What is a hashtag, and how do I follow one?

You may have seen your local news crew or a national television show encourage you to use a particular “hashtag” when tweeting or posting about their stories or shows. Usually they look something like this: #IAMUP which is the hashtag for my favorite local news team here in the Dallas / Fort Worth area.

The word hashtag simply means a tag (metadata) applied to a hash symbol (we call # pound, or the number symbol, but the rest of the world calls it the hash symbol). Metadata is information used to help the organization of information. So the hash tells the database the following information is to help others find this post. The tag is the string of text and numbers you use to help find that information. If everyone uses the same hashtag for a topic, then it is very easy to search for those posts using the “search” feature of your social network or special software such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.

If you’re just getting started with social media and using hashtags, give it a try on Twitter. To use a hashtag on Twitter, simply compose your tweet, append the # symbol followed immediately by the tag text, like #IAMUP. Once you post your tweet, it’s searchable for anyone else interested in the #IAMUP hashtag.

Now composing those tweets and posts are only part of the fun. The real fun is seeing what others have to say! Using the search feature on Twitter, simply type in the hashtag you wish to search for such as #IAMUP. The results will give you a timeline of all of the other Twitter users talking about the same thing!


To keep the conversation going in real time, you might want to check out a program like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite that will allow you to create real-time columns dedicated to seeing those tweets as they happen.


So there you have it, a simple primer on hashtags, how to join the conversation and how to see what’s going on!

*This blog is not affiliated with WFAA or Tegna Media.The use of the #IAMUP hashtag for this post is for demonstration purposes only and is not an endorsement of WFAA, or an endorsement of this blog by WFAA.

11 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years with Marriott International

Today marks my ten year anniversary with Marriott International. On this day, in 2006, I started as a Loss Prevention Officer at the Renaissance Nashville Hotel, under the direction of my first leader and mentor, Hank Dees. Since then, I’ve grown—both personally and in terms of my career—more than I could have ever imagined.

In my several roles with the company, I’ve been challenged, I’ve failed, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned a lot of lessons. Despite these setbacks, I’ve always tried to take what I’ve learned and move forward, so today, I want to share with you a few things I’ve learned on this decade-long journey.

1. Don’t take things for granted.
Nothing in this world is guaranteed. Not your salary, not your pay check, not the number of hours you can work, not the wonderful people you get to work with. Tragedy can strike, the markets can fall, businesses can change and you can find yourself in a very different situation very quickly. Take stock in the things around you that you enjoy and be grateful for them. Be thankful for what you have while you have it, and you’ll appreciate it even more.

2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Sometimes you can learn a lot more from “why did you do that?” than from “you shouldn’t do that.” Experience isn’t gained from success nearly as much as it is earned through failure. When you make a mistake, it’s usually because you were trying something new. As long as you are acting with integrity, learn quickly and make the situation right, there’s a lot of good that can come out of doing something wrong.

3. If it hasn’t been done before, be the first to try.
I’ve noticed that the most successful people in this and other organizations are the people that are willing to go out of the box, try new things and risk failure (playing on the last thing I learned). When I start a new role, or a new project or a new assignment, I always look to see how it’s been done, and see if there is a better way to do it. Embracing this has helped me innovate with the way I do things, bringing more efficiency, happier teams, happier customers and a happier me.

4. Always be flexible.
Some of the best opportunities came from the willingness to be flexible. Whether it was a task force assignment in another city, the acceptance of another project, or more responsibility by working another shift, being flexible opens doors and introduces you to new people. Working second shift? You’re limited to the people you interact with during your time there. Get offered to work firsts or the dreaded thirds? Jump at it while you can, those opportunities will introduce you to new people and help you grow your personal brand.

5. Learn to listen.
As someone full of ideas, listening is something I struggle with. I hope I’m not being too hard on myself, but I also want to be honest so I know I have room to improve. By actively listening, you’re showing people you care. And when listening, always know that there is more than one side of the story, so be sure to listen to as many perspective as you can, you never know what you might learn.

6. Use the golden rule.
If you want people to treat you with respect, you have to be willing to respect them. We all have differences and things we disagree upon, but learning to keep those to yourself and not give into the office chatter is something that makes great leaders great. It’s something that I’m always working on.

7. Travel more.
The irony of working in the travel business is that many of us spend 10 hours a day speaking with and greeting travelers from all around the world, but don’t get the opportunity to travel ourselves. Companies give us personal time off so we can spend them exploring the world and spending time with people we love and care about. If you get 14 days off in a year, you can invest them on a nice long excursion to a foreign place, or break them into 3 or 4 day weekends and explore a dozen different cities each year. Whatever you do, get out and see the world. One of the worst things you can waste is your time.

8. Make work fun.
You don’t get paid because you have fun, you get paid because you’re there to do a job. But, that doesn’t mean that doing your job doesn’t have to be fun. No matter how monotonous your task (folding sheets, checking people in, patrolling the parking lot, or entering information into a database) there’s always an opportunity to make it fun. Sing a song in your head, make a game out of it, challenge yourself with incremental goals, or reward yourself with mini luxuries for your success.

9. Never say, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
One of the easiest traps to fall into is the trap of accepting the status quo. “Well, we’ve always done it this way,” is an easy way for someone to ignore the possibilities of improvement and to focus on other things. Always take an opportunity to learn why things are the way they are, and to see if there’s a better way of doing them. You could help the company save money, better serve its customers, or make its associates happier—all of which are big wins!

10. Ask people about their passion.
Many of us work to support our families and our lifestyles. We use the money we make and our time away from work in many different ways, and I think it’s so fascinating to learn about the interests and passions of others. You might be sitting next to a classical guitar virtuoso, across from a landscape oil painter or down the row from a budding entrepreneur. These talents and passions are what make us so unique in our lives away from the office, so why not be curious and celebrate them when we’re together in the office? It will give you something to talk about and show people that you care. You’ll be surprised what you learn, and surprised by how few people even bother to ask, “What’s your passion?”

11. Share what you know.
If you think hogging information will help you keep your job, good for you. Me? I like to share. Whether it’s the faster way to do something, a keyboard shortcut I learned, intelligence about an account, or exciting news about a fellow associate, I always take the opportunity to share. Through this, you’re demonstrating that you care about the people you share with, you’re helping to make their day/task/job easier and you’re helping to bring the organization further. As my Director of IT just reminded me yesterday, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Looking back.
I’m so lucky to have had the support of my family, my wife and so many talented leaders and co-workers that trusted me, took a chance and let me “do my thing.” There’s no way I could mention them all without forgetting a few, so I won’t even try. But to all of those that have helped me grow as a person, a friend, and an associate: thank you. Your investment of time, patience, advice and opportunities is what has helped me continue to move forward.

How a TV Chef Changed My Entire Saturday

Saturday morning, I woke up early.

My wife had to tend to a client at her office and I knew I had a lot of office work and school work to complete along with a long to do list of chores. My plan for the morning was to shower, grab some breakfast somewhere and crank out some work on my laptop. However, as I was getting ready to leave the house, the morning news caught my attention.

There was a morning show chef, Stacy Fawcett, who was cooking up a breakfast that caught my attention: Italian baked eggs. As she lined up the ingredients, I realized that I had almost everything the recipe called for, all of which was nearing its expiration: the last of the week’s spinach, a few eggs, a can of crushed tomatoes nearing its expiration and a stray pair of cheese slices.

From the television, I darted into the kitchen where I donned a robe, took to the stove and emulated Chef Fawcett’s dish to the best of my ability. The results were amazing, but I didn’t stop there.


So full of energy, creativity and inspiration, I wanted to share with the world of social media how awesome the dish was, how easy it was to make and how a local morning television show could really shape up the rest of my day. But, knowing me, a still image wouldn’t do the trick, I needed something more.

Over the last few weeks, my wife keeps showing me these animated GIF recipes which show how easy it is to make the referenced dish. I always wondered how difficult it would be to make one of these, so as I was cooking this morning, I paused to photograph each step with my phone’s camera. The images weren’t the best, but the idea was there.

Now how would I stitch all of these together? Well, that’s something I din’t know. So, I did what any self-respecting do-it-yourselfer would do, and I took to Google. It’s amazing how many people have created content teaching others how to do things, just out of the kindness of their heart (or to make ad revenue from the page impressions…but either way, it’s out there).

After finding an article on how to make an animated GIF in Photoshop, I downloaded my images from Google Photos, stitched them together with some text and created the instructions below. It’s not something you’ll likely see on Food & Wine anytime soon, but it was fun putting it together. I learned something new, I exercised my creative passion and I feel energized to attack the rest of the weekend knowing that I created something that I couldn’t create before.

There’s something to be said about learning a skill or technique, applying it and sharing the results with the world in real time that is so satisfying.

By day, we’re bound by the things we do to make a living. In my observations, it isn’t feasible for all of us to profit from our passions and maintain our current lifestyles. I caution you about being defined by what you do for a living, and instead live for what you’re passionate about. We all need a vocation of some sort to let us enjoy the things we are passionate about, but makes those passions your life and let people see you for who you are and what you love doing.


So, with that, I saved the money on eating breakfast out. I was able to use a few things in my cupboard before throwing them away. I was able to burn some creative calories. I cleaned the kitchen, did all of the dishes and gave myself the inertia I need to plow through the rest of the day.

Inspiration is a powerful thing.

Christmas on Main Street

Last night I ventured into downtown Grapevine to grab a bite to eat. As I ventured down to the restaurant, I found that all of the bars and tables were filled. But much to my delight, when I arrived there was also photo walk in progress. Because the restaurants were so packed with tourists, I just returned to my car, grabbed my camera and walked around snapping photos for an hour. It was such a relaxing evening.

How Creating Stuff Makes You Grow


Motivation is driven by purpose and we find purpose in the things that bring us joy. One of the things that gives us great joy is the pursuit of mastery. Many of us (hopefully all of us) spend some portion of our lives trying to improve our abilities. Whether its to become the best chef, crank out a novel or learn to play that Eddie Van Halen Eruption guitar solo, we all have something or some things that we are constantly working to become better at.

Each time you seek to improve whatever it is you’re mastering, you learn something new. That knowledge gives you confidence and that confidence gives you the boost you need to take your talent to the next level.

When you leave your comfort zone of doing what you’ve always done and seek out to do something just a bit new or something you’ve never tried before, you broaden your horizons, face new challenges and learn new ways to overcome them.

My passion for electronic media started in my teenage years and for the last 15 years I have been gradually increasing my knowledge and understanding by creating stuff. Whether a holiday podcast, a few tutorial videos on YouTube, a new blog or a live interview show, I’m always trying to find new projects that challenge me to do things in new ways that I haven’t tried before. Each one of these attempts, despite its success or failure always widens my horizon, opens a new door and renews my sense of adventure, curiosity and yearning to become better.

Now, I’m probably not the next Stephen Spielberg, but you can bet your ass I’m going to take my camera out every couple of weekends and try to do something I’ve never done before. It may not be new to everyone, but it’s new to me, and my discovery of those techniques help me to become a better photographer, videographer and creator.

You don’t need a million YouTube followers to make a video. You don’t need 10,000 blog subscribers to write a post and you don’t need an art gallery to share your photography. As you become better, those things will come, if that’s what you truly want to happen. Until then, make stuff, share it with the world and watch yourself grow.


A Veterans Day Tribute

Once a year, we get the very unique opportunity to salute those that serve our country. When we think of veterans, we might think of those that fought in wars many decades ago, or those who recently returned from deployment. Sometimes we fail to realize how many people around us have served our country honorably. These individuals may be humble, unassuming and even hesitant to consider themselves veterans, but they have selflessly served our country, and for that we should be grateful.

Today, as a special treat to my co-workers, I have been asked to share the stories of two people that work closely with everyone in our office. Here are the stories of Sandra Campbell and Angela Lockhart, adapted for audio:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photographs courtesy of Sandra Campbell and Angela Lockhart.

Back to School

Over the holidays, after a serious discussion with my wife, I decided it was time to go back to school. After finishing high school, I went to The University of Tennessee at Knoxville to study Journalism and Electronic Media. At the time, there were so many things going on with our economy, the Internet and the evolution of citizen journalism that the media industry was headed for big change.

When I was in high school and college, I had a love for technology (which I still do today) and I focused on starting a career with a now-defunct cable television network called TechTV (originally ZDTV). The network married exactly what I loved doing: exploring new technology, sharing stories and broadcasting information.

In middle school and high school, I was quite a geek. At home I had an “office” outfitted with multiple computers, a television, a big VHS-camcorder, a “Hi 8” camcorder and containers of random cables, components and connectors. I loved every aspect of what I was doing. I loved the technical part involving switchers and sound boards and cables and VCRs. I loved the idea of creating scripts which I read through my homemade teleprompter. I even loved editing the footage to include realistic “lower third” graphics and background music.

Looking back, the whole theatre of producing was more important than the content I was creating. Sure, very few people would see the videos later uploaded to YouTube, and it was unlikely anyone would find my VHS collection of computer “how to videos,” but with each new project I completed, I was another step closer towards imitating what I was seeing on the television. This education of trial and error brought me joy and at sometimes frustration.

Through my endeavors, I found myself appearing on ZDTV/TechTV to ask questions about hard drives and CD-ROMs. During this evolution of webcams and how they were used by cable television, I even made a few appearances on MSNBC. One of the most memorable was when I was 13 and speaking about the antitrust suit against Microsoft when Jon Gibson ended my segment by saying, “I’m reminded of Art Linkletter who said, ‘kids say the darnedest things.'”

Those are memories that I will have forever and part of the reason that I became so interested in journalism, television and digital media.

So why didn’t I stick with it? It came down to one thing: money.

I watched several upperclassmen graduate and start their careers as journalists. They would publish stories above the fold in city papers and investigate some truly interesting topics and stories, but at the end of the day their paycheck just didn’t seem like enough to me.

Call me materialistic, call me focused on the wrong thing, but what I wanted out of my career wasn’t strictly to follow my passion or to find a way to keep up with the Joneses, I wanted something that I could do that would provide financial security, upward mobility and the opportunity to work in different places.

Ultimately, and serendipitously, I found this with my first “real” job: working in a hotel for one of the greatest hotel companies in the world.

Looking back on my decision to quit journalism school, I am very grateful. If I had gone down that road, I would have very likely disappointed myself. The network that I had my sights on has since closed up shop. The number of positions available at many of the other places were limited and the pay was not what I could sustain a comfortable living with.

On the other hand, my career in hotels has provided me the opportunity to meet a multitude of people (including my wife), travel around the country and work in very unique roles that I never would have considered when I was in college. The industry that I fell into provides so many unique and interesting opportunities, that I sometimes suffer from choice overload and can’t seem to figure out what to do next.

Now that I am enjoying a comfortable living, I am ready to move my career forward. However, in order to do that, I need to get a piece of paper that tells the world I committed to something, satisfied all of the requirements and proved my ability and knowledge. Luckily, I am in a time and place where I can now appreciate the process of learning, the information I’m gaining and the trajectory it will put me on when I am complete.

As someone that took classes in a traditional brick and mortar institution that carried a lot of history, I can tell you that learning online through a university like the one that I have chosen is absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I have the ability to study when I want, to read what I want, to find a multitude of resources outside of those provided (thanks to the Internet) and most importantly, the ability to set my own pace and learn whatever way I want. This freedom has made the experience not an obligation, but an opportunity.

When you look at something as an opportunity, your entire perspective changes. Instead of worrying, “what class am I going to have to take next?” I’m thinking, “wow, I could really use this if I ever want to become a ________,” or “I wonder how I can use this to help me _____.” Knowledge is power and I’m glad I’m finally wise enough to take the time to absorb as much of it as I can.

Looking back on this post, I realize it has been more of a stream of consciousness than a focused article or summary. However, this is the story (well some very small parts) of what led me away from my passion to what I’m doing now. Some of you reading this might wonder, “why did you throw away your passion and do something you weren’t passionate about?” Don’t worry, I didn’t throw my passion away. In fact, as you can see from some of the posts on this blog, it is more alive than it has ever been.

I believe in something I call the 80/20 rule. I believe 80% of your energy should be invested in your career, and that your career (unless you are extremely lucky) may not always align with your passion. 20% of your energy should be reserved for what you are passionate about, and it doesn’t have to be one thing. For example, I’m passionate about cooking, cocktails, technology, writing, photography, creating videos and sharing stories. Although my primary job doesn’t exploit most of these talents and skills, by exercising them with 20% of my energy, I can always pursue mastery and look forward to them. My job may cause stress, difficult decisions and a lot of hard work, but my passion will always remain something that I can look forward to at the end of the day as something that brings me pleasure, purpose and fulfillment.

With a full time job, which takes up 80% of my time, I had to make the decision to make my education part of my passion, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to fit it into my life. When getting better at something brings you excitement, the work that it takes to get better becomes exciting itself. Telling myself that my education is not just a “step I need to take,” but rather an opportunity to move forward and master something makes it so much more valuable than a piece of paper on the wall.

Like cooking, flying drones, wearing a silly head-mounted computer for a year and traveling, learning is just another one of those things that I can call a passion. Sure, it would have been nice to be passionate about it before. Regardless if I wasn’t then, I am now and that’s all that matters.

Flying My First Drone

[metaslider id=2611]

For my 30th birthday, my parents decided to tap into the joy of childhood by purchasing me something that has been nothing but pure fun: my first drone.

This Chinese quadcopter packs a ton of technology into an incredibly small package at an alarmingly reasonable price. This Hubsan x4 Quadcopter includes a 480p digital video camera, 6-axis control and enough battery power for approximately 7 minutes of flight on each charge. The included wireless controller offers a “Playstation-esque” feel but offers superb control of the aircraft.

It is absolutely amazing to me that this aircraft, which weighs 0.98 oz (28g), can pack a payload of 16GB of memory. The pace in which technology has improved in my short lifetime is unbelievable. When I was 10 years old, it would take a shoulder-mounted VHS camcorder and a stack of VHS tapes to record this much video.

Today, while my wife and her friend took our dog to the park, I decided to take to the skies for my first outdoor flight session. Living in Dallas, wind is always an issue, so today my focus was on controlling the aircraft under steady winds, and I must say that it takes an incredible amount of focus just to keep the drone aloft.

With about 45 minutes of flying time under some moderate wind conditions I’m definitely glad that I am starting with such a small and inexpensive aircraft. This drone has taken a beating. Falling from 100 ft in the sky to the ground with not even a bent prop, this drone is prefect for the curious or novice pilot (like me).

If you’re curious about the world of unmanned aircraft and want to try your hand at piloting a drone, definitely start small, but with a high quality aircraft. Get used to adjusting the trim, calibrating the gimbals and keeping the aircraft oriented with your controls. Try to practice “hovering” and keeping the aircraft as steady as possible before you learn to zip it across the sky.

As you learn, you will undoubtedly “over-control” as you panic when the aircraft does the opposite of what you intend. These over corrections will likely cause for an abrupt crash landing making you glad you decided to start the hobby with an inexpensive aircraft.

After a few more months of mastering this quadcopter, I think I might be interested in investing in a more sturdy aircraft that will be less affected by the wind with a sharper camera and more precise controls. Until then, I’m going to work on getting my unmanned wings and snagging some great grainy video in the process.

Next time you’re bored, go fly a kite drone. It’s great to feel like a kid again.

Jump Starting My Electric Car

Just like your conventional internal combustion engine (ICE), my electric car has a standard 12V car battery that powers electronics when the main power supply is deactivated. Also like your car, this battery is susceptible to failure, as it proved to me on a cold Sunday morning.

As I was getting ready to run an errand on Superbowl Sunday, I was stunned when I went to unlock the door on my Nissan LEAF and nothing happened. I tried pressing the buttons on the key fob as well as the proximity sensor on the on the door handle. Nothing.

I pulled the conventional key out of the key fob and assumed that the key fob had a low battery. After sitting down in the driver’s seat, I pressed the power button. Nothing. No startup sound, no flutter of lights, no “No Key” warning light flashing on the dash. Complete silence.

I wondered if the car may have somehow discharged in the one day that I didn’t drive it, so I tried to release the charge port lid and realized that there was no way to release the lid without power to the vehicle. Sounds crazy, right?

After researching multiple web forums, I came to an alarming solution: I needed to jump start my electric car.

How a car with 24kWh of power packed under its chasis could not power its own on-board computer was beyond me. That 12V “accessory” battery under the hood was the only thing preventing me from getting on my way. After a short call to the roadside assistance, a technician was able to come and give me a “jump” to provide enough power to the 12V battery to initiate the on-board computer and bring the car “online.”

After the jump, I drove the car around to recharge the 12V battery for twenty minutes or so, hoping that the drive would put enough energy back onto the 12V to allow for an easy departure to work the next morning. Luckily, this morning when I left the house the car started with absolutely no problem.

I brought the car to the dealership after work and learned that the only certified LEAF technician that they have had called off for the day, so right now I am waiting for one of their ICE technicians to check the 12V battery, which I explained to to the service adviser, is no different from any other conventional car battery.

Even with the most sophisticated technology, there is always an Achilles’s heel. For your 4G smartphone, it might be the strength of your cell signal, or for your tablet it might be the absence of a WiFi connection. In my case, a completely battery powered car, fully charged with 24kWh of electricity couldn’t start, simply because of a failed 12V battery…

Vic Gundotra Visits Dallas to Talk Google+

Yesterday afternoon, I noticed a couple of direct messages through the Hangouts app on my Samsung Galaxy S III. I’ve been running Cyanogen Mod 11 for a while and absolutely love the pure Android experience, despite the few programming bugs. It’s amazing that software enables you to get so much out of hardware that already seems antiquated.

The messages were from two good friends of mine, Matthew Rappaport and Robert Anderson. They were both asking me if I was going to see Vic that night. I had no idea what they were talking about. Curious, I went to my computer and noticed that I had been mentioned at least a dozen times in various posts about Vic Gundotra‘s upcoming visit to Dallas. Immediately, I informed my fiance that we would have to adjust our plans for the evening.

My agenda for that day was nothing short of Herculean. In 8 hours time I would receive all of my goods that had been moved from Nashville, register my car, have my apartment re-keyed, have the car taken to the dealership to have the front plate mounted (I was missing the appropriate bracket), obtain a driver’s license and make it downtown by 5 o’clock for a meeting with someone who I very much admire.

How I was able to make it to this discussion about Google+ was almost as exciting as the discussion itself. In fact, most of the things that got me there are things that we take for granted.

First of all, without Google Hangouts, I probably wouldn’t have been made aware in sufficient time that I had the opportunity to meet with Vic and a wonderful group Google+ evangelists in the area. Then again, if it weren’t for the two separate public video Hangout calls that led me to meet Matthew Rappaport and Robert Anderson, I wouldn’t have received those messages to begin with.

Getting back to my agenda for the day, I’m new to the area, so where I would need to go to accomplish the day’s tasks was all new to me. Luckily, through the help of Google, I was able to find the appropriate websites for the Tarrant County Tax Assessor, the Nissan of Texas Grapevine dealership and a list of Department of Motor Vehicle locations in my area. Using Google Maps, I was able to get a rough idea of where I would be going and what timing would be necessary to successfully orchestrate everything. Brittani and I are both professional meeting planners, so we’re pretty savvy at scheduling a “full day.”

Once I left the house, I relied on navigation from Google Maps. Apart from the mess of construction on the connector, Google was able to get me everywhere I needed to go in time to make it back to the house for the apartment to be re-keyed. I knew it was the apartment complex calling me because I had them stored in my GMail contacts.

Like clockwork, the truck with all of my belongings appeared in the driveway. After unloading everything, I used the Google Drive app on my phone to quickly scan the paperwork from the driver. As I was unpacking boxes, I used the camera on my Android phone to upload pictures of damaged boxes to Google+ Photos so I could later send them to the moving company for compensation in the case that any of the contents were damaged. (Luckily, no problems so far.)


Brittani arrived while I was unpacking and we quickly changed and got ready to leave. As we were getting ready, I used Google Maps on my phone to estimate the travel time to the DMV and then to the Magnolia hotel downtown where I would meet Vic. Brittani was very concerned that we didn’t have all the paperwork needed to obtain our licenses (and rightly so). It turns out that you need am armful of documents to get a driver’s license in the state of Texas.

Once we made it to the DMV, I assured Brittani that we had plenty of time to get through the process and that we would make it downtown with time to spare. (Was I fooling myself? Did we really have time to get both of our driver’s licenses and make it downtown in under two hours?)

Almost immediately after we were done filling out our paperwork, our numbers were called, 395 and 396. We each enthusiastically proceeded to our assigned desks to begin the process. As I handed the stack of paperwork to the clerk, she started sorting through everything and nodded with approval as she moved each document to the side. “Wait, this one is expired,” she said.

I panicked. What could it be? It turns out, of the registration papers that I keep in my car, I had handed her the old Proof of Insurance and not the new one. With a sigh of relief, I handed her the updated form that I had in the envelope of other papers. “Okay, it looks like we have everything but your social security card,” she said.

“I need my social security card and my birth certificate?” Surely my birth certificate along with my old driver’s license from Tennessee would be ample proof that I was who I claimed to be. Clearly not the case in the state of Texas.

“You’ll need to either provide your social security card or your most recent W2 in order to get your license,” she clarified.

My stomach sank. I didn’t have my social security card with me and my fiance would be devastated if I didn’t get my license taken care of that day. Immediately, a light bulb turned on in my head. My W2, it’s on Google Drive, I could e-mail it to her!

“No, it couldn’t be that simple,” I told myself. “Would I be able to e-mail it to you?” I asked.

“You may, but I’m not going to wait a half an hour.” Faster than a speeding bullet, I whipped my Android out of my pocket, tapped on the Google folder, the Drive logo and then the search window. Right as I keyed in W and the number 2, my most recent W2 appeared. I quickly opened it to ensure it was what I was looking for. I tapped my phone twice to share the document through GMail as the clerk slipped a piece of paper across the counter with her e-mail address. Confirming each letter aloud as I typed it into my phone, I tapped the send arrow and held my phone in the air as I clung on to the one bar of 3G service I had with every hope. For two seconds there was silence. I panicked. Did I not have enough signal? Was the attachment too large? Would I have to come back another day?”

“Got it!” She proclaimed as the laser printer started to roar.

Triumph! Google Drive had saved the day.

The Meeting

After we both received our temporary licenses, we got into the car and proceeded to the Magnolia hotel in downtown Dallas. Neither of us had been there before, so we relied once again on the navigation of Google Maps. Within 30 minutes, just as Google had predicted, Brittani and I arrived at the hotel and valeted my car.

As I was getting out of the car I donned my sport coat and Google Glass and proceeded to the second floor where we quickly spotted the bar. Brittani suggested I try one of the local brews, Fireman’s #4 from the Real Ale Brewing Company. As the bartender exchanged my credit card for the beer, I noticed a couple of lanky fellows sitting in a dark corner on the other side of the railing wearing Google Glass. I handed Brittani her glass of Pinot Noir (Meiomi if you must know) and we proceeded to the table in the dimly lit corner.

Around the table were eight or so chairs. Sitting in the back corner was a female wearing Google Glass Cotton (the white model) and a man in his 40’s wearing a business suit. Around the table were a few more casually dressed people. We all shook hands and made introductions. With our mutual excitement for meeting Vic, I doubt many of us remember each others’ names. The introductions almost seemed as though they were an obligation or formality.

During the time leading up to Vic’s entrance, my phone had been vibrating constantly. People that knew I was in Dallas wanted me to ask questions on their behalf and “dial them in” to the conversation. One of the updates I noticed was from Vic, on his previous night’s post, indicating that he was heading up the stairs.

As Vic walked towards the corner, everyone immediately stood up from the table, very eager to greet him. Vic made his way around the group (probably about 12-15 at this point) and shook hands with everyone there. I introduced myself simply as Peter to see if he would recognize me. He responded by saying “Nice Glasses!” I then introduced him to my fiance before we both sat down.

In meeting Vic in person, I noticed several things. He is extremely polished, well-mannered, sincere and doesn’t look like he carries an ounce of stress with him. How is it possible for someone to carry such an important position to seem so cool, calm and relaxed, I wondered.

After a few more handshakes, Vic found an empty seat at the table, four seats down and almost directly across from me. He started off by thanking everyone in the group for coming to spend time with him and thanked us all for our adoption and continued use of the Google+ platform. He seemed genuine in every word he said. Without delay, he explained that his reason to meet with us was to learn as much as he could and offer answers to any question we might have.

The Questions

Vic opened the discussion to questions. The first to ask were the well dressed man and woman sitting to his right. They introduced themselves as a newscaster and meteorologist for the local CBS radio and television affiliates. They were asking how Google was going to help newscasters and the press with the use of the platform now that they have begun to adopt it.

A few local technology professionals asked questions about API-integration, multiple-page management and the absence of true analytics for the social platform.

There was a high school student that stated that he felt like he was the only one of his peers that felt like he used the network and wondered when Google would make the push to encourage his friends to adopt the use of Google+.

I asked Vic how Google was going to use user signals to improve the home stream algorithm to make browsing Google+ a more personalized experience.

Questions and conversation arose about the future improvement of the network in terms of nearby communication, circle management and overall improvement of Hangouts.

There was a question of “recommended users” and how Google is working to provide better suggestions for people you already know.

After almost every question, Vic tactfully summarized the inquiry and responded with (in most cases) “we hear you” and we’re doing X to make Y better.

The Conversation

As the first questions started to roll, I removed Google Glass from my face and set it on the table. I removed my phone from my pocket, silenced it and put it face down on the table. I didn’t want to document everything that was said. I didn’t want to try to get a video of the entire conversation and I certainly didn’t want to “live tweet” the event. I wanted to immerse myself. I wanted to be there.

(Unfortunately, I can’t give you any sound bites. I can’t directly quote Vic on anything he said because I wasn’t writing it down with pen and paper. I was living the moment and didn’t want to miss out on the experience.)

During the talk, Vic eluded to something very important, Google+ is more than what it appears on the surface. Google+ is helping to make Google better.

Now think about that for a minute. Normally you would think that Google and its other products would make Google+ better, but when you really think about it, the social interaction that you carry out through Hangouts and Google+ is incredibly useful in improving your traditional and predicative search experience.

Google is doing some incredible things in making our lives easier and connecting us with one another. My example of how I got to the Magnolia hotel would not have been possible without the magic of Google and its incredibly diverse teams.

Our Relationships

According to Vic, Google has been doing a research in what we want to see from whom and when we want to see it. He pooled the group and asked us if we wanted to see our friends checking in at Chipotle with a selfie (he must have been following my stream that day as I stopped there for lunch and checked in on Google+). The group shook their head and said things like, “of course not!”

“That’s what we thought,” he said. “It turns out you do like seeing stuff like that.” (Keep in mind, I’m roughly paraphrasing.)

Through their research, Vic unveiled that Google was trying to discover what people really like to see in their streams and when they like to see it. He addressed the concerns of “stale” posts appearing at the top of people’s streams by explaining that they’re there because people don’t want to miss them. Consciously, we might find them out of place, but subconsciously, we really want to know what is going on with those people that Google ranks closest to us.

So how does Google determine who is closest to us? Vic explained a lot of “signals” that Google uses to determine who we really care about and who we are most inclined to interact with. That’s why you might see certain people at the top of your stream more often, or at the top of your circles when you go to manage them.

Google is using a lot more signals and gaining a lot more data as more and more people use the network and use it more often to help improve those rankings and offer a much more personalized and intimate experience.

Moving Forward

Expect a lot of change coming soon. From improved circle management, to less confusing ways to share and even more rich features that users have been asking for over the last few years.

I asked about threaded comments and Vic assured that they were on the way, but as part of a completely improved discussion system. It’s hard to imagine what that would look like, but I could hypothesize something like YouTube’s new comment system coming to Google+. Imagine a new subthread in the original post for each share much in the way that comments work on Blogger and YouTube. My guess is that–or something similar–is coming to Google+ soon.

There will be improvements in “local sharing.” Vic hinted that we might soon be able to use features in our phone that have been laying dormant to start sharing information with those around us.

Ever leave a party and wonder how you could thank everyone for coming, whether they RSVPed or not? Currently, there’s no easy way to do that, but Google+ will soon have a solution that will make it effortless.

The best thing to come? Analytics. Soon pages and profiles will be able to see who and what is driving interaction to their accounts. I imagine this data is going to be extremely rich and much more useful than anything we have seen from third party developers.

Another thing Vic promised was better spam filtration. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this one, but Vic explained some of the signals that Google uses to determine who is likely to be a “low quality account” and does its best to filter those from bothering you with notifications and unwanted communication.

On the whole, Google+ is about to offer users a much more intuitive, seamless product that is going to work hand-in-hand with other Google products than it ever did before.

Tacking & Tachometers

Throughout the conversation, there were a few questions along the lines of “Why hasn’t Google _____ or ______.” Vic responded to those in sum by explaining a sailing technique called tacking. In tacking, the sailor “tacks” the boat by steering its bow through the wind so the direction that the wind blows changes from one side of the boat to the other. The maneuver helps the sailor to take advantage of the wind and get the boat to its destination with great speed in a zig-zag fashion.

Vic explained that in order for Google+ to succeed, it needs to continuously change its course and focus to ensure that it is covering ground in the fastest way possible. Because the Google+ has limited resources, instead of spreading them thinly, they work in a concentrated effort to overcome large obstacles together. This technique of tacking enables Google to stay ahead of the curve. The only downside to the strategy, is that not everything can be developed simultaneously. It takes a great deal of time and effort to make the smallest change to the platform because of the considerations that must be taken every time. Suggestions that seem simple to us may be quite complicated in execution.

Right as the conversation was wrapping up, someone asked Vic about the watch on his wrist. Personally, I was curious to see if he had a Pebble, Sony Smartwatch or Galaxy Gear, instead, he tugged back on the sleeve of his jacket and unveiled a beautiful and unique timepiece. This watch was not smart in terms of its Wifi connection, LCD display or processor. It was smart in terms of its design, its rarity, and the incredible story behind it.

“This is a very personal story, but I want to share it with you,” he began.

It was a wonderful story, and it showed how vulnerable Vic felt during the launch of the product that we have come to love. I would share it with you, but some stories are just best left to be told in person.

What to Expect

I would imagine that this year’s Google I/O will be more about the human element than it ever has been before. Hangouts was recently the number one app in the iOS App Store, Google now offers the most immersive and intuitive platform to store unlimited photos and the way that those photos and videos can tell stories will be taken to an entirely new level.

We’re all story tellers, and I’m betting that this platform will soon help us become better at discovering, sharing and telling our unique and personal tales.