Last week I finally got an invite to join Google+. Why do I say "finally"? Because invites have been few and far between, and even those who were lucky enough to receive an early invitation were often shut out. Google opted to keep the doors to Google+ shut much of the time, preferring instead to control how many new members were using the site at any one time.
If you don't know what Google+ is, it's actually called the Google+ Project. That's its official name. You can read about it at the official website. I love going there because I get a little notice saying I'm part of a small group of people who are helping to test this new offering by Google. Makes me feel important!
All levity aside, Google+ is pretty cool. It's a new social networking site and having played around in it for several days now I'm categorizing it as a combination of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Skype. A good combination. Google does it well.
In Google+ you have Circles. They consist of your social network. Your Circles can hold friends, family members, business associates, people whose comments you want to follow but you don't necessarily know. You set your own circles and then you simply click and drag to drop people into them. It's a great interface and easily managed. People can be in more than one circle and that's important if you want to filter your news stream.
For example, I have 91 people in my circles now. That's not very many but the chatter on my news stream is constant and sometimes overwhelming. So I put some of those 91 people into a second circle I called "FAVS". Now I can filter my news stream to only see posts by those people in my FAVS circle. I can still see the others by choosing any circles I want, or all my circles. So I might pull in my FAVS several times a day but only pull in all my circles once a day.
Google+ also has Hangouts. These are Video Chats where you very quickly start a Hangout by dragging and dropping a friend or an entire Circle into the Hangout with you. Bingo you are chatting. You can enable or disable your webcam if you're in your PJs and someone drags you into a Hangout. You can also mute your microphone and simply chat by text. I haven't actually been to a Hangout yet. I started one but no one was online that I was comfortable chatting with. I want to start with a good friend or family member first.
In Sparks you choose an interest (I chose "genealogy") and add it to your personal Sparks. Sparks then provides you with a constant feed of news about your topic of interest. It's easy to keep up with the latest happenings and share things with other friends who have the same interests. I've got "genealogy" and "recipes" going right now but am going to play with Sparks and see what else I can get. It's kind of like a Google Alert except it's not coming into your email box.
This is what I'm loving most about Google+. When I am in my gmail account for example, I can see my Google+ notifications at a glance. I can comment on posts directly from my gmail. I can see who has added me to their circles and I can add them to mine right in my gmail account. No need to open another browser window or leave my mail program. This is a big plus in my opinion.
Profiles are your personal page with your information. You share what you wish to share and you have complete control over your privacy settings. One thing I suggest is that when you join Google+ take a few minutes and fill out your Profile completely, including a photo, before you start adding people to your Circles. It will make it much easier for your friends to determine if you are the right Sally Smith they want to have in their circle if they can see a photo and a little information about you!
I've got a lot more exploring to do in Google+ and I've got a lot more to learn about how things work and how I can make it work for me. But I've learned a couple of things that might be of interest to some of my readers.
Your default profile page link is long and unwieldy. But Google+ has a way for you to make it memorable. You simply add your gmail account name (mine is olivetreegenealogy) to http://profiles.google.com/ So mine becomes http://profiles.google.com/olivetreegenealogy (Add me to your circles if you are on Google+ and want to connect)
If you don't have a gmail account you can choose any available username to tack onto the end of http://profiles.google.com/
I don't advise using a third party service such as gplus (which is not a Google service) to create a vanity URL. Why would you do that when Google+ does it for you quickly and easily?
Many of us are genealogy bloggers and we want our blog posts or titles to go to Twitter and Facebook and now to Google+. So I hunted around and discovered that you can sync Google Buzz to your blog(s) and then enable Buzz in your Profile. That pulls your blogs in to Google+. I'm pretty sure there will be a better way, if not at present, soon, but for now I'm using this method. I'd love to hear from anyone whose figured out another more efficient way of pulling in an RSS feed!
This is similar to the Facebook "Like" button. If you read a post from someone in your circles and you think it's great, click the +1 button. That tells others reading it that you consider it interesting or thought-provoking or humorous. You can also Share it with others and pass on good posts that way.
I've only been in Google+ a few days. But I like it. I like it a lot. I will at some point have to decide how I'm going to manage my social networks. Will I give up Facebook in favour of Google+? Is there room for both in my life (with some tweaking so that there is no duplication)? Is Google+ a flash in the pan?
I want to interect with other genealogists and bloggers. I want to keep up with emerging technology, and I'm going to be choosing the platform(s) that best enable me to do those three things. Perhaps I will keep Facebook for Family connections and Google+ for everything else? I don't know yet but I'll be considering my options carefully over the next few weeks.
I don't want more work. I don't want more reading. So my final decision will be carefully thought out with one of the main criterias being that my work load does not increase.