What Is Google+?
Google+ is the search giant’s latest attempt to create a social network that rivals Facebook. Google launched Google+ on June 28, 2011 with a private beta. The project was led by Vic Gundotra, Google’s SVP of social.
The social network is a collection of different social products. These features include Stream (a newsfeed), Sparks (a recommendation engine), Hangouts (a video chat service), Huddle (a group texting service), Circles (a friend management service) and Photos. I explain all of these features later in this guide. More features such as Games and Questions are expected to launch in the near future.
This guide specifically targets the Google+ Early Adopters, Bloggers, Social Media Enthusiasts, Photographers and All Users with a following of 1k+. However, other users are more than welcome to read through, and provide feedback.
Google+ isn’t Google’s first shot at dominating the social space. It has a long history in social media, including Orkut and its biggest success in social, YouTube. However, it’s had two very big flops in social: Google Wave and Google Buzz.
At the moment, you need to be sent an invite by a friend to join Google+. While this restriction will eventually be lifted, it’s best if you ask a friend to send an invite to your Gmail account. You must use a Gmail account to sign up for Google+. Google Apps accounts are currently not supported, though the search giant plans to add support for Google Apps email accounts in the near future.
Once you accept your invite, you are taken to a page where you are asked to create your public Google Profile. Fill in information like your name and your birthday, and you are taken to Google+. If you have already filled out a Google+ Profile in the past, you skip this step and are taken to Google+.
Google+ User Profile:
Once you have your Google+ account set up, the first thing you should do is fill in your user profile. If you’ve already created a Google Profile before, that data will automatically be imported to your Google+ Profile — in fact, your Google+ Profile replaces it.
When you first join Google+, it will ask you to enter a few key details, such as your tagline (a brief description of yourself), your employment and your education. It will also ask you to choose a profile photo. Once you set these details, you will have the opportunity to populate your profile with a myriad of other profile details. These include “Introduction,” “Bragging rights,” “Occupation,” “Places lived,” “Relationship,” “Looking for,” “Other names,” “Nickname” and “Search visibility.” On the right-hand side, you have the opportunity to add links that relate to yourself. Most users add a personal website or blog, as well as their Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.
Your profile also displays who is in your circles, and who has added you to their circles. You can change the privacy settings on the left-hand side of your profile to make this data public or private.
Understanding Circles is essential to mastering Google+. The search giant has opted not to let you simply “friend” your friends, like you do on Facebook, or “follow” different people as you would on Twitter. Instead, Google+ gives you more control over who sees your content.
Circles allows users to drag-and-drop their friends into different friend groups, which categorizes them. This allows you to put your mom in your “Family” circle, your boss in your “Business” circle and your best friend from college in your “Friends” circle. You can create as many circles as you’d like, though making too many becomes cumbersome and diminishes the usefulness of Circles.
To add friends to a circle, all you have to do is drag-and-drop them into the appropriate circle. You can add friends into as many circles as you want. You can also select multiple friends and drag them into a circle. It initially suggests friends based on who’s in your Google Contacts, but it also lets you find friends by importing your address book from Yahoo!, Hotmail or your desktop. Removing friends from a circle is simple as well: just drag-and-drop from in the circle to outside the circle.
Clicking on a circle gives you more granular control over adding and removing people. You can also rename your circle, write a short description about it, view the stream for your circle, open your circle in a tab and delete your circle.
More importantly, managing circles is also a matter of etiquette. Even though people are following you, that does not necessarily mean they’re interested in all the things you’re posting and would rather not have you clogging their stream. However, they’re still interested in some of the information you share relevant to their interest. Therefore, I would suggest creating circles meant purely for interest-based sharing. For example: Mobiles, Movies, Books, Music. Then poll your readers; let them know that you have created the above-mentioned circles and will be posting to them accordingly. In response, they should let you know which circles they want to be a part of based on their interests. Afterwards, add them to your interest-based sharing circles accordingly.
Stream: Sharing Content
Facebook users will instantly get the hang of Google+ Stream — it’s just a newsfeed of the latest content shared by your circles. This content can be anything from a status update to a photo.
There are a few differences between the Google+ Stream and the Facebook News Feed. Posts by your friends move back to the top based on which post has the most recent comment, though eventually older posts are eventually buried in the stream. Instead of “liking” a post, you can “+1″ a post — this is part of Google’s push for the +1 Button. You can also share posts with your circles or mute a post if it’s clogging up your stream.
Updating your status is a snap — all you need to do is type some content in the “Share” box at the top of your stream and choose who to share it with. You can share it with the public (all of your followers) or just share it with certain circles. In addition to text, you can share photos, videos, links and your location. Like Facebook, Google+ automatically detects the content of the links you share and allows you to choose a thumbnail from that link.
A brilliant aspect of google+ is the ability to format your posts. And yet it is so under-used. When you’re posting something, take the time to format your text and lay it out in an aesthetic way. This will make your posts more readable, presentable and will definitely attract more attention. A well formatted post stands out in the stream. Furthermore, add helpful text so people can give one look at your post and tell what it’s about.
Don’t just post your own content. Interact with other users on the network. Only then will you become social on this network. Go through your stream. Comment on other people’s posts. Discuss. That “Incoming” circles stream is there for a reason. It is most definitely not to block out people that have followed you. You are not the only one sharing interesting content on Google+. Therefore, see what the users are posting and provide feedback to them for it. This will also earn you more respect on the network and people will look forward to having you online.
Stumped about what to share first on Google+? Want to find more stuff about your favorite animal or band? Google has you covered with Sparks, a content recommendation engine that finds the most relevant and interesting articles and videos on almost any subject you can imagine. The Spark for Android, for example, contains links and thumbnails from articles about recent Android news.
Google doesn’t publish how it determines which content is the most relevant, but we imagine it uses signals from search, Google News, Google+ and others to determine which content is the most relevant algorithmically.
Google provides a list of suggested topics, but you can type in almost any topic that suits your fancy. Some sparks have more content than others, though. You can also “pin” your favorite sparks to your left-hand navigation for easy access at any time. Sparks also lets you directly share the content you find with your circles.
Some sparks that I’m using so far are: Android, The Dark Knight Rises, Movies, Google+, WTF, Samsung Galaxy S II, etc. If you have more terms for Sparks, please do leave a comment and I will add them here.
Google+ Hangouts may be the social network’s killer feature. It’s a novel twist on the traditional group video chat, and it’s definitely received a positive reaction from the Google+ community.
Here’s how it works: You click on the “Start a hangout” button on the right-hand menu of the Stream. Clicking it opens up a chat window where you can check your mic and choose who will be able to join the hangout (either by inviting individuals or sharing it with your circles). Once the hangout is live, your friends will see the hangout prompt in their stream. They can then join the hangout until a maximum of ten people have joined.
Once you’re in a hangout, you will notice a couple of things. First, you will notice that the video switches from person to person. This is based on who is talking into the microphone. You can hover over a person’s video feed and either report them for abuse or “mute” them. Muting someone will mute them for everybody in the hangout, at least until he or she unmutes his or her mic. Users can also mute their video if they wish.
Google+ Hangouts also comes with a group text chat feature (similar to Google Talk). Another cool feature of Hangouts is that users can jointly watch a YouTube video. Settings lets you adjust the mic, camera and other video settings.
Google+ comes with a fully-built photo albums product, powered by the technology behind Picasa (also owned by Google).
Clicking on the Photos tab on the top of your Google+ page will display recent photos uploaded by your friends, as well as how many comments each photo has received. Clicking on any of these photos brings up a photo slideshow with the most recent comments on the right-hand side and photos from your other friends on the bottom.
Another section of Photos lets you check out photos in which you’ve been tagged. This is also the area where you can approve or reject photo tags. No photo will be tagged with your name until you approve it.
The most important feature of Photos, though, is the ability to upload photos and create albums. By clicking the giant “Upload New Photos” button at the top right, you can create a photo album by simply dragging and dropping photos into your browser. Once created, you can share that album with your circles, with individual friends or with the public. Albums remain private until you share them.
Once uploaded, you have the ability to edit your photos right from Google+. The browser-based editor includes simple features such as cross processing, auto contrast and black-and-white effects. You can also rotate the image or delete it entirely.
Huddle is basically a “group chat”, allows you to chat with several people at once over your mobile. Basically text messaging on steroids. But as it stand I STILL haven’t been able to figure out how to “huddle” as there are no obvious links or mention of it.
In the Google+ settings page (available if you click on the gear icon on the top right of the black bar), you can change all of your privacy settings. From the “Account overview” tab, you can change your password, activate multiple account sign-in (an advanced feature for users with lots of Google accounts) and delete your profile and/or Google account.
Fill in the “Occupation” field on your profile:
I talked about this in the profiles post, but it’s such an important tip I’m going to mention it again. The text you enter in that box will pop up whenever a Google+ user hovers the cursor over your name. Think “bio note,” not “occupation.” A descriptive entry will help the people you follow decide whether to follow you back, and what circle to put you in.
Google continues to say additional updates are coming. So users generally seem to believe that the benefits of the service will be worth the wait.