Photos and Sparks
Google has been building out a cloud computing and storage network for several years. Cloud computing services let you access information and applications over the Internet. The actual files and programs live on a server that you connect to using your own computer. One of the attractive features of cloud computing is that you don't have to have a fast computer with a huge hard drive to take advantage of these features.
Picasa is one of Google's cloud storage projects. Picasa has two main components: There's a photo viewer and editor application that you can install on your own computer and an online photo Web storage service. It's this second service that ties into Google Plus. Picasa accounts are free and tie in to your Google account. You get 1 gigabyte of free storage space with Picasa with the option to purchase more storage space. But if you upload photos through Google Plus, your images won't count against your 1-gigabyte limit. That's because Google accepts any photo with the longest edge measuring 2,048 pixels or fewer without counting it against your limit. Google Plus automatically resizes any image uploaded through the service so that the longest edge is 2,048 pixels.
This means that you can upload as many photos as you wish to Google Plus without running out of storage space. Google Plus lets you organize pictures into photo albums. Each album has a limit of 1,000 photographs but you can make as many albums as you like. You can also tag photos to identify the people in them. If you take a photo with a GPS-enabled device -- such as a smartphone -- that information will also display in your Google Plus photo album. You can turn this feature off in the Google Plus settings.
Another feature in Google Plus called sparks is all about pulling in content that matches your interests. When you set up a Google Plus account, you can let Google know which subjects you're interested in following. Clicking on the sparks feature on your profile will let you view news stories covering the topics you've previously identified. It's similar to an RSS reader like Google Reader but more user friendly. Some of the earliest reviews of Google Plus virtually dismissed sparks as being superfluous, though a few journalists said that with some cultivation it could become a useful tool.
Why would Google include a news feature in a social networking site? It might be because we are getting more of our news from sites like Facebook. According to the Pew Research Center, we use our social networking sites to access, filter, share and discuss the news. Google Plus's sparks feature lets you quickly skim news items in fields interesting to you. If you like an article, you can share it on your stream and start a conversation around it.
Next, we'll learn about some interesting ways Google Plus lets you connect with other users.