Google+ & Content Ownership: A Non-Issue?

My Stream is filled with articles on whether Google+ takes a weird kind of ownership of your content—especially your photographs. I’m no intellectual property lawyer, but I’ve done some amateur sleuthing and think everything’s going to be OK. Here’s why.

First, the offending Term of Service. Mostly, the articles take issue with the following sentence from the main Google TOS:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.

That does seem pretty rough, but it’s not the whole story. None of the articles I’ve seen mention the second and final sentence of the dreaded Paragraph 11.1, which reads:

This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

So, individual services can override the clause giving Google the right to do whatever with your content.

Two other documents seem to take advantage of that override capability by giving rights back to the user. First, all photos are uploaded to Google+ via Picasa. The following, quoted in its entirety, appears in the Picasa Terms of Service:

Your Intellectual Property Rights: Google does not claim any ownership in any of the content, including any text, data, information, images, photographs, music, sound, video, or other material, that you upload, transmit or store in your Picasa account. We will not use any of your content for any purpose except to provide you with the Service.

That’s pretty good: Seems like all pictures in the Picasa account are totally yours.

But what about content besides photographs? Google’s thought of that, too. (Of course.) The Google+ section of Google’s awesome Privacy Center (which I hadn’t known about) lays out how they use your content in great detail. It’s too long to reproduce here, but it’s very encouraging in that the only uses of your content they mention are basically the minimal stuff that they’d need to do to create and run a service like Google+: e.g., sharing your public profile information publicly. Real no-brainer stuff.

That document does refer to the main Google Privacy Policy as extending Google’s usage rights. The good news: That policy, in turn, has an “Information Sharing” section that sets pretty strict limits on when they share your personal information: (1) when you give consent, (2) when—under terms of confidentiality—they turn to third parties to process their data, and (3) when they’re required to by law.

Again: I’m no expert, but this stuff all seems pretty well locked-down in favor of the user to me.

Why I’m (Mostly) Leaving Twitter

Here’s what I’m going to do as soon as Google+ has an iPhone app:

  1. Use Facebook only for personal updates; for photos of me, friends, and family; and for private messaging in certain cases that don’t matter here. Unfriend (or severely privacy-limit) the many wonderful people with whom I do not consider myself to have strong personal relationships.
  2. Use Google+ for brief posts of substance—most of them exposed to the public (not just to my Circles).
  3. Use my blog for longer posts (as currently).
  4. Abandon Twitter (mostly; keep reading).

My rationale: Right now, Facebook provides me with a medium for incredibly interesting conversation about matters professional, academic, and intellectual. I keep my own status updates along these lines restricted to friends only because of the platform’s slightly arcane (or “clunky,” as Farhad Manjoo calls them) privacy interfaces. I’d prefer to have these conversations open to the public, as they are on Twitter.

Even if I were less lazy about the privacy kinks though, I don’t get the sense that any interesting strangers are out prowling Facebook for compelling public status updates. And Facebook just feels like the wrong platform for this kind of online behavior anyway. It’s too cluttered with games (some of which I play) and personal-life noise (which I love for its own sake) to be really conducive to the kind of “Come on, guys, let’s really talk through this” behavior that I want to encourage. It just doesn’t feel like conversation is what people want to do on Facebook. Good conversations do happen there, but I can’t help but wonder how much better they could be in a different context.

Twitter provides that context, actually, and though I would like to have moved this kind of content there, the UI barriers are just too high. Serious conversation sucks on Twitter; that’s just not what it’s built for. The lack of a good and usable visualization of conversations (even accounting for recent advances in the desktop client) makes following them a hopeless hassle. Worse, the 140-character limit absolutely forestalls any in-depth discussion—notwithstanding those seven-part, ellipsis-separated tweets that drive us all mad. And having to include @replies within that limit makes conversation among many Tweeters seem really, really stupid. As a result of these obstacles, I believe, I have simply been unable to transport the serious and rewarding discussion that happens on Facebook out to Twitter.

Google+ could compensate for these issues in a number of ways. The first is that most of my posts there will be public (as are my Tweets), allowing for greater exposure and diversity of viewpoints. I expect that Google+’s asymmetrical relationship-building mechanism, in which I can add you to a Circle without your having to confirm anything, will lead to users seeking out interesting content from strangers as they do 0n Twitter.

The second advantage of Google+ for my purposes is that in place of Facebook’s still-mysterious “Top News” feed, Google+ lets you view different segments of the stream—not unlike Twitter’s Lists but, again, with a far superior interface. Also, I have no doubt that Google+ will at some point provide topic-based segmentation as well. I’m expecting something like hashtags, but with a cleaner implementation. I should say I’ve yet to really figure out Sparks, or try.

Once I’ve made the changes I list at the beginning of this post, Twitter will remain in my online life only as the corporate and “corporo-human” PR platform it is has become. I will use it to share professional news and to keep up with the news of others. I will not use it for conversation. I will not use it as a feedreader, as some have suggested it has become (or supplanted), because it does not allow me actually to read feeds, merely to click links, which I find far less convenient in terms of my workflows as a user of both desktop and mobile devices.

I think that at first, the changes I list at the top are going to set me back in both professional and personal spheres of online interaction: People not yet on Google+ will no longer have the kinds of conversations with me that I’ve so been enjoying, and on the other hand, I will miss out on the sort of hybrid personal-professional chit-chat that currently seems to happen only on Twitter. I’m just hoping that my social universe eventually lines up with my tactics—not because of what I’m doing, but for the same reasons.

Cocktail: The Red Dog

It seems the name’s taken, but there’s really nothing better to call this delicious and stiff drink, which you might consider the summer-love child of a Negroni and a Manhattan:

  • 1 oz. white dog (the stuff I used was 125 proof; adjust the amount here to suit whatever you can procure)
  • 1 oz. Campari (or to taste; this much makes the drink more Negroni-like and less Manhattan-like)
  • A good splash of sweet vermouth (or more up to an ounce; I like many vermouth drinks on the dry side)
  • A twist of orange

Shake it up good and serve it on the rocks.

For a lighter alternative, use an orange slice instead of a twist (squeeze it a bit before you stir it in), serve in a Collins glass and top it off with soda.

What’s Wrong with (Movie) Comedy

I have never posted a link to anything without substantive commentary of my own, but I have almost nothing to add to this piece and it’s too much a crusade of mine to pass up.

See, I’ve been complaining about comedic movies for years now, and Adam Sternbergh has done the best possible job of it over at the New York Times:

Together, like Lenin and Trotsky, [Todd] Phillips and [Judd] Apatow have engineered a comedic-cinematic putsch. “Old School,” in 2003, was the April Theses for this uprising, and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” in 2005, was its October Revolution. […] What these auteurs truly have in common, though, is that they have systematically boiled away many of the pleasures previously associated with comedy — first among these, jokes themselves — and replaced them with a different kind of lure: the appeal of spending two hours hanging out with a loose and jocular gang of goofy bros. (Also: ritual humiliation. Humiliation is a big part of it, too.)

As an aside, I am quick to defend TV comedy without really knowing why. In Sternbergh’s formulation, it’s because TV comedy still features jokes. Amazing stuff.

How not to Email a Professor: A Lesson on Audience

Professor Michael Leddy’s “How to email a professor” is making the rounds on Facebook for the third time in as many years. While there’s much good advice in there, there’s also advice that seems useful mostly for students with professors who think like Leddy.

There are other ways to think, though, and examining a handful of differences between Leddy’s perspective and how I would have my students email me provides us with an interesting chance to think about the role of audience in professional communication (as I do in my advice at the end of this post). In what follows, I use Leddy’s headings to aid the reader in her comparisons of our positions.

I should say quickly that Leddy’s post dates from over six years ago, and his own opinions may well have changed in the interim. So I direct this post not to him, but to students and faculty everywhere. [Rainbow appears.]

“Write from your college or university email account.”

College and university email accounts that I’ve used are spam-ridden, have inconvenient webmail interfaces, and lack features for integration with desktop clients (e.g., fully-supported IMAP access). I try never to use mine; frankly I’d rather get a Facebook message from a student than a message to any institutional email address.

And while I agree that email addresses should be professional rather than “salacious”—which seems, at any rate, a strong word to describe any of the examples he uses (even “qtpie2005”)—I can’t see any difference in professionalism between “” and the series of odd initials and numbers that comprise most email addresses. And since Gmail accounts are free, if I were the proverbial qtpie2005, I’d simply create a second account for my professional communications.

“Choose an appropriate greeting.”

Leddy bristles at “Dear ____,” but it’s quite common in my sphere. As a graduate student, many of my professors used it; I, in turn, picked up the habit of using it with my students, especially when addressing them as a group.

In fact, if I haven’t heard from a student before, I prefer they begin with “Dear,” as I would when writing to a colleague I didn’t know well, or to a writer who had submitted to the fledgling literary magazine I help out with. Here as in the first case, a student following Leddy’s advice would actually do slightly worse with me—to whatever insignificant extent they’d do better with Leddy, at least.

“Sign with your full name, course number, and meeting time.”

Leddy notes that signing “eliminates the need for stilted self-identification (‘I am a student in your such-and-such class’).” It seems to me, though, that making me scroll down to the end of your email to find out who’s email I’m reading is inconsiderate. If a student doubts that a professor will know him by name—as he probably should, depending on the class—he should identify himself as quickly as possible.

“Don’t send unexpected attachments.”

It’s not clear from Leddy’s post whether it’s the “attachments” or the “unexpected” that he has a bigger problem with, but the points he makes in this section and my responses are as follows:

  1. “It’s bad form.” Not so much an argument as an assertion, and one I couldn’t disagree with more. I’ve never thought for a second that it was rude to send me an attachment without some kind of prior authorization.
  2. “Attaching an essay with a request that your professor look it over is very bad form.” Context is everything. If a student wants to send me a draft to glance at, I am more than happy to do so, and it saves me time. If we have a lot to talk about, I will suggest we meet in person—but why should it be on the student’s shoulders to decide that for both of us? After all, I’m the teacher here; she’s the one who’s not sure how to feel about her paper.
  3. “Your professor is supposed to print out your essay because you’re not coming to class?” I never print out student work, and they only turn in work electronically. This issue is a non-starter for me.

My Advice: Know Your Audience.

To be fair, some of Leddy’s advice seems applicable across a far more broad sampling of professors (for example, “Proofread what you’ve written.”). Still, rather than issue a set of fixed rules, I would advise my students to learn as much as they can about how each of their professors prefers to communicate.

How? By observation, first of all. Start with the basics of professionalism, to be sure—and as always, Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab has a fine guide—but beyond that, read your professors’ emails carefully and respond in ways that seem consistent with their tone and formatting. (If this process seems familiar, consider how you’re learning to write the academic essays with which you’re all apparently surprising Prof. Leddy.)

Also, by asking. A simple question like “Do you prefer to be called Prof. Goldstein?” goes a long way. I’d rather play a part in shaping your professional communication to my liking than have Prof. Leddy do it for me.