An introduction to Google Plus
Google officially introduced the Google+ project on their blog on 28 June 2011. Initially requiring invites, Google+ can now be joined by anyone, although users are required to have or set up a Google account.
As with all social networking sites, the Google+ project strives to provide users with streamlined ways to communicate, collaborate, create, and share. The advantage that Google+ has over other social networking sites is that it the shares, communicates with and enhances already popular Google services such as Google Chrome, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google Documents, and Picasa.
Profile fields include the standard fields such as employment, places lived, relationship status, education, and contact information, but also allows for a free form introduction and "bragging rights". Google, somewhat controversially, does not allow people to set up accounts under pseudonyms or nicknames, but does have "nicknames" and "other names" fields in the profile. Profile owners can decide if their profile should be visible or searchable. The profile page provides easy access to one's photos, videos and items that have been +1'd (recommended by the user by clicking on the +1 button on a web site or in a browser).
The premiere portion of Google+ are the circles, which allow for more privacy when posting. While Facebook will allow people to put their "friends" into categories, Google+ allows for a more complete separation or segmentation. Users put their contacts into "circles" by user-created category ("friends", "family", "ALA committee" and so on). Adding people to circles is a unilateral action; permission of the other person is not required. Google+ users get a message when they have been added to a circle. They can reciprocate by adding that person to their circles, or not.
Posts can be sent to individual circles or more than one at once. At present, posts cannot be sent to anyone who is not in the sender's circles. Likewise, information can be posted to individual circles, groups of circles, or everyone. This avoids the information overload from people who post frequently or about topics that are of limited interest. Users can also be blocked.
Librarians can create niche brands by assembling circles for various aspects of their professional life. This is very similar to the varied corporate advertising campaigns that are designed to appeal to different segments of the population. A librarian who manages the library's social media, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, can set up a circle on Google+ to talk with other librarians who do the same thing, or have a different circle for each and send to one, two or all three at once. Librarians with various subject interests can also create circles for each of those interests and review postings at varying times to update their knowledge when needed.
The first item in the stream is a blank field that prompts the user to "share what's new" with the option to add a photo, video, link or location. Posts in this field will appear in the stream of those who have circled the user. Likewise, posts from the individuals in a user's circle appear in the user's stream. All posts in the stream can be viewed at once, or the stream can be filtered by each circle. A user can comment on these posts, share the posts or show their interest in these posts. There is also an "incoming" stream which contains the posts from those individuals who are not in a user's circle. The posts in a stream appear because someone has specifically chosen to share with that user. This information is available on the first line of the stream in the sharing details. A post will appear as public, limited or extended circles. When attempting to share a post that is showing as limited or extended circles, the user receives this message "this post was originally shared with a limited audience – remember to be thoughtful about who you share it with" and must click OK before the item can be shared. This is an added step for users to remain aware of privacy issues.
Photos from a user's circles and a user's own photos appear in the stream when they are posted and will also appear in the photos section of Google+. Picasa albums appear in this area as well. The integration with Picasa also allows a user to view the Picasa albums of people in their circles (only if they are public albums or the user has been given access via Picasa). Users can share their Picasa albums with their circles and also upload new photos to the albums. Picasa is being renamed, likely to Google photos as Google rebrands and streamlines products with the introduction of Google+. This integration with the photo product, whatever it is called, creates an almost effortless way to upload and manage photos.
Hangouts are video chat sessions that are easily initiated by a user and joined by people in their circles. Anyone with a webcam can begin or join a hangout. While in a hangout session, users can chat and pull up videos from YouTube to jointly view and comment on. One advantage of hangouts over other video chatting software is that they are more spontaneous because there is no need to dial a user directly or specify times and places. If people in a user's circle are online at the time, they simply join the hangout. With the added features of being able to record hangouts and view YouTube videos during the video session, there is great potential for hangouts for meetings, instruction and professional communication.
Google announced the addition of games to Google+ on August 11, 2011. The games component allows a user to share the fun of social gaming with the people in their circles.
Sparks was initially released as a major part of the Google+ experience, appearing on the main stream page. The intention was to help a user "find what they are interested in" by providing suggestions and an open search. Clicking on these suggested interests, or entering a different interest results in current stories and related content on this topic. One of the major changes announced when Google+ opened to the public was the incorporation of Sparks into an overall search function. Search was opened to include everything and instead of appearing as a separate service, Sparks now appears alongside results for people and posts. These all inclusive searches can be saved and pinned to the main stream page. It is easy to share and +1 Sparks, with these options appearing on the snippet. The enhanced search functionality has placed Sparks in a less premiere place, but it remains a good way to find current information on a topic and share it with circles, without ever having to leave Google+.
Google+ is integrated with Android smartphones. Apple users had to wait a few days for a Google+ app for their iPhones and iPod touches. Currently, iPad users have to settle for using the iPhone app or the mobile site.
Using Google+ on a mobile device allows a user to add a "nearby" stream, which shows any public posts in the area of the mobile device (when location settings are enabled). This can be useful for locating other Google+ users in the area and see what people are talking about near you. This could be particularly useful at conferences in order to connect with others or see where to get the best lunch.
The mobile site and the mobile app provide user-friendly access to the stream, photos, circles, profile, hangouts, and notifications. The mobile app provides the ability to instantaneously upload photos and video from a phone. The mobile app also has an icon for "messenger", which does not appear on the mobile or desktop versions of Google+.
Messenger is a platform for text conversations between multiple parties. While the icon for messenger only appears on the Mobile app, it is possible to messenger from a desktop or laptop. A user initiates a messenger by inviting their circles or specific members of their circles. Everyone who joins the messenger will see all the messages from everyone else. Settings allow a user to determine who can and cannot invite them to a messenger allowing anyone, extended circles or circles to invite them to messenger. As essentially a group messaging service, messenger's potential ranges from planning a lunch to conducting a virtual meeting or even providing virtual reference assistance on the go with a group or class.
Librarians and Google+
Within the first month of the release of Google+, it was evident that librarians were taking a look at this new product as blog posts, tweets and Facebook posts contained thoughts and opinions on the product. A public post by +Debbie Ohi provides a way for librarians to find each other by encouraging other librarians to put their name in the comments and share the link with their professional circles.
As with any social media product, the potential for Google+ is dependent on the user community to keep it vibrant, relevant, and current. Google needs to make sure the platform is secure and provide for privacy and easy interaction. Some of the frustrations with Facebook are the irrelevant and mundane posts that people can feel overwhelmed by. Google+'s use of circles and streams allows the users to only read the information they are most interested in and to save the rest for later or not at all. The ability to communicate with groups of people at a time has great possibilities for professional associations and informal groups. That librarians appear to be early adaptors is an encouraging sign, not only for Google's design, but for librarianship as an occupation to cultivate the larger social media world.
Google provides details on the Google+ project on their support pages: www.google.com/support/+/hl=en. These pages contain helpful videos, descriptions, and examples on how to use Google+. There are also several websites such as: http://googleplusanswers.com that provide descriptions, examples, and tips. There are many Google+ users that provide tips, tools, and assistance. Several Google employees post publicly with information and development news on this and other Google products. As mentioned earlier, there are many librarians on Google+ sharing their thoughts on its use within the library and within the profession. The best way to learn more about Google+ is to jump right in and start using it. We invite you to add us to a circle; +Katie Elson Anderson and +Julie Still.
This is a shortened version of "An introduction to Google Plus", which originally appeared in Library Hi Tech News, Volume 28 Number 8, 2011, pp. 7-10.
The authors are Katie Elson Anderson and Julie M. Still ([email protected]), Paul Robeson Library, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden, New Jersey, USA.
About the authors
Katie Elson Anderson is a reference and instruction librarian at the Paul Robeson Library on the Camden campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She has an MLIS (Rutgers University) and a BA in Anthropology and German (Washington University in St Louis). As a self-described social media geek/addict, Katie's research focuses on the use of social media in education. Publications include contributions to Neal Schuman's Teaching Generation M: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators and Sage's 21st Century Handbook of Anthropology and Encyclopedia of Social Networks.
Julie M. Still has a BA (History) and MA (Library Science) from the University of Missouri, and an MA (History) from the University of Richmond. She is part of the library faculty at Paul Robeson Library on the Camden campus of Rutgers University. In addition to writing several books and articles on libraries, librarians and the Internet, as well as digital library resources, she has also spoken on these topics at conferences around the country.