google_plusGoogle+ is Google’s social networking tool which nicely integrates many of the free Google products that have made cyber communication and collaboration so easy: Gmail, Picasa, Google video, Google chat, Google Reader, and Google Mobile. This post reviews the major features of Google+:  Circles, Sparks, and Hangouts.

Circles:  Circles help you organize the people you communicate with online.  You put your contacts into circles according to your common interests, friendships, family ties, etc.  You can set up as many circles as you wish, and place your contacts into as many circles as you wish.  So, for instance, one contact might be a member of several circles.  Once you set up your circles and populate them, what do you do with them?  You use them to filter with whom you communicate, what you share with whom.  Let’s say you have a message to share with just your family circle.  In your home Google+ stream you type a message at the top of that circle’s page.  (Facebook users will liken this to entering a status message.) When you’ve finished typing your message you can then share it with the family circle, and you can check a box in a pull-down menu which sends the message by email to even those family members who are not members of Google+.  When used this way a Google+ circle is like an email distribution list.  Circles can also be used to invite groups of your contacts to communicate in various ways, like text chatting, or video chatting.  In Facebook, when one types a status message it goes out to all one’s friends, hundreds!  Sometimes we do want to communicate with all our friends.  But most of the our messages will probably be of interest to only some of our friends.  Google+ gives us the ability to easily and quickly choose with whom we want to share what.  It is less porous and more discriminating than Facebook.

Sparks:  Google’s search computers have access to an enormous amount of information, searchable by keywords.  Sparks takes advantage of this capacity.  If you use Google reader to subscribe to blogs, and then every so often you read the blog posts that have come in, then you will understand how Sparks works.  You tell Google+ what subjects you are interested in, by keywords.  Sparks then feeds you abstracts of pages on the internet pertaining to those subjects, with links to access them.  If you have ever browsed your favorite section of a library’s stacks to see what interesting books you might discover, then you understand what Sparks does.  It sparks your imagination and and interest in a subject about which you’re already hungry for more.

Hangouts:  Just when it appeared that Skype might offer a free multi-user video chatting tool, Microsoft bought them out and raised the price on this service.  Oovoo offers free three-party video chatting.  But if reports are correct, as many as ten persons can video chat for free in a Google+ hangout.  You can invite whole circles to a hangout, or particular persons, by using their email addresses.  The interface is clean, quick, and very easy to use.  Thumbnails of the chatting parties appear at the bottom of the screen.  To make any large you just click on it.

A comparison with Facebook:  I have been using Facebook for quite a while to reach large numbers of my friends, especially when I post new blog articles.  But I have never liked Facebook much.  I find the interface too busy, visually confusing.  Google+ is simpler and cleaner.  I like the way that an icon into Google+ appears at the top left of my Gmail inbox, and an icon for all my recent notifications about my Google+ contacts appears at the top right of my inbox.  With the advent of Google+ the Gmail inbox has become the portal for all of Google’s free services, and a boon for both personal and business communication.

I like this animation video, which makes the comparison between Facebook and Google+ very entertaining!

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