All About Google Plus: What Google+ is and Why You Want It

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Google + or, as it is known more fully, the Google+ Project, is Google’s foray into creating a true social network. So what is Google+? As the awesome comic XKCD puts it, it’s like Facebook, but it’s not Facebook, making it a win-win, according to some.

The heart of Google+, at least so far, is your “Circles”. Google Plus lets you categorize everyone you know into Circles, such as your Circle of Friends (that would make a great name for a book and a movie deal), and your Family Circle (ditto for a magazine). But seriously, imagine if on Facebook everyone you designated as “family” was instantly and automatically turned into their own group on Facebook. Of course, you can create a group on Facebook, but the act of adding someone to your Family Circle automatically does that task for you.

Once your Circles are populated (and you can create custom circles as well, such as “Colleagues” or “People I like to Ridicule”), you can follow Circle-specific streams. These are like the Facebook newsfeed, but instead of seeing only “Recent” or “Top News” as you can on Facebook, you can drill down and see the feed just for a given Circle.

One really interesting ‘feature’ of Circles is that, unlike friending someone on Facebook, you can add someone to a Circle without asking them first (there is no “Circle request” unlike the Facebook “Friend request”), and you can instantly start commenting on their posts, which will show up in your Circle stream (again, analogous to the news feed on Facebook).

Here’s a little trick: to add all of your Facebook friends (or at least those in your “social graph”) to your Circles in Google+, log into your Yahoo mail account (create one, if you don’t already have one) and in the ‘Contacts’ section of your Yahoo account, import your Facebook address book into Yahoo, then in Google+, in the Circles area, at the top, “Find friends” in Yahoo, and it will pull them all in for you to add them to your Circles. While we ordinarily not only don’t condone, but actively discourage address book importing, in this case it is not being done to send them email, but rather to add them to your Circles.

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Adding folks to a circle:




Then there are the Sparks. The way Google describes the Google+ Sparks is like this:

Remember when your Grandpa used to cut articles out of the paper and send them to you? That was nice. That’s kind of what Sparks does: looks for videos and articles it thinks you’ll like, so when you’re free, there’s always something to watch, read, and share. Grandpa would approve.”

In other words, Google+ Sparks are news snippets which Google has searched out for you based on what Google perceives to be your interests.








Next we have the Google+ Hangouts. Hangouts is a multi-user chat client based on Google’s voice and video chat. It allows you to voice and video chat with several people at the same time.





The settings for Google+ are relatively straightforward – for a social network. They are, for the moment at least, able to be contained on one page, which is novel, especially compared to that other social network:




One place where they really shine is in being able to remove the ability for anyone to tag you in a photo. The default is to allow anyone in your Circles to tag you in a photo, which will connect to your Google profile. But you can easily remove that, meaning that nobody can tag you, and then, if you wish, you can add and allow only the individuals whom you want to be able to tag you in photos.




Look! Nobody can tag us!:



With the Google+ app for mobile phones (available now for Android, with an iPhone app “coming soon”) they have included the added feature of “Huddle”, which is group text messaging (think “Hangouts” but for texting).




Of course, there are only so many ways that you can slice and dice what your friends on a social network are saying in public and so, as you might expect, the basic “friend feed” or “circle stream” looks about the same whether on Facebook, or Google+:




Still, Google’s new Google+ social network does offer some novel bells and whistles, putting them in pretty much the same position as was Facebook a few years ago. The difference is that Facebook was the first of their kind out of the gate, but the other difference is that Google is, well, Google.

Already people are divided into two camps: the “This is the death knell for Facebook” camp, and the “Google+ – yeah, checked it out (yawn) – so what?” camp.

So into which camp do you fall?

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