Google+: Testing the Waters
Take Facebook and Twitter, mix them with LinkedIn, add a dash of Skype and Flickr, and voila, you've got Google+, the social network Google unveiled to the world in late June.
Like existing online social circles, Google+ lets people link to family, friends and business acquaintances to share gossip, view pictures, follow the news or get work done. It's Google's latest attempt to build a bigger, better version of Facebook.
Google is still rolling out the service, but it's catching on fast. Right now people can join only if they're invited by a friend or co-worker. Invitations have been plentiful, although Google has had to close registrations periodically to keep up with adding all those new users. Mashable, the tech news site, says Google+ already has 10 million users, although Google hasn't confirmed anything.
Maybe you've received an invitation but weren't sure what to do with it. Maybe you're not sure whether you need to join yet another online network. If you're trying to decide, here's more on how Google+ works and what you can do with it:
1. Get started. Fill out a profile, invite your friends, and share what you're doing. When it comes to the basics, Google+ isn't much different from Facebook or LinkedIn. If you already use Gmail or Google Groups and have an existing Google profile, some of this set-up work will already be done for you. From your profile, you can link to your existing accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and a handful of other online services.
2. Invite people to join you. Once you're on Google+ there won't be much to see until you start adding people to your account, similar to friending people on Facebook, adding LinkedIn connections or following people on Twitter. If you've received Google+ invitations from friends or acquaintances, start by accepting them. Like other online networks, Google+ lets you import connections from web-based email programs such as Hotmail and Yahoo. It also provides you with a list of other Google+ users you might know and want to connect to.
3. Decide how you'll use it. Most people use LinkedIn to keep up with business associates, and Facebook for sharing with family and friends. Google wants you to use Google+ for everything. That's where Circles come in. When you add connections, you put them into groups called Circles, so you can separate work colleagues from sorority sisters, relatives from your bowling league. Once you've set up Circles, you can share status updates with some or all of them from the Stream, or status update, window on the front page of your Google+ account.
4. Jump into the information stream. Besides telling the world what you're doing or thinking at that very moment, you also can share photos, videos and links to news stories, blog posts or other information that lives elsewhere online. There's also a Google Places icon for adding your location. Like Facebook, Google+ has an instant message feature to chat with contacts who are online when you are. The service takes chatting a step further, though, with a feature called Huddle that allows for group texting, and another called Hangouts that lets users with webcams on their computers or smartphones take part in video chats. A news service called Sparks gives customized updates from national and local newspapers as well as magazines, blogs and other sources.
5. Make adjustments. If you're worried about privacy or just don't want notices to show up in your email inbox every time someone invites you to connect, adjust Google+ settings accordingly. Here's a post from the KHerize5 blog on how to opt out of or manage many Google+ settings.
6. Take it with you. Google rolled out a Google+ mobile app along with the web-based version of the service. Android phone users can download the app online or from the Android Marketplace. A Google+ app for the iPhone isn't available, but is coming soon, according to the Google Mobile website.
Bottom line: Should you bother with Google+? It's still brand new, and even if 10 million people already are on it, if you don't know any of them, your own Google+ account will be pretty devoid of activity.
If my experience is any indication, many Google+ newbies are spending more time talking about the service than anything else. Unless you run with the early-adopt crowd, it might be best to wait. Or sign up and accept the invitations you've received, but give yourself plenty of time to poke around before deciding whether to shift your allegiance from another online service.
Have you tried Google+? I'd love to hear your first impressions.
Read my other recent social media posts:
- 10 Steps to Start on Twitter
- 10 New Need-to-Know Features on LinkedIn
- The Online Games Grown-Ups Play
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