Sunday, 9 June 2013

Photos, Communities and Circles - The Holy Trinity of Google+

After months it happened. Not long ago, I reached a point where I honestly felt content to stop trying to have my friends join Google+. Since that point, we've had the redesign, the relaunch of Hangouts and the amazing improvements in Photos, and Google+ is ever more of a pleasure to use. The icing on the cake is feeling no pressure for my "IRL" friends to be constantly present there. I'm going to try and help give a guide on how to crack open Google+, without touting too much about it's superiority to Facebook, Twitter or the like. I'm going to just explain why you might enjoy it, additionally to everything else.

Store Your Photos There

For a moment, forget the social network you use, and think about your pictures. They say a thousand words, and they keep our memories safe. I use Google+ to organize my photos. Now a lot of pictures of me are still on Facebook, where I'm tagged, and me and my friends can enjoy them. If I want to share something with my friends, I'll still upload to Facebook and enjoy the likes. But my photos and memories get organised first and foremost on Google+. This is because Google+ nails the services side of photo management. Even in the early days, Google introduced auto-backup, where your photos are synced to the cloud in private storage until you choose to share them. Facebook has since adopted this, but it still lags behind on the second part of this wizardry. While in the auto-backup space, Google enhances all your photos with common adjustments, where needed, perfecting each one. Then, where it can, it will even create a simple animated GIF. I have seen the delight this creates with my friends and family, and for my favourite pictures and moments, there's simply no other place, Facebook or even my hard drive, where I'm better off keeping these moments than on Google+.

Just a short point worth adding is privacy. Google is great at making photo management and editing easy, but it makes managing your privacy super easy too. Every share and post you decide the exact scope of that post, and this matter most to me with Photos. Knowing each and every time exactly who can see my albums and pictures is reassuring, and a constant frustration for me when using Facebook.

Discuss Hobbies and Interests You Don't Share With Friends

No I'm not talking about "adult" interests, or the like... get your head out of the gutter! I mean things you are into and care about. Take fishing. You might have a handful of friends that go fishing with you, who will give perhaps a like or two when you post a picture of your new rod. But Google+ (and Reddit too I should add) are networks of people built for people to talk about their interests. Communities in Google+ are effectively forums brought up to the modern age, and adjusted for the wider public. Simple interfaces and real names make for a really pleasant place to share and discuss things you are into, in more depth than with your real world friends. Don't expect it to be as engaging as Facebook - afterall these people aren't your friends. But you can expect to have some interesting conversations, and get some useful tips and ideas. My current obsession is scouring the Android Themes community for tips and ideas for theming my phone. No one I know in real life is willing to waste as much of their time as I am theming their phone, but on Google+ I can share this interest with the 14,885 members of this community.

Get Your Content Delivered

I'll finish with my first use case of Google+. When I first started getting into it, Communities didn't exist and Photos were good, but not as great as today. When I started, I found Google+'s key use to be the stream that just focused on stories I wanted to find. Find stuff you want to read online, and circle away. Pro-tip: Create circles not just of friends, but of Pages and people that follow a theme. For instance, I have a circle named "Bloggers", where I can keep up with all the blogs I follow. Next to it I keep "Tech News" and "News", appropriately adding the relevant Page to each. Having these circles display at the top of my home page, I can quickly switch to different streams of content as I please. So don't look at Google+ and think "Where are all my friends? This is empty." Rather, find some Pages to follow, and see what they post. Comment on their threads and reply to people who are also into that story.

The Internet Is Not a Zero Sum Game

Mark Zuckerberg stated this point at last year's AllThingsD conference, D10. Using Google+, don't just look for your friends. In fact, recently I started getting prompts to wish people a happy birthday (as more people I know join it, I guess this has started popping up more), and I almost wish I could turn this off. I have Facebook for that! Google+ is about social on the internet - the big internet. Look beyond your real world friends. And store your photos there - you'll save loads of time, and your photos will look better and come to life.

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