Early in 2012, I started using Google+ after having abandoned all other social media outlets. They just weren’t doing it for me. I didn’t really see a point in connecting with friends I already knew on a network that seemed focus on global domination in the shadiest ways possible. Not that I did a whole lot of research on that point, but that’s the feeling I got and I really didn’t want to stick around to find out.
I’d heard of Google+ back when it was invite-only, and didn’t really pay it much attention. I didn’t have the desire to jump back into the virtual social arena, so I paid it no mind and kept on doing what I was doing. Once it became open to the public, I was introduced to it by my Gmail account, as most everyone is now. It seemed like it was just another way to “complete my profile” on Google, and so I filled in some information and stared at the screen having no idea what I was supposed to do. Few days later I logged in again, took a look around and wondered to myself… “where is everyone?”. I really assumed that this was going to be the Google version of a little blue company, and that I’d have to seek out people I knew.
Which I did. And still nothing happened.
The few acquaintances and friends that had a Google+ account weren’t really using it. Neither was I. Was this some sort of hybrid between a LiveJournal, Twitter and Facebook? I didn’t really understand its purpose at face value except Google decided to use cute names in lieu of other, more standard names for features. And then it struck me, almost like a tube sock full of quarters.
Why don’t I search for things I am interested in?
That’s just what I did. I started to look around for all things Scott: Astronomy, Cosmology, Physics, Galaxies, Stars, Planets, etc. It worked remarkably. Why didn’t this dawn on me before? Google is the empire of search, I should just search for what other people are discussing on the topics I love! This very, very simple act changed my life.
I first found Fraser Cain, pumping out content on Space, Astronomy and Technology, but one thing really caught my eye. You see, there’s this thing called a “Hangout On Air”, maybe you’ve heard of it? I know I hadn’t at the time. Fraser co-hosts AstronomyCast with Dr. Pamela Gay, and they chose to start recording their episodes live in a Google+ Hangout, finding yet another way to reach their audience, almost as if it’s a “in the studio” pass for the listener to be a part of the recording before it’s edited and put onto iTunes. What a brilliant idea.
However, he didn’t stop there. Fraser spent a lot of time networking and talking with people who loved the same things he did, especially astronomy. Early in January, Fraser tried out the Hangout On Air feature with an amateur astronomer from Bucharest, Romania by the name of Sabin Iacob. He’d been playing around with Google+ as well and found a way to connect his telescope to a webcam and stream the view live in a Hangout. It’s absolutely amazing what the curiosity of people can do, which will eventually change the world for so many people. A glorified VOIP conference-calling feature has been re-purposed to a world-wide observatory, with free admission and no lines.
The Virtual Star Party was born and boy was she beautiful.
Over the next month, a few more people with a passion for peeking at the Universe started getting in on this amazing new way of sharing their perspective of the sky. From across the globe, and with many different types of telescopes, cameras, mounts and computers were connected in a way to build a team of people who are just interested in sharing their love of the sky with others. Dozens of people from different time zones, behind different political borders, of various political persuasions, spiritual beliefs, genders, ethnicity, and what have you all join together in awe and wonder of the amazing Cosmos which we all share. The Virtual Star Party was born and boy was she beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that Google decided create a documentary and show it live at their I/O conference this year.
A few months later I was brought on as producer for the Virtual Star Party and started working more with Dr. Pamela Gay through CosmoQuest as well. Hangouts On Air became the preferred mode of engaging with a community curious about the heavens. Weekly Space Hangouts and Science Hours sprung forth to bring in even more information to the public from Google+ and stored on YouTube. Very special events were covered, and through the power of this technology, broadcast live to people from across the world. The transit of the planet Venus across the face of the sun was shared live to thousands of live viewers. Tens of thousands of people were able to be at Jet Propulsion Laboratory with me through a Hangout On Air when the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars. So many amazing things have happened, are happening and will continue to happen through this fantastic medium.
It’s almost been a year since I’ve joined Google+ and my life has been changed forever. I’ve met fascinating people, live-observed a exo-planet move across a star 550 light-years away, had a front row seat to once-in-a-lifetime events and had the opportunity to share it with the world. 2012 has been full of radical changes across social media, let alone “real” life, however I cannot think of any other way social media has changed than giving the world the power to engaged one another with live video content.