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Google+: The Missing Manual by Kevin Purdy

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Introduction

DESPITE WHAT YOU MIGHT think based on its name, Google+ isn’t a super-charged version of the search engine we all turn to for answers. And it’s not a paid upgrade for businesses, or an exclusive club for people who are really, really good at searching Google. Nope, it’s actually a big, daring move by a company primarily known for search, advertising, and making millionaires out of computer geeks into the relatively new field of social networking—websites, like Facebook and Twitter, that let you link up with friends, acquaintances, and maybe even celebrities and brands you like.

Since its launch as an invite-only site in June 2011, Google+ has picked up an estimated 40 million users, and it’s being integrated into more and more of Google’s other services, like Gmail and Google Docs. So Google+ is more than just a way to connect with friends, family, and acquaintances online. It’s a smarter way of sharing online that’s tied into all the other Google services you might already use. And this book explains how to get the most out of Google+, whether you’re using it for fun or business, on a Windows computer, a Mac, an Android phone, iPhone, or just about anywhere you can get on the Web (or even just send a text message).

How Google+ Works

DESPITE WHAT YOU MIGHT have read about it in the press, Google+ isn’t quite Google’s version of Facebook. Google+ does let you do some of the same things you can do on Facebook—and Twitter, and even LinkedIn. You can use Google+ to find people you know, people you used to know, friends-of-friends with whom you share common interests, and even—if you’d like—complete strangers. It’s especially easy to build that network of connections if you’ve been using other Google tools like Gmail, the web-based email program, but it’s not hard for complete newcomers to the Google-verse to use, either. Once you create a network of people on Google+, however big or small, you can share all kinds of things with those friends and acquaintances: thoughts and updates, photos, videos, links to interesting websites, your location, and even a round of poker or some other game.

But Facebook (and in some cases, Twitter) offers most of those same features, so how is Google+ different? For one thing, it adds some neat, unique offerings. hangouts are the best example—they let you hold group video chats with up to 10 people (see Chapter 6). There’s also Messenger, which can help you keep a group conversation going when people are out in the field; it’s far more efficient than text-messaging and emailing (see Starting a Messenger Session (Apps Only)). And the photos, videos, and notifications about new stuff are a lot less cluttered, less intrusive, and easier to customize than on other social-networking sites.

What Google+ really does differently, though, is give you nearly total control over who can see each thing you put on Google+, and what kinds of things you see and from whom. For example, if you have an update about a local issue, like your favorite restaurant closing down, you can share that with just the folks who live nearby, and spare the people you know through your photography class from seeing that nice-but-irrelevant-to-them post. You arrange people into groups like Baby Picture Addicts, and browse their offerings only when you’re in the mood for first steps, footie pajamas, and so on. And you have more control over how and when your life and thoughts get shared in Google+: who can tag you in photos, how far people can share your posts, who can bug you about games they’re playing, and more.

All you need to get started with Google+ is an email address and a Google account (they’re both free). You already have a Google account if you use any of Google’s online services—Gmail, Google Docs, Picasa Web Albums, and so on—but it’s easy to sign up for one if you don’t (Signing In and Joining Up tells you how). And if your company or organization uses Google to host their email and other web tools, you can sign up for Google+ using that email address instead.

What You Can Do on Google+

AFTER YOU SIGN UP and sign in, you’ll drop right into Google+, where you’ll discover the different aspects of the site (all of which are explained in detail throughout this book):

  • Profile. Where you control exactly what the general public, specific groups of people, or even just individuals (like your boss or mother-in-law) can see about you.

  • Circles. The places where you’ll organize the folks you know into groups so it’s easy to share stuff with just the right people.

  • Streams. The main page of Google+, where you see all the updates, pictures, news, and notes from people you know, and where you post your own contributions.

  • Photos. Google+ makes it really easy to view photos, and to upload and share them with both your Google+ contacts and people who aren’t (yet) members.

  • Notifications. Google+ can let you know when there’s a new photo of you, a comment on a post you wrote, or something else relevant to you happens. These notices can take several forms: emails, text messages sent to your cellphone, or notes displayed in a handy toolbar button on any Google site. Fortunately, it’s easy to control what kinds of things Google+ tells you about (and how) so you don’t get overwhelmed.

  • Hangouts. The video chat service that’s really easy and smooth to use, whether it’s just you and one other person, or a whole football squad’s worth of chatters.

  • Search. Find people you know on Google+, see what your friends and others are saying about any subject, and keep on top of the latest news about a topic by seeing the news items that people on Google+ are linking to.

  • Mobile. Google+ on an iPhone, Android phone, or in a mobile browser is a great way to show folks where you are, what you’re doing, and share pictures of your adventures. There’s also a built-in tool for managing groups of people while you’re all on the go.

  • Games. The fun part, where you solve puzzles, populate crime families, and fling Angry Birds at egg-stealing pigs.

Note

This book covers the ins and outs of Google+ as they were when this book was being written. But since the site is changing so quickly, it’s possible you may run into a feature that works different than described here, or a new feature that isn’t covered in this book. If that happens, check out Google’s help pages, which are actually quite helpful. To view them, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner of any Google+ page and select “Google+ help.” You can use the search box that appears in the upper-right of the page to get info about whatever’s vexing you.

About This Book

YOU MIGHT HAVE ALREADY heard that Google+ gives you better control over your social networking, but what does that mean, exactly? And where does Google+ fit into your life if you’re already using Facebook, and maybe Twitter, too? And how can you use Google+ on your cellphone, tablet, or other web-friendly device?

This book explains all those things and more. You’ll get a smooth introduction to Google+, one that won’t leave you looking like you’ve just learned how to use your mouse. You’ll learn what you can do with the site—and how to do it better. This book explores and explains the much-touted features of Google+, and covers details and perks that make the site so appealing to fiddlers (like your humble author). And you’ll get a firm sense of how your public profile is used on Google+ and learn ways to protect your privacy.

This book is aimed at people of all skill levels. Don’t have a Google account? No problem—this book walks you through getting one, and explains how Google+ connects with other Google services you might like. Already rocking out on the Web, but want to understand how Google+ fits into your web existence? This book makes the case for using the site and gives you the know-how to use it well, but also outlines its limitations.

Note

Most of the screenshots in this book were taken on a Windows computer running Chrome, the free web browser from Google. (You can learn more about Chrome at www.google.com/chrome.) And unless otherwise specified, most of the images of cellphone screens were taken on a phone running Android (http://tinyurl.com/gpdroid), version 2.3 (a.k.a. Gingerbread), also from Google. So if you use a Mac, a different browser, or a different type of phone, don’t be alarmed if what you see on your screen doesn’t exactly match the images you see in the following pages. You should still be able to follow the instructions in this book; any major differences between, say, Android and iPhone are noted in the text.

The Very Basics

TO USE THIS BOOK (and Google+), you need to know a few basics. This book assumes that you’re familiar with a few terms and concepts:

  • Clicking. This book includes instructions that require you to use your computer’s mouse or trackpad. To click means to point your cursor (the arrow pointer) at something on the screen and then—without moving the cursor at all—press and release the left button on the mouse (or laptop trackpad). To right-click means the same thing, but pressing the right mouse button instead. (Usually, clicking selects an onscreen element or presses an onscreen button, whereas right-clicking typically reveals a shortcut menu, which lists some common tasks specific to whatever you’re right-clicking.) To double-click, of course, means to click twice in rapid succession, again without moving the pointer at all. And to drag means to move the cursor while holding down the (left) mouse button the entire time.

    When you’re told to Shift-click something, you click while pressing the Shift key. Related procedures, like Ctrl-clicking, work the same way—just click while pressing the corresponding key.

  • Keyboard shortcuts. Nothing is faster than keeping your fingers on your keyboard to enter data, choose names, trigger commands, and so on—without losing time by grabbing the mouse, carefully positioning it, and then choosing a command or list entry. That’s why many experienced Google fans prefer to trigger commands by pressing combinations of keys on the keyboard. For example, in most word processors, you can press Ctrl+B to produce a boldface word. In this book, when you read an instruction like “Press Ctrl+C to copy the text,” start by pressing the Ctrl key; while it’s down, type the letter C; and then release both keys.

About the Online Resources

AS THE OWNER OF a Missing Manual, you’ve got more than just a book to read. Online, you’ll find example files so you can get some hands-on experience, as well as tips, articles, and maybe even a video or two. You can also communicate with the Missing Manual team and tell us what you love (or hate) about the book. Head over to www.missingmanuals.com, or go directly to one of the following sections.

Missing CD

This book doesn’t have a CD pasted inside the back cover, but you’re not missing out on anything. Go to www.missingmanuals.com/cds, where you’ll find a list of clickable links to all the websites in this book so you don’t wear down your fingers typing long web addresses.

Registration

If you register this book at oreilly.com, you’ll be eligible for special offers—like discounts on future editions of Google+: The Missing Manual. Registering takes only a few clicks. To get started, type www.oreilly.com/register into your browser to hop directly to the Registration page.

Feedback

Got questions? Need more information? Fancy yourself a book reviewer? On our Feedback page, you can get expert answers to questions that come to you while reading, share your thoughts on this Missing Manual, and find groups for folks who share your interest in Google+. To have your say, go to www.missingmanuals.com/feedback.

Errata

In an effort to keep this book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you’ve suggested. We also note such changes on the book’s website, so you can mark important corrections into your own copy of the book, if you like. Go to http://tinyurl.com/gpluserrata to report an error and view existing corrections.

On Google+

This book has its very own home on Google+, where you can read about ways that Google+ has changed since this book was printed. For the latest and greatest info, point your browser to http://tinyurl.com/gplusmm.k.

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