technical explanation on CaseDetails – http://www.casedetails.com/2011/05/12/google-plus1-explained/
The fate of Google Wave on TechCrunch – http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/wave-goodbye-to-google-wave/

Technology: Apple-free MP3 players

Say no to iPodsBeing an MP3 player these days isn’t easy, without a shiny apple logo on your back most people don’t notice you, but there’s still a few impressive choices around for those willing to take the time to look.

The times of a countless range of brands and models is gone – you can thank Apple for narrowing the market – but the brands to look out for are Creative, Phillips and the grandfather of mobile music – Sony.

Sony E SeriesThe Walkman was first released back in 1979 as a handy tape player, before it became a ‘Discman’ in 1984, and now the brand continues to keep a hold on the market with A, S, E and W series. The E series, which comes in 4, 8 and 16GB models (take a look), is probably the most comparable to Apple’s shiny iPod range, but on top of that it boasts kareoke and easy-peasy drag and drop music organisation. It might not be packed with features but it does the job reliably, none of this style-over-substance nonsense.

Philips MuseFrom Phillips comes the Muse MP4 player, complete with FullSound – a fancy bit of tech which decompresses MP3s and ‘enriches and enhances’ the sound. Also it contains Songbird, a useful music player which you can also get on your computer to organise and transfer music.

The real champion of the flock though is Creative, who have embraced Bluetooth technology in everything they are producing, making them the most adaptable units around.

Creative Zen Touch 2Sure there might be one or two iPod compatible docking stations on the market, but Creative reinforces the sublime Zen Touch 2 with speakers and home entertainment surround sound systems all free from troublesome wires. Plus you can get a USB Bluetooth adapter to make anything compatible with the system and so you can stream your music across your room or even through your entire house.

The Touch 2 itself has WiFi and the Google Android operating system, meaning you can download lots of shiny and useful apps. There is even a version available with GPS so you can use it as a sat nav system. The inclusion of a MicroSD card slot means you can beef up the storage capacity as high as you like, though you need to be a bit careful when you insert or remove the card since like all technology if you don’t use it properly – it complains.

The music interface is easy to use and simple, again not stylish to the extreme like Apple. MP3 players like this are functional items, not fashion accessories, and with the Touch 2, Creative have created one of the most versatile pieces of handheld technology around.

So, there are plenty of alternatives to Apple, the only decision you need to make now is which path to righteousness will you choose?

 

James Michael Parry