The best way I can describe Google+ is if Twitter and Facebook had a baby, the offspring would be Google+. On Google+ you see a stream of comments, linked articles, photos, videos and other assorted posts you can comment on, vote +1 or share with others. Seem familiar? If you’re on Twitter and/or Facebook, Google+ will seem quite familiar.
Should you even care? Who wants another social network? You should care and you might just want another social network.
Google does best when it makes its offerings exclusive, as it did with Gmail and Google Music. If you’re not on the inside, you’re on the outside. And lots of people want in.
But that’s not what is appealing about Google+. After all, once you’re in, you have to want to stay in. And Google+ has lots of reasons to stay in.
Circles – Google starts you off with a few circles, Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Following. You can create more: Work Buddies, Tech Peeps, Obnoxious Low Life People, Celebrities I Will Never Meet, etc.
You can see posts in your Stream from just one Circle or from all of your Contacts. You can also post to just certain Circles, all your Contacts or the Public. Even if you post just to one Circle, your post can easily be shared so don’t mistake posting on Google+ for private communication.
Google has promised that people won’t know what Circles you put them in. Don’t rely too heavily on that promise though. I foresee a day when a scandal erupts by someone accidentally revealing Google+ Circle information. Just follow the basic rule of the Internet and you’ll be fine: don’t put anything on the Internet you wouldn’t want the world to see, because someday they probably will see it.
From the beginning, you organize contacts in a Circle. On Twitter you can make Lists and in Facebook you can form Groups, but those were more recent additions and not everyone takes the time to go back and organize their contacts.
Hangouts – Hangouts is a cool feature, sort of like a chat room, except up to 10 people can join by video, audio and/or text. You can click on the green Hangout button to start a video chat of your own, or join a Hangout someone else has posted. If you have a bunch of friends on Google+, it’s a fun way to have an online visit. In fact, Hangouts might be the killer feature of Google+ so far.
Facebook proudly announced its “awesome” new feature of video calls last week. If you watched Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement, you may just have witnessed Facebook Jumping the Shark. Facebook’s new feature of video calling is a great way for Facebook friends to connect, but a week earlier, Google+ launched Hangouts with group video calls, making Facebook’s announcement seem outdated.
No Ads – Of course this will change, but for right now, it’s a refreshing change from Facebook’s often creepy targeted ads.
Easy Sharing – Sharing is incredibly simple. Write a comment, paste a link, add a photo or video, then choose the people you want to share it with. Pick individuals, Circles, or Public. Assume that anything could go public and hope your post goes viral! You can disable resharing by others, but again, I wouldn’t count on this feature keeping anything you want to share confidential.
I expect that a “Share on Google+” button will become standard for websites. Perhaps Google will integrate its +1 buttons with Google+ so a +1 vote become a way to share information even more easily. I realize then the +1 button would become similar to a Facebook Like button, but that would be a very handy feature to have for Google+.
Whether it’s a swipe at Facebook or a useful feature, Data Liberation is a unique function of Google+ that allows you to download your photos, Profile data, Stream data, Circles and Contacts to your computer. Try doing that with Facebook. You may never use this, but you can take comfort in knowing that the feature is available.
What You Need to Know
Google+ is still invitation only while it’s in beta testing. Google opens and closes the ability to join Google+ throughout the day. If you receive an invitation and try to join when invitations are closed, wait an hour or so and then try joining again.
You will need a Gmail account to join Google+. Invitations can be sent to email addresses other than Gmail, but you can only join through a Gmail address. If you don’t yet have a Gmail account, no worries, Gmail accounts are easy and free to set up.
Helpful hint: if you already have a personal Gmail address, you might consider setting up a separate Gmail account for Google+. You can always forward the incoming mail from your Google+ Gmail account to your personal Gmail account. You can also copy your contacts from your personal Gmail account into your new Google+ Gmail account to make finding Google+ connections easier.
Your Google Profile will be seen by either anyone in your Circles or the public. You will most likely end up adding people to your circles you don’t know well. You can be more certain that your personal email account won’t be broadcast to the public by using a new Gmail address for your Google+ account.
Google+ can be a bit addictive. As with StumbleUpon and Shnap, you can lose hours checking out the website, finding new people to add to your circles, seeing who is in others’ circles, reading posts in your stream, etc.
After you get a Google+ account, you should grab a short URL with your user name. Here is a great blog post showing you how to do this: How To: Create A Short URL For Your Google+ Profile, With an estimated 10 million people already signed up for Google+, you need to get your user name before someone else does!
You can also have fun by creating a Google+ icon image for yourself. Head to this handy website: +Me to make an image using the Google+ logo. You can also make a profile picture for Facebook saying you moved to Google+.
Google+ Mobile – Google+ seems even more like it’s in the testing phase when you try to use it on a mobile device. The features of Google+ are severely limited when you’re away from your computer.
Android has a Google+ app, but you can’t share others’ posts or use Hangouts on it. Instead you can join or form a Huddle with others who are using the Android app, but you can’t join a Huddle from a computer or non-Android device.
Apple has not yet approved the Google+ app for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch), but there is a mobile site you can get to from Safari m.google.com/app/plus which you can then save as a bookmark. Again, the functions are very limited but perhaps the upcoming app will fix that.
For more helpful information on joining Google+ and setting up your account, check out this helpful blog post: 10+ Practical Tips for New Google+ Users.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a big fan of Facebook. But since I’ve joined Google+, I find myself going on Google+ more and Facebook less.
If I haven’t yet convinced you why you should join Google+, check out this informative video that is sure to sway you to sign up today!
Have you tried Google+ yet? Are you still looking for an invitation? Are you sticking with Facebook and Twitter? Let us know in the Comments section below!
* Image by Mac Morrison