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I wake up in the morning, and check what’s new on Google+. Yes, really. Google is putting a lot of brawn and brains behind the social network everyone loves to hate, and it shows.

Google+ works hard to be a compelling choice in a world cluttered with competitors and entrenched leaders. Let me show you why it stands out.

Auto Backup

google-plus-auto-backup

Every photo I take with my phone automatically gets uploaded to Google+. Creepy? Yes. Useful? Definitely.

This is not a unique trick: Dropbox does this too Dropbox - One Of The Must-Have Apps If You Own An iPhone Dropbox - One Of The Must-Have Apps If You Own An iPhone Ever since I went over to the Dark Side earlier this year to get my cookies and buy an iPhone, one app has been completely invaluable to me - Dropbox. In fact, I would go... Read More , but it’s more limited. For one thing, photos uploaded onto Dropbox eat into your storage quota, while ones uploaded to Google+ are free by default — meaning, you can upload as many photos as you want without affecting your Google storage quota. That’s as long as you opt for what Google calls “Standard size” photos, which are up to 2048 pixels in width or height. Higher-resolution photos will eat into your storage quota, but then again, you won’t usually need those, at least not for sharing with friends.

And this brings me to the second Google+ advantage over Dropbox auto-upload: Once your photos are on Google+, it’s incredibly easy to share them with friends and family. Because Google+ revolves around so-called “circles” (fully explained in our Google Plus Guide), sharing with a set group of friends is trivial — you don’t even have to type out their names individually, just pick “Family” or “Work” or whatever you called that circle.

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Auto Awesome

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When I said Google was putting lots of brawn behind Google+, I didn’t mean a bunch of sweaty, muscular guys. We’re talking computing power here — as in massive server clusters that go through your photos one at a time, automatically selecting the best ones, and then making them even better. It’s called Auto-Awesome, and it’s like an even more “instant” version of Instagram — it happens before you even see your photo.

There are seven different types of Auto-Awesome effects, and you can read the full list in Google’s documentation. In a nutshell, Auto Awesome can create animated GIFs out of a series of similar photos; it can remove people and cars cluttering up landmark photos; it can automatically stitch panoramas for you; I could continue, but you get the picture.

In practice, Auto Awesome means Google+ isn’t just hosting my photos and letting me share them, but it often adds real value. I’ve had Google+ make cute animated GIFs of my cat (which I never would have done on my own… honest), create a collage of baby photos, and create a highlight reel of all of my photos from 2013 (something Google did for everyone).

Find out more about Google+’s photo options More Than Just Sharing: Everything You Need To Know About Google+ Photos More Than Just Sharing: Everything You Need To Know About Google+ Photos Google+ makes it very easy to share your photos with whomever you want, but you can do a lot more than just share. Make sure you take advantage of everything Google+ photos have to offer. Read More .

Image Search That’s Borderline Creepy

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Go to the Google+ Photo Search page. Type the word “cat,” and press Enter. Photos of cats will come up, both from your own albums, and from your circles. I tried this with a bunch of other terms, such as chocolate, cake, graffiti, and building. They worked really well. And the creepy part is — nobody tagged those photos as “chocolate”.

Google’s image recognition algorithms can recognize what’s in your photo — not just face recognition (“This is Erez”), which Picasa has been doing for years — but other objects as well. This means you no longer have to create albums, nor do you need to manually tag images.

I know of no other service, offline or online, that allows for that level of sophistication in image search (and for free, too). From a technical standpoint, this is a very impressive accomplishment. Whether or not you feel comfortable with Google having that level of knowledge about you is a different matter.

Hangouts: Better Than Skype

Google+ is not just about your photos. Take Hangouts, for example — it roundly beats Skype at its own game. Hangouts allows for multi-participant video and audio chats, and lets people share their screen, work on Google Docs together, and collaborate with many different apps during the call. Hangouts automatically mutes participants when it thinks they’re making loud typing sounds, and there’s an app for wearing silly virtual masks, too.

You may not think of participating in a Hangout as “using Google+,” but Hangouts are an intrinsic part of the service. Google cunningly uses Hangouts to lure people into Google+ — when you chat with someone in Gmail and then switch to a video call, that’s a Hangout.

Active Communities

google-plus-community

We’ve previously shown you a few of the most interesting Google+ communities Join These Today: 10 Of The Most Interesting Communities on Google+ Join These Today: 10 Of The Most Interesting Communities on Google+ To help you get started with Google+ Communities, I've decided to compile ten of the most intriguing or interesting Communities out there. These are ones that have at least over 10,000 users, and receive frequent... Read More , and the list has only grown since. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Holo Android Apps community, where people share their favorite Android apps.

What’s nice about communities is that you don’t have to know anyone — they’re just places to discuss mutual interests, and they make it easy to meet new friends. The Google+ interface makes it easy to filter out community noise, and each community can feature different post types. For example, the Holo Android Apps community lets you browse just discussions, just apps promoted by their developers, or even just health and fitness apps.

Finally (you guessed it), Google+ will even try to recommend relevant communities for you. Google knows you. Google loves you. Google wants you to make new friends.

Beta Tests for Android Apps

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This is a specialized use of the communities feature: Android developers can create communities that allow users to beta-test their apps. For example, I’m a long-time Libra user Track Your Weight The Smart Way With Libra [Android] Track Your Weight The Smart Way With Libra [Android] Today I’d like to tell you about an Android application I have been using every day since March 16, 2011. That’s over 300 days of use, day in, day out. It’s a free application called... Read More . When Daniel Cachapa, Libra’s developer, wanted to get feedback on a new version he was working on, he created the Libra Users community.

Community members got new Beta versions of Libra via Google Play. The experience was seamless: You just join the community, and suddenly, an update for Libra appears on your phone. Both impressive and convenient.

A Beautiful, Responsive Interface

google-plus-responsive

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; responsiveness, not so much. A “responsive” website is one that looks good on different-sized screens, and indeed, Google+ is just as legible when taking an entire 24″ monitor as it is when squished into a narrow window. Reduce the window size, and the layout morphs accordingly, switching to single-column mode.

That’s just one example, but generally speaking, Google+ is one of the most modern and powerful Web apps available today.

Embrace It

Let’s face it: Unless you’re absolutely determined not to have anything to do with Google, chances are you already have a dormant Google+ profile sitting around. If you use Google, it’s not like you really have a choice. If parts of this post seem ambivalent, that’s because it’s hard to ignore just how creepily “friendly” Google+ is.

That said, the bottom line is that Google+ will save your photos; it will make them look better (usually); and it really is a great place to find fun content.

What do you love or hate about Google+?

  1. bben
    February 10, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I don't use Facebook. I tried, really tried to use G+ the original idea, with the simple circles interface was good and I was coming along. And my friends were gradually coming over to it. But then google decided to make it into a Facebook clone and ruined it. I, and most of my friends, have mostly lost interest since then. Hey Google - if I wanted Facebook, I would use Facebook and not the knock off that G+ has become. I want the circles back, where I can first select a specific circle - but it's too late, the friends that were using it have all wandered off because of how badly Google screwed it up. What good is a social site when none of your friends bother with it because it is so awful?

    Even if I do post something, none of my friends will see it because now none of them use it. Most of them don't particularly like FB, but use it just because everyone else does. I see G+ being killed off just like so many other once good ideas from Google that started off great, then were ruined by being redesigned by Google. More features are not necessarily a good thing. Especially if they get in the way of what the users really wanted to do.

  2. Ned
    May 3, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    No thanks.

    I have come to despise G+ after the company started shoving it down our throats.

    First it was threats from the top.

    Ignore Google Plus and Google search will ignore you. - Larry Page

    When that wasn't enough, they started stapling a G+ onto any Google service you happened to use such as Gmail or YT.

    Disabling the damned thing was a nightmare.

    Just let it die.

  3. vivek
    April 2, 2014 at 7:46 am

    i advise u guys to STAY AWAY from google+ because of the following features are by default:
    1. every pic that u take with ur phone is automatically saved in google+ account and before u know it, its already there in the internet. if u dont know about privacy settings, then ur in trouble.
    2. all the apps that u use are now linked to google+account and everyone can see wat all apps u use. It fully invades ur privacy and unless u keep up with their privacy rules and settings.
    3. the whole design is awful and privacy stuff always **ss me off.
    kindly stay away from this crappy product. I am just finding out how to delete this google+ account.

  4. Guest
    January 24, 2014 at 2:28 am

    I don't use social media, period. (Blog comments don't count. I specifically mean these dumb "networking" sites that 12-year-olds use to bully kids off the playground, celebrities use to tell their sycophant fans about their latest fart, mommie bloggers use to share anecdotes about Junior's potty training adventures, and lonely cat hoarders use to share pictures of their 900 calicos.) I never used Failbook or G-minus and am not about to start now. All I have ever had in terms of Internet communication is a Yahoo email address dating back to when Yahoo first started, which I deleted after almost 20 years once they announced their new redesign that looks all Windows 8 and ugly and allows for "social integration" features. Hello, I don't need "integration" with anything! I don't want to share my emails with Facebook losers I don't have, G-minus users I don't have, or a mobile "synch" device that I don't have. I use email for email and that's it, a cell phone for calls and that's it. Google trying to turn Gmail into their own version of Facebook makes me POed too. I've all but abandoned Internet usage save for commenting on a few choice websites and using the internal system at university. This whole social integration thing sucks. Why should I join G-minus or use any social media if I already don't give a crap that Eric is taking a Schmidt?

  5. Caroline W
    January 17, 2014 at 5:17 am

    I like Google+ very much. I like its interface - very fluid and beautiful - plus notifications I get when a new post/comment is made. (ext in Chrome).

    I am not a fan of Facebook; but Google+, I find, has a much better audience of users and are more mature - people actually want to be there and contribute seriously. I like being part of a community of like-minded people and they are some of the best people I've ever met online.

    The circles are a great way to categorize and customize where to put people you choose to follow. For example, I have a circle for 'Tech Heads' and another for 'The Best News' - as well as 'People' in general. So it's a good way to organize who, what and why you follow.

    Overall, I rate it highly: The 'Photograph' feature mentioned here I haven't even tried. But I am Very glad that finally there is an alternative to Facebook and hope Google+ is here to stay.

  6. TheGooch
    January 13, 2014 at 5:24 am

    To me, it doesn't really matter how good or bad Google+ is as a standalone product. Once they changed their privacy policy on 1 Jan 2012 to grant themselves the right to scan my email, I left. I was a big Google fan in the early 2000's, and my fanboism peaked with Gmail. Once advertisements and data mining became their speciality, the love affair was over.

    My personal reasons aside, everyone I know uses FB and they don't see a reason to switch. I think that is basic marketing, your product cannot just be good...there has to be an incentive for people to use it. Right now I cannot see one.

  7. Ravi
    January 10, 2014 at 6:52 am

    G+ is really fun, it is a collection of many things and it really help to share and stay connected. If you have a blogger blog, you can feel how can it help us to share it. G+ is awesom...

  8. Zhepyr
    January 9, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Most of my classmate in Engineering and other technology incline people i know use google+ .And i think that make it kinda different from facebook. and for me it looks for refine,simple in a good way.

  9. Angela A
    January 9, 2014 at 10:12 am

    The auto-awesome stuff is fantastic. I often take a dozen photos of my kids at once, just trying to get one nice shot. Google turns them into little gifs that are way cute.

  10. Haydn Evans
    January 8, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    I actually love Google Plus, the only reason I use Facebook more is because no one I know likes google Plus, personally I think Google plus is the best social network apart from it lack of users, which isn't something you can hold against it.

  11. Welford
    January 8, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    I also agree the UI sucks. This whole "minimalist" approach is bullshit. Every little dot on a page opens a giant menu into another menu into another. You can't find anything and the only reference to things are if you "spot the dot".

    Horseshit.

    Besides people that are not more intune to look for NON-OBVIOUS menu's/icons etc (ie, my mom!) this just frustrates them to no end.

    Designers need to be USERS FIRST, then designers. We don't see like you do and we certainly don't work the way you do.

  12. Phil Bradley
    January 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    I find it really interesting that people often seem to take an absolute stance on stuff. "I will never use G+" or "I will never use Facebook!" I use Facebook for some stuff, and G+ for other things. Facebook is dire at video chat, and G+ is far superior. Facebook is poor at privacy, G+ is better. I don't find G+ that good for quick sharing with friends, so I don't use it for that. How hard is it to pick and chose bits and pieces from each service?

    • Erez Z
      January 8, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Very nice and balanced - I couldn't agree more (although I don't use Facebook myself - but i do use other social networks). G+ is what it is -- just another service, not THE service.

  13. bben
    January 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    It started out good, with the circles that separated your various people into isolated groups. But then evolved into just another FB wannabe clone with all of the stupid FB 'features' orientated toward immature and clueless users that I didn't like on FB to begin with. It's now buried somewhere along with FB as a place I just don't bother with.

  14. Ninad Kochkar
    January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Well...good article.
    I use all these features described in the article.
    I was going through comments and I see one common thing for most of the ppl who dislike G+. They do not like interface.
    I use it on my Andoid phone and yes, I do not prefer it on PC browser. I don't know what is wrong with it, but I just dont like it on PC browser.

    But I use G+ all the time on my phone. I like it's communities, photo upload feature, auto awesome feature and Hangout.

    Yes my friends do not use G+, but that is good part of it. All my friends use facebook and it is full of junk. They update about what they eat, feel , when they sleep. I am not interested in these things.

    G+ is full of nerds and you get the ppl you share common interest with. These days, I almost stopped using Facebook and use G+ only. I found it truly social.

  15. James
    January 8, 2014 at 5:48 am

    Funny how some people are worried about Google but don't worry about all their data with Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, MySpace, etc . A bit like when people criticise the Chinese govt for spying/monitoring their citizens data but can't see parallels in the US. Says more about the psychology of readers than the companies (whose motives are pretty simple/predictable).

    • CuriousGeorge
      January 8, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      I agree on Google, but the China-US simile is hollow. Unless you think that Google is walking through the internet and censoring all this negative feedback from their sites, it's not the same. There are over 200 riots in China every day. Are you hearing about them? Can you go to jail for people reposting your social media updates? In China you could be locked up for going viral. Anonymous posting? Only for real hackers.
      If you're going to get political, pls be reasonable

  16. Junil M
    January 8, 2014 at 5:24 am

    I had my doubts with google+ or any social networking site. But a few months ago, I though of checking out google+ and I really liked it. I liked its interface which was way more better than facebook.

  17. ggggg4what ?
    January 8, 2014 at 4:22 am

    IMHO a "third wheel" which is not a total "game changer" when I've F/book and Twitter. Some interesting "better points" but ... ubiquity ? I will not reach a fraction of my friends via G+. Those functions can be done somewhere and somehow (if necessary, which is another question). Also, since Google has become this "ugly giant evil scary monster" (somewhat creepy as forewarned in the late 1990's) and "morphed" from their original "good recipe" within a rather "dirty mudslung competition" with Microsoft etc, towards a commericialised Big Brother information propagator (game changer - for good/bad consequences ?) ... I'm weaning myself of G and don't wish to feed the monster any longer or more than necessary.

  18. Adam Voyton
    January 8, 2014 at 3:49 am

    Really interesting article. Good job. I honestly had written off Google+, but some of the features seem neat. I think it's a bit creepy to have every photo I uploaded backed up on their servers, but Auto-awesome sounds really fun.

  19. cpr
    January 8, 2014 at 12:43 am

    Facebook has all of your information, too. In fact, if you think anything is safe or private, then go enjoy Facebook, or AOL 11, or whatever Zuckerberg calls that ridiculous social site of his.

  20. Richard Steven Hack
    January 7, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    I had a Google+ account until I discovered that editing a post was painfully slow in Firefox - but very fast in Chrome. Suspecting that Google did this deliberately to make people switch from Firefox to Chrome, I immediately deleted my account.

    I don't like being scammed.

    Of course, it could have just been Mozilla's usual incompetence at writing Firefox code - but somehow I doubt it.

    At this point, I've reconsidered having a Google+ account - since I have one anyway due to Gmail - but given that I only use Facebook to log into sites so I can post comments and only use Twitter among all the other "social media" sites, I'm not sure I'll bother. The only social site I'm interested in is LinkedIn, once I start promoting a computer security practice. I really don't have any interest in the random blather with other people and exposing my personal details to all and sundry - for the benefit of the site selling my info to corporations - which is what most social sites are about.

    • Mike
      January 15, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      I use Firefox and Google+ all the time. Never had the problem you're describing. I am 100% convinced that you're not being scammed. In fact, if anything, I've had more trouble with Chrome than with Firefox, which is sort of ironic.

  21. Phil N
    January 7, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Love Google+ It's an amazing service, tons of people to talk to, information to learn, shared videos. I have no complaints at all.

  22. Tom W
    January 7, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    There are several reasons why I do not use Google+:

    1) I have had to install a GreaseMonkey script for Youtube because Google has (unsurprisingly) completely neglected to allow me to uncheck "Post comment to Google+" by default, and I'm not going to manually uncheck it every time. This feature doesn't make sense to me, because the comments are completely devoid of meaning unless you already have the context of the video and only serve to increase the already voluminous amount of social network spam that is released to the web every day.
    I also had to write a second script because Google would continuously pester me to "Find friends using Google+" when all I wanted to do was view the dashboard.

    2) Google+ is slow, at least for me. Every menu interaction lags behind input, every page loads at a snails pace, everything I do requires me to wait for the network to catch up. It's not like I have a problem with any other websites, not even other Google services.

    3) None of my friends ever post to, check, comment, or update on Google+. This is the major reason I don't use it. I can add as many communities as I want, but I'd have to desert my friends and I'm not going to do that.

  23. Bobbster
    January 7, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    You didn't disclose how much Google paid for this endorsement.

    • Erez Z
      January 7, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      If you think this was a paid endorsement, you should wait and read my next piece on how Google took my images and personal info hostage and wouldn't let it go. Due to be published on the 13th -- keep an eye out for it, it's an interesting story on what happens when you trust Google with your data.

    • dragonmouth
      January 7, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      " read my next piece on how Google took my images and personal info hostage and wouldn’t let it go."
      You just gave the best argument for staying away from Google+ and Google.

    • Erez Z
      January 8, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      Actually it's the best argument not to give them exclusive ownership over your data, which is a very important point to keep in mind.

  24. Ryashini K
    January 7, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    But... but my friends are not there :(

    • Manny
      January 7, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      Then... invite them :)

    • Erez Z
      January 7, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      That's what's cool -- you can use it even without friends, thanks to communities (and the photo features).

  25. likefunbutnot
    January 7, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    The #1 reason to use Google+: So Youtube and Picasa will stop bugging you.
    The #2 reason to use Google+: So you don't have to spend 15 minutes screwing around on Play Store pages looking for an email address to leave an app developer some feedback.

    That said, neither of those things are good enough reasons. If anything, the fact that I have a non-social-networked Google Profile should enable all of the above.

    Google has an extremely intimate relationship with my personal life and I still want it to know that it does not exist in a state of implied consent. No means no and I don't care how often it asks.

  26. Paul Werner
    January 7, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    These type of articles are always much better than the ones where people just complain about G+ without taking the time to see it's value

    • Erez Z
      January 7, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      Thank you, Paul!

    • Liam Patterson
      January 8, 2014 at 1:07 am

      I want to +1 that comment Paul.

  27. Magoo
    January 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I don't see how someone could possibly think that facebook's interface looks better. It is cluttered with ads, recommended pages, sponsors, chat bar, and every bell and whistle they could come up with. Privacy settings are way over-complicated and it's difficult to manage who sees the content you post.

    • Jake Miliyah
      January 7, 2014 at 8:29 pm

      Not when you have adblock, which makes facebook nice and tidy. With the ads I would never visit it, you`re right. Still doesn`t take away the fact that Google + is junk. And yes, I have tried it, and was using it for 12 months before ditching it. Ok, its not quite as bad a layout as Gmail, but thats another story.

  28. Jake Miliyah
    January 7, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Its the interface. Its totally none user friendly and a complete mess. It actually makes facebook look good, which is pretty amusing.

    • Risen D
      February 5, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      yeah, i kinda liked a lot of the old one better. then they went and changed everything, and while they improved it in some regards with the interface upgrade-a lot less wasted space, yada yada-all in all they need to blend those two versions.

  29. JR
    January 7, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    ...Now I'm 100% convinced to abandon G+. Thanks for that.

    • Erez Z
      January 7, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      lol :D Sure thing -- that's something, too.

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