10 subtle features you should know about Google Plus
Takeaway: Besides the obvious like Circles, Google Takeout, and Sparks, there are some great subtle Google Plus features you should know about as well.
Have you heard about all the nifty things the new Google Plus social network can do? Of course you have. But have you dug around to see what's really good beyond the headline items? Well we have, and we've brought back some small yet superb details to crow about.
This was originally published in the 10 Things Blog in July 2011.
1: Automatic photo uploading from your phone
At first, the Android app for Google+ seems like a nice way to check activity, post about how awesome it is to skip work for a ball game, and so on. But head into the app's settings, enable Instant Upload, and the way you use your phone, and Google+, changes entirely. Everything you shoot is almost instantaneously synced to a private album in Google+. From there, it's just one click to sharing the photo, but you'll want to type out a sentence. Even if you don't share your stuff, Google+ is basically freeing you from the need to find a cord, fire up a program, and monkey around with your phone storage — everything you shoot is in Google+, too. But you decide whether to put it out there.
2: Unlimited photo storage (pretty much) in Picasa
To make Google+ a place where people want to share their photos, among many, many competitors, Google had to pull out the big guns. In this case, those guns are server storage, something Google has more of than anybody else, by a good long shot. Google can offer almost unlimited photo storage in Picasa, so that photos smaller than 2048 by 2048 in pixels and videos less than 15 minutes long don't "count" against your storage space. Shoot and shoot and share and shoot again, and Google just keeps smiling at your feeble attempts to take up space.
3: Quick, easy, undo-able photo editing, with I'm Feeling Lucky
Photo presentation in Google+ is a nice, content-forward experience, with a black backdrop and easy sharing or deletion. Even nicer is that Google threw a few of the most helpful photo filters and editing tools in there, too. Click the Actions button just underneath a photo, and you'll get rotation tools — and more important, Edit Photo. A right-hand sidebar pops up with some Instagram-like filters: cross-process, Orton, and black-and-white. There's auto-color and auto-contrast and the ever-helpful I'm Feeling Lucky button, which helps non-photo-nerds by applying the most common light and color corrections to your shots.
4: Profiles for better Google search results
Sensing some need to let actual people have a say over the machine math that produces search results, Google previously offered Google Profiles as a dedicated spot where you, the person, could have a say and show up in searches. But like the best advice about vegetables and tax receipts, Profiles weren't widely adopted by the general user. As Google+ gains users, it's making the Profile an essential tool in connecting to others and discovering interests, which in turn is causing users to more accurately and fully fill out their Profile. It's a sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter bill of self-promotion, with the healthy result of having a say in what Google says about us.
5: Keyboard shortcuts, both built-in and add-on
Like most Google products, Google+ has a good built-in list of keyboard shortcuts that let you run through stream items, start a new post, and generally navigate the social realm without reaching for your mouse or moving your fingers onto the trackpad. If you want even more no-pointer-needed functionality, try the Google+ Manager for Firefox or Goo Plus Manager in Chrome.
6: Simultaneous YouTube video watching for groups
The group video chat Hangouts inside Google+ have received lots of attention and rave reviews, and for good reason. Hangouts are like group Skype chats, just with Google helping on the server side and with a more polite single-focus video window. But the part that gets less play is how everyone in the Hangout can see the same YouTube video at once, watching it in real time and commenting on specific moments (in text by default, but by voice if you'd like). That's handy for training, presentation critiques, and other moments when you can't all be around the same screen.
7: Drag-and-drop sharing
Technically, yes, you can grab links from other Web pages and drop them into Facebook or Twitter for sharing. But Google+ lets you snag photos, links, YouTube videos, and other items and just drag them into the sharing panel. You can even drag Web items into the Share box on that black Google toolbar we mentioned above for truly lazy content making.
8: The universal Google toolbar
Once you've activated Google+, nearly every Google Web service shows a kind of universal toolbar, black and seemingly bolted to the top of your viewing window. It provides universal notifications about new Google+ happenings in a little red number square, quick posting to your Google+ stream, and a quick click to see your profile. But it also somewhat normalizes the links to other Google services you'll see (Gmail, Calendar, Documents, etc.) and provides a consistent feeling to Google's Web services, a win/win for both the search giant and its most dedicated users.
9: Handy chat client to unburden Gmail
Google+ has the same kind of built-in Gmail/AIM chat window in its lower-left corner that Gmail offers. Gmail, which now does far more than it was originally built for (including free phone calls), could use some help lightening its loading time and memory bulk. So consider keeping Gmail for email and opening Google+ when you are available to be social.
10: Post-publish editing… Enough said
Inspiration comes a lot faster than clean, conscientious copy. On most social networks, that's just too bad. Twitter and Facebook don't let you clean up your words or remove photos — you have to delete your post entirely and destroy the comment or reply chain. Google+ provides a little arrow in the upper-right corner of all your posts that drops down to offer editing — as well as comment striking, turning off comments, and yes, post deletion if things really went the wrong way.