You might have heard some talk lately about a little site called Google+.
Yes, Google has a new social networking site, and if you have a book or project for which you'd like a wider audience, no question, you should be on it.
At first, the thought of managing yet ANOTHER social networking venue just made me tired. But I am Curiouswriter, after all...so I had to try it myself and see whether it IS All That. The Magic Eight Ball says, Indications are Good. But if you're a writer, you might be wondering what's the point? If you use it the same way you use Facebook and Twitter, there is no point. Trust me. You don't want to merely duplicate Facebook in G+. (Yeah, G+ is what the cool kids say, all right? Google is better at this stuff than we think. And also, they're not, which I'll get to.)
So, what does G+ have to offer writers besides the stuff you can already do on FB, and besides the ability to stalk famous people on Twitter? Without doing a whole tutorial here (there are good ones already out there--here
, for instance), I'll try to describe the basic arrangement.
You've probably already heard about Circles--This is the G+ answer to Facebook's awkward group management system and Twitter's mediocre (to me) List system. The way it works: When you want to follow someone, you put them in a circle. They don't have to approve this--so, like Twitter, you will see whatever posts that person allows "anyone" to see. If they in turn follow you back, placing you in one of their
circles, you will see whatever content they permit that circle to see. And that person will show up in "people who have you in circles" (awkward wording!) as well as "people in your circles." These lists of followers and followees are displayed as thumbnail profile pics on your main page, similar to FB.
You can group people any way you choose, with any number of people in a given circle. You can place people in more than one circle, and you can call your circles whatever you like. For instance, you could have a Circle for Colleagues, one for Writing Group, for College Friends, for Neighbors...you get the picture.
Like Facebook, you have a profile page where people can see your bio information and whatever posts you're permitting them to see. When you want to post something to the Stream (the G+ version of News Feed), you choose who sees each and every post. So say you want to talk to your writing group only. You choose that circle when you're posting--it takes one click, and you don't have to change screens. Say you're posting a link to your work, and you want everyone on G+, potentially, to see it--then you make it public. Simple one-click selection. You can also select multiple circles or individual people to view your posts.
This is one gripe I have with the current set-up (there are others). The G+ version of Direct Messaging is a post sent to one person. You type a post and instead of selecting a circle of people who can view it, you select an individual. You can disable sharing, so it can't be forwarded, also one-click simple. However, the post will be visible to you in your Stream and on your profile, which is a bit disconcerting. Psychologically, it feels like it's "out there," and everyone can see it. Of course, this may be a good thing... You can check by clicking on the relevant place in the post-box (upper right) to remind yourself who you've permitted to see any specific post, so at least it's simple.
Profile editing is also very simple. What I don't like is that your followers and followees, are visible to everyone on the web, like on Twitter, but the content you're posting is more like FB, so it feels a bit like you're sharing your 'friend lists' with the world. If you don't want your associates to appear on your public profile, you can edit your page to make them invisible. However, then they are invisible to the people on G+ who might be interested in following you and will want to see who you're associated with. This also makes your "friends" invisible to people in your Circles. You can selectively hide some of the people you're following, but you can't hide the people who are following you without hiding them everywhere, if that makes sense.
It's important to note that supposedly no one can see what circle you have placed them in EVER. So, the people in your circles called "Most Irritating Family Members" and "People Who Just Want a Favor" will never, ever find out.
Until they do, of course. Because that part, I'm just not sold on yet--the security, I mean. Google is huge. They did not build a networking site for fun. They are going to use the info you post to target ads, just like Facebook, except, supposedly...different.
Meanwhile, how should people in creative fields use this space? Or let's make that, how MIGHT we use it?
"Hangouts" for Writers
Already, writers have found an interesting way to use a feature called "Hangouts," which is unique to G+ and perhaps one of Google's best innovations. Yes, it's a stupid name. It's like when parents try to use their kids' slang and they're 10 years behind in terminology. (I picture teenagers sitting on beanbag chairs and upholstered cubes having a "rap" session, like on the PBS show, Zoom--remember that?) But the nice thing about Hangouts is that they're essentially video-conferences you can do with the people in any or all of your Circles (or, it can go even wider to what's called "extended circles"--like "friends of friends" on FB). You can even announce Hangouts publicly, but I'm not sure why you would; I would think small groups are better for this purpose. You can invite whomever you want in whatever circles you want. Say you have a circle called "fiction writers" and a circle called "visual artists," and your goal is to discuss ideas for collaborating on a particular type of project. You'd post an invitation to a Hangout at a certain date/time. Whoever wants to can show up and talk about the topic at hand via webcam and screen chat.
Writers are beginning to put this feature to use to motivate each other to work, announcing Hangouts that function as "writing dates." The way that works is, you invite people from your relevant Circles, you chat for a specified time, and then you write quietly for a specified time. Why you'd need a webcam for the writing part, I'm not sure--except that maybe it's motivating and keeps you on task to see other people typing quietly (even though, who knows, they might be doing status updates on Facebook...). Here's one writer's description
of how she's using G+ Hangouts for this purpose.
You could, for instance, meet with your writing group and critique work using the Hangout feature. But, you could already do that on Skype, right? The Circle organizing feature makes it easier, but personally, I'd rather meet in "meatspace." Drinking martinis with your writing group on a webcam seems a little too much like drinking alone to me! Wait--doesn't everyone's writing group meet for drinks? Never mind...
This post on G+ by Raima Larter
compares the build-up of Google+ to bacterial colonization. That's an apt metaphor, as the colonizing seems to be opportunistic, targeted, and random. Yes, all three, depending. The first people I "met" on G+ were what I call "social media mavens." They have a lot of interesting things to say about how to use this site, and in some cases, brilliant networking ideas. See, for instance, the site called Women of Google+
, started by Social Media Maven Lynette Young. No, contrary to what I initially thought, it's not a calendar...
So is Google+ worth the effort, especially if you're a writer jealously guarding your writing time? The short answer is Yes. Or at least, the Magic Eight Ball says, The outlook is good. But I repeat--it's NOT worth using it the same way you use Facebook.
As the field trial continues, Google is promising to respond to critiques and make changes. We'll see how well they do. I'll keep you posted. And meanwhile, give me a +1
on this post, will you? That's the G+ version of a Like button: