Last week we explored the basics of Google+, getting you started and comparing and contrasting it with Facebook. If you’ll recall, Google+ is the college experience of social networking, so last week’s lesson could be considered Google+ 101.
Today, we’re going to dive deeper into the features that truly make Google+ a most impressive social network.
This is my favorite section of Google+ and where I spend more time than anywhere else. The explore section is full of what’s hot on Google+. Because Google is all knowing, it tracks posts that are becoming popular with many comments (usually in the hundreds or thousands range), which typically means you get quality, interesting posts to read. I’ve also found that there are a handful of people and organizations that are frequently featured. I’m amazed at the funny, thought-provoking and useful things I find in this section.
In the top-right corner of the Explore stream is an adjustment bar that allows you to control how much of the Explore section naturally shows up in your Home page. You also get this feature for each person or organization you follow. This really allows you to take control of your social networking experience. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of feeling like you’re being constantly spammed by something you follow and wish you only received a small portion of what they post. Now you can.
Navigating the Stream
One of the things that annoys me about social network feeds is how long they are and how much time I spend scrolling. Google+ simplifies this process with keyboard shortcuts. Pressing the letter “J” will automatically jump to the next post, while the letter “K” goes to the previous post. It wouldn’t seem like that big of a feature until you try it. Try it, you’ll like it. It’s awesome how quickly you can get through the posts and get to the stuff that matters to you.
It wouldn’t be a social network if there weren’t a way to follow things that other people and organizations post, and Google+ makes following a piece of cake. In the search bar, do a search for anything that interests you. For instance, try it out on Food Network (your stomach will thank me). When the results come in, you’ll see the little Follow button to the right of the Food Network result.
To begin following, simply click the Follow button and assign it to a circle. You can add it to your existing circles or you can make a new circle just for things you follow.
I would actually recommend making different circles for different categories of things you follow, similar to the way you make different boards on Pinterest. This will make it really easy for you to view only posts by a certain interest at a time.
What do I mean by this? Well, if you go back to your home tab, you’ll notice the area above where you type your status update that you have a few buttons.
These buttons allow you to filter your feed by certain circles you have. So, if you’ve created a circle for things you follow (example: favorite TV shows) then you can select that and see only posts by things you’ve selected as fitting in that category. Cool, right?
Google has played with their photo features a lot over the years and have decided to merge it all in your Google+ account. If you formerly uploaded your photos to Picasa Online or use Blogger to blog, you will probably feel right at home here as all your previously uploaded content should be automatically transferred over.
Google+ has done a nice job making their photo area really nice – much better than anything you have in any other social network.
When you click on any album, you’ll see images you’ve uploaded. Of course, it’s a piece of cake to upload your own new images to Google+ as well. Once you’re inside an album, click on any image and you get a number of options. Refer to the image above as you read the descriptions.
1. Here you can add your own caption to the picture, which is nice. You can also tag people, similar to Facebook.
2. You can add your own comment and see comments others have added. You can also view photo details below, such as when the image was taken, with what camera, at what focal length, etc.
3. There are other options for photos as well, including downloading the full-size image (if you enabled that ability when you uploaded the image).
4. Here’s how to share an image. You can +1, comment or share the image. Refer to the previous post for the difference between these three options.
By the way, this photo viewer is not only available for your own photos, but also when you view any other users’ images.
But viewing images isn’t the only fun thing in the photo area. Anybody a fan of Picnik? Wonder where it went and wish you could still use it? You still can! Google+ absorbed Picnik and incorporated many of their best features into Google+. You can find all sorts of fun ways to edit your images and do it all online.
Gmail and iGoogle have long had the ability to allow you to chat with your friends, and Google+ is no different. In fact, the chatting experience on Google+ is identical to that of Gmail and iGoogle. I won’t spend too much time on this other than to let you know you can and it’s nice to do text and/or video chat while you’re playing around on Google+.
One of the things that drives me crazy on Facebook is the plethora of “We’re Getting Married, Join Our Facebook Group” event invites I get. I usually just delete them. Facebook has a very dry events feature. Not so with Google+. You can create your own custom events on Google+.
There are a number of fun themes you can choose from that spruce up an otherwise boring date and time reminder. You can control when the event happens, where and with whom by inviting specific friends or entire circles. This is a relatively new feature, but really pretty nice.
Once you’ve created an event, a whole event page is created that helps you manage your invites, reservations, photos, updates, comments, etc.
Have you ever wondered what’s good to eat or what there is to do around where you live? Or what if you’re on vacation? Google+ simplifies this for you with their Local section. Simply type in the location you want to search and what it is you’re looking for.
In my example, I search for Mexican restaurants in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I get a number of results. By clicking on any result I can get more information, such as location, hours, directions, approximate cost and most importantly – reviews! Nothing is more aggravating than trying somewhere new and being disappointed. You can minimize this by reading through the reviews. Of course, they are all just amateur user reviews, but since Google+ is a social network and everyone is feeling social, you can get a feel for a place before you even go. You can also write your own reviews for places you’ve been, adding to the Google+ experience.
Like Facebook, Google+ has a plethora of online games. I don’t play these myself, but if you’re into online gaming and socializing with others while you play, then Google+ is perfect for this. They have games like Angry Birds, Green Farm, Mafia Wars 2 and many more. I know many a person who has lost hours of their life to this section. Maybe that’s why I’m scared to dive in…
And last, but definitely not least, is the feature that is the most unique and powerful to Google+: Hangouts. One of the great advantages of the Internet is the ability to communicate through video. Skype made this easy and common, but you’re limited to one person at a time (unless you want to pay, and really, who does?). Google+ provides an online video chat service with up to 10 people, for FREE! Yep, you heard me.
To start a hangout, go to your Home page and look over to the top-right corner. Right underneath your name, you will see a Start a hangout button. Click on it.
A Hangout invite screen will appear. Here you can select with whom you would like to hangout. They have to be on Google+ themselves, so if your friends aren’t already on, maybe this is the perfect opportunity to get them on. You can also name your hangout whatever you want. Example: Exciting News.
One other option you have is Hangouts on Air. If you select this option, your hangout becomes public to the world and anybody can tune in. Maybe you’re having a party with a live band and want to show it off. Here you go. There’s a lot of potential here for companies and individuals to do online lectures, concerts, and communicate with fans. Maybe you can do your own Hangout on Air for your blog audience.
Once you launch a hangout, you need to wait for all your participants to join. You will see them line up at the bottom. In the big main area, you will see whomever is talking at the time. Google+ automatically jumps to the current speaker, which is kind of nice. You can override it any time by clicking on the thumbnail of a participant and they will take center stage.
Beyond just video chatting, you can also share your screen, which is great for showing somebody how to do something technical. You can also hangout over a document you’ve created in Google Docs, which is great for school projects and work.
The video and sound quality is really quite good, especially if you and all your participants have a decent Internet connection. Sometimes you’ll run into a situation where someone’s microphone is a bit hyperactive and they’ll have to mute their microphone until they’re ready to speak, but usually it works without a hitch.
Hangouts are a blast. One of the best uses we’ve had for them is getting together as a family. My wife’s family is spread out across the country and the only way we can really get together is digitally. Google+ has made this a piece of cake and it’s truly enjoyable. It’s as close as you can get to being together without actually being there.
So, if you’re not excited about using Google+ by now, I don’t know what it’s going to take to persuade you. Really, give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised and may find yourself using the best designed social network out there.