Google+, the Google bar widget and Embodied Interaction
With a 63% market share in the Internet search , Google’s users open their browser and surf to the search portal everyday. If they are Gmail users, they will keep that browser window/tab open for a considerable amount of time. The guys at Google+ are taking advantage of this for showing their Google+ widget in the upper-right corner, as part of the Google bar. I honestly think this idea is fantastic, it does not only integrate all of Google services into one virtual environment (conveyed by the bar), but is also a better choice for sending the notifications than building browser plug-ins.
I have been thinking about this for a few days, and it strikes me as a great idea. I am a vicious Google user, I have everything from Google Home, to Gmail, to Google Reader, etc. That means that the Google bar is on my window most of the time. Having the Google+ notifications up there provide this “awareness” about the important things I have to look at in Google+.
Then I got to think about Dourish’s embodied interaction , his point is that awareness systems (a.k.a social computing) and tangible computing are very natural to use not only because they are “familiar” or have a familiarity to the way we interact in real life. Dourish says there is a deeper connection between them, and in a few words, it’s because they are “accessible in the background”. That is, you can move from an overview or background awareness to a detailed exploration or analysis of things very easily. Then I thought of Google+’s widget as a mechanism that allows precisely that, moving very easily from an overview to a detailed interface, making it an embodied interaction (or natural if you will).
However, attending the notifications is not the only relevant thing we like to do on a social networking platform. Plenty of times I find myself opening facebook or Google+ just to check out what’s going on. Or in case of the hangouts, I open the website just to check out who’s around and try to start a hangout session. The sad thing is that these nice interactions with Google+ are not embodied; you have to go all the way to your stream to realize that there is some action going on, or that people are available to chat or hangout.
But if the Google+ widget can make some of the interactions embodied, how can it support these other two. So, I sat down and sketched some ideas, and I came up with this little add on.
The little flower has two dimensions. The color on its center communicate the activity level in your aggregated stream: a light gray color tells you that nothing has really changed in the last –say– 30 minutes (or form the last time you checked); a bright red color tells you there had been plenty of activity and you should go and check it out. The second dimension is the color of the petals. For each online contact in your friends, or in any circle (configurable), one of the petals will turn blue. That way, when you see a lot of light up petals, you can think of perhaps starting a hangout, and going for a chat!
Having this two pieces of information in the almost pervasive Google bar have the potential to make the Google+ experience more embodied, more natural.