An introduction to Google+ and what makes it different from other social networks

This is a post by Novel Publicity President, Emlyn Chand

Social media is always evolving – that’s part of what makes it so exciting and also part of what makes it so intimidating for new users.

The latest must-be-on network is the newly launched Google+, still in its beta form and accessible on an invite-only basis. Rather than giving you the opportunity to hem and haw as to whether this new network is worth exploring, I’d like to tell you what you need to know and teach you how to use it.

This is the first in a multi-part series in which I will:  explain Google+, compare it to other well-known social networks, analyze its various features, and point-out how it can be used to promote books and engage with readers.

Hang on, you’re in for a long and wild ride.

 

The extensive Google site family

One day Google will rule us all. But we shouldn’t be afraid, Google is a kind overlord. It keeps our information private; it creates programs which are fun to use, and finds content we want to read. Yes, Google has been hugely successful in creating and acquiring a group of top-notch techno-thingies.

We all know and love Google for its simple, yet powerful, search machine, but let’s take a moment to go over just how much Google controls. For starters, it gets well over 50% of web searches, leaving Yahoo and Bing to eat its dust. It’s got a rockin’ email program. Chrome – the web browser – is gaining popularity and has some cool features that leave Explorer and Mozilla salivating. We’ve got YouTube for videos, Skype for video chat, G-chat for normal chat, Picasa for pictures, BlogSpot for blogging, Docs for file-sharing, Earth and Maps for location-scouting – and that’s just some of the Googly goodness (you can see the full Google site family here).

 

Google’s past attempts at social networking

It would seem that Google has everything we need for our internet experience, but they’ve sadly been unable to get in gear when it comes to social media. Until now, that is.

Take Google Buzz – actually don’t. That program never caught on. It just wasn’t different enough to hold its own against Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and the other social network giants. Google also put out Orkut, which has done well in India and Brazil, but not so much in the States.

With these lackluster attempts from before, what makes me so sure that Google+ is different?

Because I’ve used and fallen in love with it. Because this newest network has clear innovations. Because it offers something different than Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit, but it also offers some of the familiar features we want and expect from our social media. Because I’m not the only one who sees its value; the G+ community is already hopping.

You may wonder what does Google+ do that Facebook can’t? I’ve heard people discount G+, because they claim it’s too similar to Facebook. People have discounted Twitter for the same inane reasoning. Yeah, if you just log-in and look at the stream, it is kind of Facebook-y, but that’s just one very small part of the program. If you ask me, the stream is more Twitter-esque in that it moves by very quickly – just without the character limits.

 

An overview of Google+’s features

Let me give you a quick introduction to the various features of Google+ (each category is linked to the corresponding Google+ help page in case you’d like to get more info):

Stream –Your home page on which you see updates and article shares from your friends or from a specific circle of friends. You can also choose to see notifications instead of updates. The stream refreshes in live time and can move by very quickly.

Profiles – Your profile is very simple:  a picture of you on the left-most side with a sample and total of people you’ve put in circles and people who have put you into circles (kind of like followed-following on Twitter rather than the mutual “friendship” on Facebook), your name at the top, a blurb about you (mine is “Author. President of Novel Publicity. Social Media Revolutionary.”), a list of your updates and posts and a menu bar across the top so users can tab over to learn ABOUT you, view your PHOTOS or VIDEOS and see stuff you’ve +1’d across the web (articles you like).

+1 –Kind of like the Facebook “like.” You can +1 users’ posts, links, comments, pictures – whatever. You can also +1 articles on the web and these articles will appear under your +1 profile tab for all to see. This is social bookmarking made simple, akin to what Reddit and Delicious do. This feature may not seem very exciting, but I guess that it will have great applications to SEO – Search Engine Optimization, or how well your site does on a Google search. Google’s search algorithm gives great importance to the number and quality of inbound links to your site. I bet that they’ll soon be factoring +1s into the equation as well. If I’m right, +1ing something will be infinitely more powerful than simply tweeting or Facebooking it, because you’ll be sharing with a network and improving search engine ranking. I’m excited to see where this goes.

Notifications – You’ll be informed in a bar on the top of Google+ whenever you get a +1, a comment, or a new connection. You’ll also be notified of new Gmail messages. Each time you get a comment on your post, G+ will send you an email. These can stack up quickly, much like they do with Facebook. The really cool thing is the option to “mute” a post. Right in the email notification, you can click to mute and will no longer receive email updates for new comments on the specified post. Gone are the days of being afraid to add a comment or a like to a friend’s Facebook update, because you don’t want to get spammed!

Circles – Circles are a great way to organize your friends. You simply create a circle and drag and drop your friends’ profile pics into them. You can also easily switch back and forth between various circles on the main stream, and you can find new friends by posting to “extended circles” or friends of your friends.

Sparks – These are like saved searches for topics in which you are interested. You can tab over to Sparks and see the latest articles relevant to these terms. You can then share them in your stream. My Spark terms are:  self-publishing, blogging advice, Twitter advice, Facebook advice, writing advice, and writing contest. Google+ tries to improve its results based on which articles you spark. Like a Golden Retriever puppy, it wants to please you.

Huddles – G-Chat has received a face lift. You can still chat one on one as before, but you can also establish group chats, or huddles, which are private chat rooms for you and your amigos. You can also access this features via Android or iPhone.

Hangouts – The BEST feature and the one that really sets Google+ apart is hangouts. Hangouts are group video chats. Up to 10 people can join in at once, and Google+ will automatically switch the main screen to whoever is talking while the other chatters will be featured in small tiles underneath the big screen. Hanging out is meant to be informal as the name implies. Google likens it to running into your friend at the mall or a coffee shop. It’s not something that needs to be scheduled. You can just do it on the fly when you have a spare moment here or there. Be sure to try “hanging out,” before you decide that you don’t need any new social networks to keep up with. This feature alone will reel you in, hook, line, and sinker.

 

Follow-up with us next week to learn more about hangouts

There’s your basic overview. Next week, I’ll explore my favorite feature “hanging out” in greater depth and discuss it potential applications for authors and the publishing industry. I hope you’ll keep checking back.

 

Want a Google+ invite?

And if this post has gotten your heart pumping to the tune of pu-pu-pu-plus, I’d be happy to send you an invitation to try it out. Just post your email as a comment to this blog article or get in touch with me on one of Novel Pulicity’s many social networks. I hope you’re excited about this new network!

 


Emlyn Chand, President of Novel PublicityAbout this post’s author:

Emlyn Chand is the president of Novel Publicity and a YA author. She loves to hear and tell stories and emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). Her first novel Farsighted released in late 2011 and is of the YA genre. Learn more about Emlyn at www.emlynchand.com or by connecting with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or GoodReads.


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