5 Great Things About Google+

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Even if you’ve never used the internet before, you’ve almost certainly heard of it. Like ‘Hoovering’ became a verb for vacuum-cleaning, so ‘Google it’ is now what you say when you’re suggesting that someone search for something online, much to the chagrin of Yahoo and Bing, who would probably advise otherwise.

But for all of Google’s online dominance, Facebook has emerged as the most popular site on the web – indeed a huge positive for those wishing to embrace Social Media is that Facebook and Twitter are so huge that searches on Google include individual posts in real-time from these sites, expanding the SEO benefits of using these sites enormously.

Google, in the past, has tried and notably failed to become more ‘social’. It’s ‘Chrome’ browser is fantastic, its Gmail service innovative and second to none, and it’s iGoogle homepage is clever if not fully embraced.

However ‘Buzz’, and ‘Wave’ – its last attempts at Social Media, much like my weekend BBQ, failed to catch fire.

Google Plus | Matt Davis MediaEnter Google+. Now in my experience, anything with a + after it, is usually great. Sky+ : life changing. Nike+ : Genius. Lost+ : Better than the original.

And Google+, thankfully, is no different.

Here are five things that make it GREAT.

1. If you’re lucky enough to get a Google+ invite (which I was :-)), and you have a Google account (ie a gmail address) then it’s brilliantly easy to sign up.  Once you’re signed in with your Google account, click the link in your email, and you’re ready to go. Confirm your name, add your gender and optionally change your profile picture, accept the terms, and Join!

Google Plus | Matt Davis Media

2. Circles.

Google+ is built around Circles. Circles are Google’s version of  friend lists, and work by dividing your network into sub-networks of  ‘like’ interests. For example – I tend to share more Social Media related items with my Twitter followers, and more personal stuff with my Facebook friends. I therefore follow a wide range of relevant industry profiles in Twitter lists. In Google+, I can instead add family to a ‘Family’ circle, friends to a ‘Friends’ circle, Social Media experts into a ‘Social Media’ circle and so on. But if my brother happens to like Social Media too, I could add him to my ‘Social Media’ and ‘Family’ circles.

Initially it takes a bit of effort, but Google has worked to make it fun. You can select those people you want to add  and drag them down to the relevant circle, and their name cards will be bundled together with a paperclip to emphasise what you’re doing. Facebook has had lists for some time now, but few people use it since it takes several clicks per friend you want to add. With Google+, a couple clicks is all it takes to add as many friends as you like to circles.

Best of all, once you have established your circles, you can add new friends to lists in just one click. This is more similar to Twitter following than Facebook friends, since you are able to add anyone to your circles, whether they’ve added you or not. However, if they’re private and mostly share updates with their private circles, you won’t see / hear from them very often.

3. The Stream

Now that you’ve added some friends and colleagues to your Google+ circles, it’s time to start sharing. Just like every other social network, Google+ is designed for you to share what you’re doing with others. This aspect is very similar to Facebook in that you can upload pictures, videos and links directly to your updates. You can also add your location, which is turned on by default in the mobile web app. A key aspect is that you can choose to share your update only with certain circles, with all of your circles, with extended circles (all of your circles and all of your friends’ circles), or with the the whole world – the choice is yours.

The main page, (The Stream), will show posts from others, with pictures, videos, link previews, and comments. You can click 1+ to show you like a post, or you can share public and semi-public posts with your own network. New posts and comments show up automatically in near-realtime. Posts are bumped back to the top of your list whenever new comments are added to them, but if you’re tired of seeing a particular update, you can simply choose to mute the post using a drop-down menu. You can also navigate through the posts in your stream with standard Google keyboard shortcuts.

A nice feature is that you can edit your posts and comments anytime after you’ve left them. How often do you supply an update with a mistake on Facebook or Twitter only to have to delete it?With Google+, that’s a thing of the past. Although this can of course potentially change the context of any longer conversations…

Similar to @replies on Facebook and Twitter, adding @ before someone’s name lets you select their name from a list and link to them in the comment

4. Hangouts

A unique feature of Google+ is Hangouts – group audio and video chats where you can bring your friends together even if you live around the world.

Once you’ve installed the relevant plug-ins (takes moments), you can start a new Hangout and invite your circles or individual friends to join in. Or, you can jump into another Hangout that’s already going on. Before you jump in, Google+ gives you a quick preview of how you look in the video if you have a webcam turned on, and shows you who’s already chatting.

Once you’re logged in, Google Hangouts will let others in the chat know that you’re there. You’ll see a large video of the chatter currently talking on the top, and smaller thumbnail videos of everyone else underneath. Hangouts does a great job at recognizing who’s currently talking, and it automatically switches the top video when others start talking. Or, if you only want to see one video feed, click on the thumbnail to only see that video in the larger view.

Yes it’s similar to Skype, but in my opinion much more intuitive and better looking too. There are a few functionality issues to be ironed out, but that’s why we’re still in the test phase!

Alternately, if you prefer text chat, Google+ includes the original Google Talk text chat that you’ve likely already used in Gmail. You can chat with your existing Gmail contacts even if they’re not on Google+, even while you’re talking in a Google Hangout in another window. This gives you the best of both worlds. Full voice, video, and text chat with groups in Hangouts, or one-on-one text chat right in your Stream just like you’re used to in Facebook.

5. Sparks

Yet another unique feature in Google+ is Sparks. Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with certain niche topics you’re interested in, so Google built Sparks to give you automatic updates about the things you love. Just enter a topic, and Sparks will bring you highlights from it right to your account. It’s essentially Google Alerts but in a stream on your social media site – great for me.

There’s a little way to go but the initial signs are that Google has really thought this one through and are determined to get it right no matter what. Is it a Facebook Killer? Probably not just yet, but in the way that it integrates with your existing email, calendar and of course your search engine, it’s going to give it a run for it’s money.

For business users though – nothing to really report as yet – but it’s still early days…

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