5 Tips for using Google+

With almost 20 million users, Google+ has got off to a great start, even if it's still mostly tech geeks discussing Google+ with other tech geeks. With Facebook now at 750 million users, and Twitter at 200 million, Google+ is still too underdeveloped to be worth a lot of investment, and it's not ready for corporate use: it's not open to users of Google Apps, and Google is actively discouraging companies from setting up shop there, pending the arrival of Facebook-style "fan pages".

With almost 20 million users, Google+ has got off to a great start, even if it's still mostly tech geeks discussing Google+ with other tech geeks. With Facebook now at 750 million users, and Twitter at 200 million, Google+ is still too underdeveloped to be worth a lot of investment, and it's not ready for corporate use: it's not open to users of Google Apps, and Google is actively discouraging companies from setting up shop there, pending the arrival of Facebook-style "fan pages". But it's still a good idea to try the system, and here are my top five tips for getting off to a good start.

1. Set up a new Gmail account specifically for your Google+ account.

If you don't do this (and I didn't), you may be snowed under with emails about people adding you to their Google+ Circles, and by Google+ emailing you copies of every comment added to every post you make. You could turn off email acknowledgements or filter out emails from plus.google.com, but if you do, you will have trouble keeping track of things. Also, these emails may be vital if Google decides to close your account or close down Google+ the way it closed Google Lively, Wave, Google Labs and other properties. It's even more important to use a different email address if you already have a lot of data in Google's cloud: documents in Docs, photos in Picasa, a blog at Blogger, Google Adwords, Analytics and so on, in case you are hacked or Google closes your account. Remember, Google is its own policeman, judge, jury and hangman. There is no court of appeal.

If you don't thing Google would do that to you, you're wrong. For one of many examples, read what happened to Thomas Monopoly.

2. Create a Google+ profile with a good picture/icon.

Google+ is like MySpace and Twitter in that the aim of the game is to accumulate as many followers as possible. To be successful, you must present yourself as someone worth "adding" to a Google+ Circle. If you appear as a grey outline with an unfamiliar name and no other details, not even your real friends will want to add you. Google+ email notifications only show your icon/mugshot, name, and a few words of description, so you must make them count. Yes, people can go to your G+ home page and click your Facebook-style About tab to learn more about you, but this takes a lot of time. Someone dealing with dozens or perhaps thousands of friend requests probably isn't going to bother.

3. Incoming: Create a "key people" Circle to minimise how much you read.

Google+ uses Circles to organise groups of friends. The theory is that you know different groups of people with different interests, so you can put them into different circles. Google+ provides Circles for Family, Friends and Acquaintances as defaults, and invites you to add your own. These could be work colleagues, celebrities, people with special interests (photography, cooking etc), and so on. The important point is that no one knows which Circle you have put them in, so you can create a circle solely for the people whose posts you actually want to read. If you are "following" thousands of people, all their posts will appear in your Stream, making it unreadable and unmanageable. However, you can just read the posts in your "key people" Circle and ignore the rest.

4. Outgoing: Create Circles for groups of users you want to reach.

The simplest way to organise the bulk of the people you follow is to put them into two groups: "key people" and "the rest". However, Google+ lets you direct your posts -- comments, blog posts, newsletters, special offers or whatever -- to one or more specific Circles. If you want to reach, for example, photographers or health freaks, you can collect them in different circles and send specific messages only to the appropriate circle. (Yes, this is why Google+ looks like becoming a spammers' paradise.) However, success depends on users reciprocating and putting you in one of their circles. If they don't, your posts will only appear in their Incoming stream, which is basically the same as unsolicited email. They will probably never see it, let alone read it.

5. Don't post anything you would not want made public.

One of the selling points of Google+ is that it is "more private" than Facebook. In fact, you could achieve the same results on Facebook using friends lists and closed user groups, but Google+ prioritises its tagging system and uses fancy graphics (Circles) to make it simpler. Ultimately, however, both sites have the same problem: anybody can share anything, whether you like it or not. Even if you block sharing, people can copy-and-paste texts, or take screen grabs and circulate those. And they will.

Google is publicly in favour of privacy, of course, but ultimately it's in the targeted advertising business and would prefer your data to be publicly searchable on Google. As former chief executive Eric Schmidt famously said in an interview on CNBC in December 2009: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Thanks, Eric.

@jackschofield

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt on privacy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6e7wfDHzew

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