What Is Google Ripples?

Google released a bunch of new Google+ features yesterday, including "What's Hot" and Instagram-ish photo filters -- those weren't big surprises. But Google Ripples? We didn't see that one coming. It's weird, it's interesting... but what exactly is it?

Google Ripples is a new graphical component to Google+

When you click the menu arrow in the upper right hand corner of a Google+ post, you're now given the option to "View Ripples". Ripples is a visualisation that charts the chain reaction that occurs when content is shared on Google+. It follows the trajectory of a public post as it is shared from person-to-person -- literally how the post ripples outwards for the user who shared it.

…that charts a post's progression over time...

Google Ripples creates a zoomable, web-like infographic that spirals out from the initial post. Arrows indicate a post's progression, while circles represents users who shared it. The resulting graphic looks a lot like a splash in a pond. Or a, uh, ripple.

... in an animation that gives a sense of scale and speed…

Hit the play button at the bottom of a post's Ripples page, and you can watch the content spread from the initial splash until the present moment. A graph at the bottom of the page charts the frequency of shares over time -- essentially plotting its rise and decay in popularity.

... and shows how influential the users who shared it were…

Larger circles indicate shared posts that influenced more people to repost. Zooming into these circles reveals the sequence of shares.

... which is awfully valuable information to make public...

Social networks have always collected this type of information about users -- it is crucial for how they target you with advertising. Google has a long history of making data public for both moral and pragmatic reasons. Moral because Google says the data belongs to you, pragmatic because Google believes open data spurs profitable innovation.

... but it is only a controlled experiment.

Unlike trend-tracking "What's Hot", Google's not ready to take full responsibility for Ripples yet and is tossing it into the oft-purged "experimental" category. Google wants user feedback, presumably to observe how people use the tool. There's no word on an API, either, so who knows if it'll ever amount to more than a lazy day distraction. Or a chance to compare circle sizes.