Going Public

Google caused a bit of a stir when it announced that all Google profiles would need to be set to public mode in July 2011. Previously, you could have a private Google profile. But since the profile is meant to display search information and act as the basis of a social network, Google decided private profiles didn't make sense. Any profile set to private after the cutoff date was marked for deletion.

Profiles and Circles

A Google Plus account is based upon a Google profile. Google has allowed users to create profiles for a couple of years. According to Google, the purpose of the profile was to help shape what you see when you search your own name. You control which bits of information are visible to the world. You can build a personal bio, share information like your address, phone number and e-mail, and add in links to your personal or professional Web sites. Google lets you decide which audiences can see each section of information. Don't want the whole world to know where you live? You can choose to share that information with select groups of people or keep it private. If you're sensitive about your private information, you can build a Google profile using only your name -- Google doesn't require you to include additional information.

Before we jump into the tour, we need to learn about circles. In Google Plus, a circle is a collection of people with whom you want to connect. Your Google Plus account comes with three pre-defined circles: friends, family and acquaintances. You can create your own customized circles. It's up to you to categorize people. You can put people into more than one circle. For example, if you work with Josh Clark but you also consider Josh a friend, you can put him into your friends circle and a customized coworker circle. Circles let you share information with specific groups of people while excluding everyone else. They also let you read content from those groups while ignoring all the rest of the information on Google Plus. Putting someone in a circle doesn't mean they'll follow you back -- a circle can be a one-way relationship. In this way, Google Plus is a lot like Twitter -- you can follow people even if they don't follow you back.

Now back to your profile. Your Google profile becomes your "about" page on Google Plus. People on Google Plus can click on the "about" tab on your profile to learn more about you. They can only see the information you've elected to share. Since sharing has multiple levels of privacy, you can customize this as much as you like. For example, you may want to share your address with the people in your friends circle. With a couple of clicks, you can designate who can see the address. If you like, you can even share information with specific individuals rather than an entire circle. Or you can create a circle just for a small group of people with whom you trust that information.

The main activity on Google Plus takes place in the stream. The stream is a lot like the wall on Facebook -- it's where you'll see status updates from the people you've chosen to follow in your circles. You can share your own status updates with specific circles or even individual users. Want to let your friends know what you're up to without alerting your boss? That's easy -- just choose your friends circle when you post your update. If you choose to make a status update public, anyone who has put you into a circle will be able to view it. It may also come up in search. Tagging someone in a status update is easy too -- you can either type @ or + at the beginning of the person's name and Google Plus will help you select the right person.

You can even format your status updates within Google Plus using these tools:

  • Use the underscore symbol ( _ ) to create italics: _really_ will become really.
  • Use the asterisk symbol (*) to put a word in bold: *sure* becomes sure.
  • Use the combination of underscore and asterisk (_ and *) for italicized bold: _*yes, I'll go to the prom with you*_ becomes yes, I'll go to the prom with you. So stop asking.
  • Use the hyphen symbol (-) for strikethrough text.

Let's take a look at the other features in Google Plus.