In my last article, I talked about all of the advancements social media made in 2011. This included the launch and relatively quick rise of Google+, Google’s shiny new social network that allows people to connect, share, and even hangout (via video chat, that is). While Google did enter the social scene, however, their main function as a search company is still to disseminate information. Thus, it’s not surprising that Google+ has some nice built-in ways of doing this.
I know what you’re thinking. Obviously a social network can disseminate information. Just look at Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and every other social network out there. They all spread information- people post things for other people to read. But I think Google+ has a couple of extra layers that the other social networks don’t have. Let’s start with an obvious one: Circles.
Control Your Information with Circles
Google+ makes it incredibly easy to organize everyone you follow into Circles, and then choose the updates from the specific Circles you want to see; these updates, as I’m sure you probably know by now, are called Streams. The default Stream is the one with updates from anyone you’ve added to a Circle. You can then choose Streams of specific circles to view.
The best part about Google’s main Stream is that you can customize the amount of updates you see from each Circle. If there are certain Circles I don’t want showing up in my main Stream, I can use the slider pictured below to tell Google+ to not show that Circle’s updates, or show fewer updates. Similarly, if I wan to see more, I can tell Google+ to show everything from that Circle. The default is to show most updates from each Circle.
What does this mean for you? Well, if you’re going to use Google+ in some specific capacity (for example, to stay on top of Web Development), then you can craft your main Stream so that it only displays updates from Web Developers. Your friends, family, and others can still be there, but they won’t show up on your home page.
It is also worth mentioning that Google+ recently rolled out Google+ Pages, which allow businesses and organizations to promote themselves on Google+. This makes it even easier to stay on top of news from they entities we love most!
And speaking of Streams, Google+ has another really neat feature for keeping on top of information, which is the primary inspiration for this post. Sparks are a sort of news stream integrated into Google+. You search for a term you’re interested in and are taken to a results page that will display results from all over Google+ and the Internet. You can then choose to filter the results to just “Sparks,” or news stories Google+ has found.
One change Google+ made since launch that I don’t really like is that the Sparks area isn’t as easily accessible, and any Sparks list you had before the change in Search (which showed only Sparks) changed to general searches across all of Google+.
Using Sparks is a nice way to keep up on news stories for particular topics you’re interested in. The idea is similar to custom Google News searches you can do and save, but the fact that Sparks are available right in Google+ is an important part for me because it allows me to make Google+ a one-stop shop for information.
While the Google+ general Search function (which is to search all updates across Google+) can be useful, I personally feel it’s not very refined and therefore not great for getting real information out of Google+. A general search for “Yankees” might show not only news stories, but random posts about the New York Yankees that might hold no value, or even posts using the American slang term for northerns, which have nothing to do with the New York Yankees. Sparks, on the other hand, are strictly news stories.
Hangouts on Air
Possibly the best update Google+ has gotten since launch is Hangouts “on Air,” which allows users to broadcast and record their Hangouts for mass consumption. Even after the nine person limit is hit, other people can join a Hangout just to watch, but not interact with, the broadcaster.
While Hangouts on Air aren’t available to everyone to host just yet, anyone can still join one, and they’ve been used pretty creatively so far. The Muppets recently used it to promote the new movie, and the Dalai Lama has used it to connect with people across the globe.
Once it does roll out to all users, the possibilities are endless. Along with people using it to broadcast their own homegrown shows and entertainment, schools will be able to use it to broadcast lectures, conventions to broadcast talks, and more. That means it will be even easier for us to get really great information, and not just by reading it. We’ll see people talking about it, giving real examples, interacting with people who are asking the questions we can’t necessarily ask when we read something. In short, I feel Hangouts on Air will be the best way for us to get information when it rolls out to everyone, and it’s something that we’ll get only on Google+.
I hope I’ve helped shed some light on ways to really harness the power of Google+ to stay informed . Google put a lot of thought into how to separate Google+ from other social networks already out there, especially Facebook. I think they did a good job. While Facebook focuses on personal relationships, Google+ focuses on informations and how it aligns to our personal relationships.