Ready or Not, Here Comes Google+, Part 2: Circles, Hangouts, Sparks!

Last night, I received a coveted invitation to Google+, Google’s new social networking platform which many predict will eventually replace Facebook in popularity.

Google+ introduces three new social networking tools called Circles, Hangouts, and Sparks. Actually, these tools are not-so-new: Circles is Google’s take on the Facebook friend list, Hangouts is a fancy word for video chat, and Sparks is similar to an RSS newsfeed, serving up articles on topics you select.

Tech mavens are gushing over Google+’s clean design and early adopters are chatting up a storm about the new features. But with Facebook and Twitter already using up your social media time, is it really worth jumping on yet another social media bandwagon? What can you do on Google+ that you’re not already doing on Facebook and Twitter?

Circles

Circles is Google’s take on the Facebook friend list, allowing you to organize your contacts into groups such as “Writing Friends,” “Work Friends,” and “Family.” Whenever you share a link or post a status update, you can either choose which of your circles sees it or make it public. You can also enable or disable re-sharing to control whether or not your post gets spread.

Circles is a great tool if you have diverse friends and interests because it lets you control who sees what. This can be particularly important if you have a “public” identity as a writer or businessperson. For example, let’s say you write Young Adult (YA) novels and a financial column. The posts and status updates you make to connect with your young readers will almost certainly be different from the ones you share with the readers of your financial column. And the things you share with your family and friends will be different from either one of those categories.

Circles makes it easy to manage the various roles you play in life, eliminating the need to juggle “public” and “private” Facebook or Twitter accounts. In this respect, Circles can actually save you time and give you more bang for your social media buck.

Hangouts

With Hangouts, you can set up group video chats to meet with your online critique circle, attend a virtual poetry reading, or watch YouTube videos with your friends. There is currently a ten-person limit on Hangouts, but this may change as Google+ transitions out of its beta phase.

Hangouts allows for a much more casual mode of interaction than your typical phone call or videoconference.  Hangout sessions can be spontaneous: simply send out the call to one or more of your circles and see who drops into your Hangout to say hello.

Writers are already experimenting with online critique sessions and face-to-face chats. In the future, expect live panel discussions and online writing conferences—maybe even Hangout MFA’s!

Sparks

Sparks is a service that feeds you articles and links that match your interests—much like when Mom used to cut out interesting newspaper articles and send them to you in the mail. According to Google’s promotional video, one of Sparks’ goals is to help you start conversations with your friends and followers, giving you a ready supply of links to share and articles to respond to. With Sparks, you always have something to talk about.

If you write a blog or newsletter, you know there are some days when you just can’t come up with anything to fill that box. In this respect, Sparks is a blogger’s dream come true. It’s also fun and easy way to stay current on your interests without having to spend time seeking out articles yourself.

The Bottom Line

Google+ is a promising new tool with tons of potential for writers, freelancers, or anyone running their own business. As more and more people sign up, explore, and experiment, Google+ could well become the most exciting social networking tool yet.

As for me, I’m not deleting my Twitter account just yet. But my Facebook’s days are numbered, and I’ll definitely be inviting my friends to join me on Google+.

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