Why I'm Loving Google+: Perspective of a writer, illustrator, musician/songwriter and board gamer (plus tips for newbies)
I've been using Google+ pretty heavily for the past week. Here's my Google+ Profile page, if you'd like to follow me; I've updated it with links to my directories of those on Google+ interested in kidlit/YA, librarians, digital publishing/ebooks, children's book illustrators, comics/webcomics, board gaming, filk, and iPads.
See the end of this post for a list of Google+ resources for newbies.
If you're just interested in my overall summary, here it is:
Even in its beta testing phase, I like the look and functionality of Google+ much more than Facebook. It's easier to filter the info that you read and share, using Circles. I love the Google+ Hangout video chat feature, which has huge creative collaboration and teaching potential, in addition to the obvious fun social aspect. As Google gradually integrates other services so many people use (Picasa and Blogger will become Google branded), I believe that the Hangouts feature is going to ultimately tip the scales in favour of Google+ when it comes to the whole Facebook vs Google choice.
Google+ is only in beta and I already love it.
Above: how I felt when I first heard about Google+. Did I really need to join ANOTHER social network?
But here are some detailed reasons why I like Google+ so much:
Compared to Facebook, it's uncluttered
I'm really hoping that Google+ keeps its current clean design. I know they will probably add Google ads at some point, but I don't mind this (just as I don't with Gmail) as long as they're not too obtrusive.
It's easier to filter information
I have multiple interests and follow people who focus on those various interests, including writing, illustrating, webcomics, board gaming, filking, techies, social media, digital publishing, iPads, and more. I was excited when Facebook added Friends' Lists, but then they not only buried them so they were a pain to find (whereas Google+ keeps them prominently displayed) but I couldn't share with specific Lists.
As a result, I find it nearly impossible to keep up with my Facebook stream since everyone's posts, pictures and videos come through in one huge, unending, gloppy mess.
With Google+ Circles, I'm finding it easier to keep up with posts from my different groups of friends and acquaintances, plus follow higher profile people who may not know I exist but whose posts I find interesting. I'm still finetuning, but here are some of my current Circles:
The "Reading: Chatty" Circle, for instance, has people like Chris Pirillo, whose posts I enjoy but who posts so often that I can't have him in my default Tech stream and also be able to read other people's posts. :-)
I'm sure that the Google+ people are working to improve Circle filtering functionality. I would love to be able to use Boolean filtering algorithms, like "everyone in Circle A -except- for the people in Circle B." I would also love it if Google+ added smarter searching and search results suggestions, so that I could look for particular topics within a Circle or group of Circles.
Compared to trying to sort through all the information and noise on my Facebook stream, however, I'm loving Google+, even in its beta phase. See my list of resources at the end of this article for some helpful info.
It's easier to share information
Because I have multiple interests and multiple circles of friends, it's sometimes a challenge to share information. Some people feel that the more people you share something with, the better (in terms of promotion), but I don't agree.
I may be following someone for his insightful comments on the publishing industry but if he tends to go on regular tangents about his passion for football, then I'll end up unfollowing him. I know that while my board gaming friends are interested in my photos and blow-by-blow accounts of games I've played, the same info and photos would bore my writer, illustrator, iPad, digital publishing and music pals.
Google+ Circles makes it possible for me to more effectively share information and media.When sharing content in Google+, you can share with individuals, with one or more Circles, to Extended Circles (your Circles plus their Circles), publicly, or any combination of the previous.
Plus the sharing is so easy. I can just drag a link, image or video over to the Share window and then drop it in (make sure the window gets highlighted before you drop, else your browser will open your info instead). Then choose what Circles you want to share it with, or make it Public.
See my list of resources at the end of this article for some helpful info on this topic.
You can edit posts and comments AFTER you post them
Need I say more on this?
There's not as much emphasis on Friends stats
I have always hated the whole "Follower Count Obsession" mindset so prevalent in social networks. Of course it's nice to know that people are interested in what you're saying, but some people are waaaay too focused on numbers. I wrote briefly about this in my Writer's Guide to Twitter.
With Google+, you can have Private and Public circles. Which means that the numbers displayed on people's Profiles don't necessary reflect the actual number of people who are following or being followed. You may look at someone's Profile and think, "Ooo, they have 100 followers" but be unaware (because of Private Circles) that the person may have followed several thousand semi-random Google+ users, knowing that some will automatically follow back.
When people realize this, I'm hoping that those who jump onto the Google+ bandwagon in hopes of getting an early start on Follower counts will relax and start truly enjoying the service for what it is.
LOVING Google+ Hangouts
Above: Google+ Hangouts developer Chee Chew dropped by one of my open chats, yay! Super-nice guy.
One of my favourite features so far is Google+ Hangouts, the live video chat. Way easy to use. You can do a public Hangout (where anyone can join) or just invite one or more of your Circles. Or even just a single person!
What changed my mind about Google+ having a chance of becoming more popular than Facebook: when several of my non-techy friends tried out Google+ in super-skeptical mode but admitted they liked the look/feel here much better than Facebook AND they had no trouble getting into one of my test Hangouts.
I've even sent an invite to my Dad, who wasn't tempted by Facebook but IS tempted by Google+ because it could be an easier way of staying in contact with friends and relatives in Japan. He currently uses Skype, but there are sometimes tech issues. Plus there's the integration factor...YES, there are many separate services and apps out there that can achieve what each of these Google+ features attempt on their own, but I looooooooove the idea of having everything in one place, attached to ONE identity.
But I digress. Back to why I'm so nuts about Google Hangouts+...
First of all (as silly as this may sound), I like the fact that you can check how you look and what's showing in your camera space before you start or join a Hangout:
Here's what appears in your stream when you start a Hangout:
I like the fact that the chat can be as public or as private as you want. Once you are in the chat, you can also invite more people. The main window switches automatically to the person who is speaking, but you also have the option to focus the window on one person.
Moving your cursor over any of the smaller user windows below the main window will reveal the person's name as well as give you options to mute or report them. You can also type text into the text chat window, which can be handy if you are sharing a link or want to contribute something without interrupting a voice conversation in progress.
Right now, users can also view a YouTube video together and comment on it as it is playing. I strongly suspect that Google+ will also be adding the capability of sharing other kinds of media cheering the chat as well. The creative collaboration potential is HUGE.
A couple of my music pals and I tested out playing music together, but we found that the slight lag made it a challenge when it came to tight work. However, we found it a great venue for listening to one person perform. I could easily see Google+ Hangouts being great for writing workshops and illustration critiques. Some of my board gamer friends are already planning to test out board gaming via Google+ Hangouts -- so handy when we are all scattered around the globe!
Above: chatting with people from England, North Africa and India. Thanks to Rebecca Woodhead for starting this public Hangout!
I am a big fan of text chats but I have to admit that the Google+ Hangouts feature has made me an even bigger fan of video chats. I like that I can be selective about how public or private I make the chat.
I also love the fact that I can open up a Hangout to a particular Circle and people can make up their own minds about whether they want to join or not. It's a much more casual set-up, and encourages more organic chats than Facebook's current set-up. I know that Facebook recently integrated Skype (or is planning to integrate it), but with a service like Skype you have to call people or prearrange a time.
There is currently a limit of 10 people in a chat. Sometimes you will see a report from a chat where apparently 22 attended, but this only means that some people left the chat and others joined partway through. I can understand Google+ wanting to limit people to limit lag in its beta testing phase, but I'm hoping that eventually they increase the chat room max size as well as allow in those who just want to watch/listen and not necessarily chat. That way you could have something like a panel of speakers as well as an audience.
See my list of resources at the end of this article for some helpful info on this topic.
Some other reasons creative types should start using Google+
For those who write for young people: Among other features, Google+ Hangouts is SO going to have a huge appeal to the younger crowd. Yes, most of them are still at Facebook. But unless Facebook improves its video chatting service to match Google+, I predict a mass migration. Depending on how Google+ Hangouts handles attendees & limits once the service goes public, this could be a potential venue for virtual classroom visits, readings, workshops, and book clubs.
Illustrators & comic artists/writers: Once Google+ Hangouts allows users to upload static images and other media, you could do slideshows, critiques, show how you create a drawing, etc.
Musicians, songwriters: Live music circles! Ok, the current lag makes a jam session a challenge. But for sharing one's music with others? It's brilliant. For my filker pals out there: imagine being able to listen in on a music circle or casual performance through a Hangout on someone's laptop! (for those curious, here's my post on What Is Filk?)
Gosh, I could go on for way too long on this topic. I think I'm going to have to write up some other posts addressing specific reasons why different creative types need to join Google+. Stay tuned. :-)
A FEW QUICK NEWBIE TIPS:
Deleted my tip on how to view your Profile as it looks to others because the following tip is far easier:
[Correction, posted by Google software engineer Yonatan Zunger in the comments section: "Great post, and I'm glad you're enjoying the system so much. :) One note: you can actually see how your profile is viewed by others just by going to your profile page. In the top right, there's a text box that says "View your profile as..." and you can just put in someone's name, or select 'Anyone on the web.'"
TEXT FORMATTING SHORTCUTS:
*Word* = Word
_Word_ = Word
-Word- = Word
OTHER USEFUL RESOURCES:
Google+ Info site: Unofficial info about Google Plus, regularly updated
Google Plus: Ultimate Quickstart Guide: from Eugene Teplitsky
Collaborate Google doc: essentially a wiki, open to anyone to edit. I linked to Google+ Info's blurb about it instead of the doc itself because if too many are editing it at the same time, the link won't work
How to Use Google+ Hangouts (wikiHow): basics, with screenshots
Where To Hangout At Google+: user-maintained directory of current G+ Hangouts
Google Plus Tips & Shortcuts: Andrew Shotland keeps this list updated
Google+ Privacy: 5 Settings You need To Know
What are Google Circles and how do I use them? by John Haydon
How To Make A Private Circle: Kimberly Castleberry
Ultimate Google+ Tips and Tricks: Tech Exclusive
Don't disable Google+ notifications - Filter them!: Google+ Info
Why Google+ Is Awesome For Cartoonists: Ryan Estrada