Much has been said about how Twitter and Facebook should be worried about Google’s behemoth social network which gained 10 million followers in 16 day, as compared to Twitter’s 780 days, and Facebook’s even longer 852 days. But like any new service online, people may be signing up and doing very little with their accounts. In fact, they’re probably the same people who signed up for a Twitter account, updated once with something along the lines of “I’m just trying to figure this Twitter thing out,” and disappeared just as fast leaving in their wake a sad little egg avatar and little else.
But Google+ launched just barely under a month ago, and the sheer volume of extensions, third party sites and enhancements that have already emerged may be proof of the social network’s staying power. If this list is anything to go by, people like Google+, and they’re willing to make the effort to improve the experience for all involved. So in no particular order, here is a list of ways to do just that.
Change Google+’s appearance
- Usability Boost for Google Plus makes a few subtle changes to the site’s appearance, but it makes all the difference. The extension visually separates posts in your stream, as well as separating posts from comments, and it also adds a direct link to mute posts.
- If you’re looking for a low-bandwidth solution to using Google+, the Chrome app G Plus Lite will automatically load the mobile version of the site on your computer. Of course any features missing from the mobile site, such as hangouts, are not included in the Lite version.
- You can upload any image from your computer, or use any of the images that the extension provides to change the background of your profile. The background is of course only visible to you, and there seems no way to remove the image short of uninstalling the extension.
- Google+ Ultimate does a great job prettying up Google+ and adds some functionality to boot. As far as appearance is concerned, you can change the background color, and choose between the default appearance for posts, or a rounded border which separates each post from the next. Alternatively, you could choose to set your stream to appear in a grid, although it does end up looking a bit lopsided with long and shorter posts side by side.The extension also adds a notification button next to the address bar, gives you the option to move the chatbox into the notification bar, resizes the scroll bar, resizes images and embeds to make them smaller, and much more.
- Google+ Refined is another Chrome extension which gives Google+ a much more sleek look, among other features. You can reduce the font size, opt for a cleaner comment display, remove the Welcome link and the +1 and share links on each post, and like other similar extensions, each post is separated from the one before or after it. An interesting feature that we haven’t seen elsewhere is the ability to keep the Home menu and people search bar in place as you scroll.
- G+Me is a Chrome extension which lets you collapse both posts and comments, and shows a real-time comment count on collapsed items. You can also mark comments as read.
- If you’re not a fan of the black Google+ bar, you can easily change the color with the Color Changer extension. It’s readily available as a one-click install option in green, pink and blue. If you’d prefer to get it in any other color, you’ll have to download the code and configure it yourself.
- If you find yourself spending more time on Google+ than Facebook, but miss Facebook’s look, believe it or not, there is a userscript which lets you transform G+ into something of a Facebook clone.
- While Tweetify makes your stream look a lot more compact and minimalist, it has one small flaw. It essentially collapses posts, displaying on 140 characters, but you can’t expand the post unless you click on it’s permanent url. But if you like the look, it’s a small price to pay.
- The Chrome extension Google Plus Bar Minus lets you remove the Google bar with the click of a button. Simply hide the bar when you don’t need it, and click the button when you want to access your links and notifications. This is also a great way to stop yourself from being distracted with Google+ notifications when you’ve got Gmail, Google Reader or other Google pages open.
Improve Google+’s UI and functionality
The following extensions will let you tweak Google+ to suit your preferences. Add features that are missing, improve on existing features, and get the most out of your Google+ experience.
- You would think that Google of all services would have search down pat, but for some reason there’s no convenient way to search your Google+ stream. You can either go directly to Google Plus Search, or you can use the extension, Search Extension for Google Plus, although it’s only role is to give you a convenient and quick way to conduct the search, since the results are displayed in the web page itself. Chrome users can also take advantage of this guide which shows you how to incorporate Google+ posts and user profiles into your default search engines in the browser. Ironically enough, it would seem that Bing is indexing Google+ posts whereas Google isn’t, at least according to one user:
- GTools+ adds a few features to your Google+ page, including keeping the bar at the top of the screen when scrolling. You can also easily translate all Google+ posts to one specific language and you can move the chat box into the Google+ bar. GTools+ is also supposed to add a notification count for Gmail and Google Reader (although in our experience, the count stayed at zero).
- If you want to star posts on Google+ the handy Chrome extension, Circlestar for Google Plus, will let you do just that. There’s all sorts of different ways you can use this feature. Some people have been using the +1 feature to bookmark interesting posts, but Circlestar gives you an alternative.
- If you’re just looking for an easy way to bookmark posts, you can do just that with the Chrome extension PinIt, which places convenient links to any Google posts of your choice in a sidebar for easy access. Fav+ is another handy bookmarking Chrome extension which places bookmarked posts in the main Google+ menu.
- Surplus is a Chrome extension which puts Google+ notifications in your Chrome browser so you can keep up with Google+ without opening the site. In addition to desktop and audio notifications, you can also easily share the page you’re browsing on Chrome through the extension. It is worth mentioning that Surplus is no longer supported by the developer as his profile was one of the many that was deleted by Google earlier this week.
Guy Wyant, the developer behind the extension, suggests an even better way to use it. Since there’s technically no messaging system on Google+ beyond sharing posts with just one person, if you star posts shared with you exclusively, they appear in a sidebar on your Google+ page, much like an inbox. Unfortunately Circlestar does have its issues. The ability to star posts tends to disappear every now and then, reappearing only when you refresh the page.
- There’s a lot of great photographers on Google+, and if you want to check out their photography quickly, without having to wait for the Google+ lightbox to load, you can use the Chrome extension developed by Sebastien Mauer, Photo Zoom. When hovering the mouse over any image in Google+, Photo Zoom will automatically enlarge it. The extension does also come with a few handy settings. You can set it to zoom on photos only when a key, such as shift, is being pressed, and you can also select which photos the extension will work with, including profile icons, Picasa images, or external pictures.
- Another Chrome extension courtesy of Sebastien Mauer, Comment Toggle simply gives you an easy way to collapse comments in Google+. Currently without this extension, Google+ comments are initially collapsed, but if you decide to expand them, there’s no way to close the list again, so Comment Toggle can be very useful if you’re particularly obsessive about keeping your Google+ stream tidy.
- If you’re a fan of keyboard shortcuts, G+ Extended gives you the following shortcuts when installed:
Press “+” for +1’ing a post.
Press “-” for removing your +1 on a post.
Press “p” to toggle your +1 on a post.
Press “s” to share a post.
Press “e” to expand older comments on a post.
- Notification Count for Google Plus lets you keep up with your notifications even if you don’t have any Google pages open, by placing a button next to your address bar. Clicking the button will take you straight to your Google+ notifications page.
- Replies and More is a handy little Chrome extension courtesy of Matt Mastracci. The extension puts a ‘Reply to author link’ so that if you comment on something one of your friend’s has posted, it will automatically insert their username in the comment box. If you comment on a shared post that originated from another Google+ user, the reply will be addressed to the original user who posted the item. Other features that come with the extension include keyboard shortcuts, keeping the Google bar in place when scrolling, and it adds a drop-down menu next to the share link, allowing you to share the post via Twitter, Facebook or email. Lastly, you can also toggle desktop and audio notifications on and off.
- When some of the more popular Google+ users start a hangout, it’s usually accompanied by a few comments about how fast the Hangout filled up. With Mohamed Mansour‘s extension, Hangout Auto Retry Try Again, you don’t have to make any effort. The extension will automatically retry for you until a space opens up.
- PlusBar is a unique little bookmarklet developed by Kosso which adds a bar above any Google+ page with live and recorded video content from BBC, Al Jazeera, and TWiT, and audio content from DFH and Amazing Radio.
Sync Google+ with other services
One of the first questions that seemed to be popping up the minute that Google+ launched was how to keep your posts synced with other services.
- Start Google+, developed by Zane Claes, is one of the best integrated Google+, Twitter and Facebook solutions. It places your Twitter and Facebook streams right inside your Google+ stream, and gives you a way to interact with your Facebook and Twitter friends without ever having to leave Google+. You can send replies and retweets from Google+ to Twitter, as well as comment and like Facebook posts.
Start Google+ lets you automatically post anything you share on Google+ to both Facebook and Twitter as well, and it adds a Gmail inbox notifier in Google+ so you know when you have new mail. What’s really cool about the way the extension works is that you can easily toggle it on and off right from the share box so you don’t end up flooding your followers on Twitter or Facebook with every single post, as well as easily toggle off Twitter and Facebook appearing in your stream, accessible instead from links underneath your Sparks.
- Extended Share makes it easy to get your, or anyone else’s, Google+ posts out onto Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Tumblr. If you want a few more options and places to share your posts, check out the Chrome extension, Share+ Social Buttons which also includes Blogger, Yahoo, StumbleUpon, Digg and more.
- Helper for Google+ is another extension which makes it easy to integrate your Twitter experience into your stream. Developed by Misha M.-Kupriyanov, you can use it to share Google+ posts with your Twitter and Facebook followers, automatically translate posts using Google Translate, get desktop notifications on new posts, bookmark posts on Google+, on Delicious, and best of all, it creates links out of hashtags. Helper also makes it easy to search Google+ posts and profiles from your address bar. A word of advice – if you’re following a lot of people on Google+, it would be best to keep the notification disabled.
- There is another extension for connection Facebook to your Google+ profile but which some users have pointed out is practically malware. After taking a closer look at the Chrome/Firefox extension, Google+Facebook, there are far too many red flags according to a post on Reddit so if you do install it, it’s at your own risk.
- If you want to send all of your Google+ posts to Twitter, ManageFlitter has recently added that feature. Simply link your two accounts and all of your public Google+ posts will end up on Twitter. If you’d rather be a bit selective, you can can choose to sync only posts with the hashtag #twt. The service isn’t entirely automatic, since you have to wait a while before it actually shows up on Twitter. When it does, your tweet will be truncated if it exceeds 140 characters, and will also be accompanied by a link to your Google+ post.
- To crosspost images, videos and audio updates to Google+, MobyPicture has come up with an easy-to-use workaround. Connect your Google+ account to MobyPicture and any images, videos and audio updates you share through the site will be shared to all of your connected accounts. MobyPicture supports Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Tumblr, Blogger and more. MobyPicture is also integrated into many third party Twitter applications including Twittelator and Seesmic MobyPicture also has a dedicated mobile application of its own, with iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Nokia versions available.
Get a vanity url
If you already had your Google profile set up before you signed up for Google+, your profile will now point to your Google+ page. If you didn’t, there are several services offering Google+ vanity urls, so you can choose the one that suits you best. With each of these services, you have to find your Google ID which you can get from the url, and you can choose whatever username you prefer. There are so many services available, you’re bound to snag your preferred username on at least one of them.
If you choose Topl.us, your vanity url will look like this:
If you choose Gplus.to, your vanity url will look like this:
If you choose Plus.ly, your vanity url will look like this:
If you choose, Goplus.us, your vanity url will look like this:
If you choose gPlusNick, your vanity url will look like this:
If you choose zipl.us, your vanity url will look like this:
In addition to getting a vanity url, you can also get a specially generated RSS feed for your own Google+ posts, and a chrome toolbar to get Google+ notifications in your browser.
Find people on Google+
- Social Statistics, developed by The Next Web’s own Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, has generated statistics for over 40,000 Google+ users, as well as keeping up with the most popular posts on the social network. The site features a Top 100 list of the most followed Google+ users, and a Top 5 of users gaining and losing the most followers.
- FindPeopleonPlus has indexed over 4 million Google+ profiles, which means they’re not even halfway there yet, but the site does provide for an interesting way to get a rough idea of user statistics. You can search for users by location, gender, relationship status, occupation or follower and following count.
- Google+ Counter is something of a Hall of Fame for the social network, featuring over 30,000 profiles. You can view the most followed users in the Hall of Fame, which is updated on an hourly basis. They also have a list of the most followed women on Google+. Google+ Counter also lets you create your own lists, which could be an interesting way of making your Google+ circles public, if you wanted to.
- Group/As gives you an incredibly easy way to discover new people on Google+, where users have been listed in various groups such as Photographer, Entrepreneur, Celebrity, Blogger and so forth. The difference between Group/as and other similar sites for Twitter like WeFollow, is that you can add any user to any group you choose to, rather than add only yourself. This feature could potentially skew the results, but from what we can tell it’s a pretty accurate resource.
- GPHangouts is a directory for Google+ hangouts. If you want to find a hangout to take part in, you can check out the list of hangouts in progress, or the list of scheduled hangouts. If you want to submit your own hangout to the schedule, you’re free to do so, but be sure to add a topic if you plan on a moderated discussion.
- The Chrome extension, Hangouts Finder is another convenient way to find hangouts to join, but the extension definitely needs some users to kick-start it.
Ways to interact with Google+ no matter what site you’re on
If you want to share content on Google+ without having to load the site at all, there are a few extensions which can get content from Facebook, Twitter, and more, out of your browser and into the social network.
- With +1 Plus One Extension you can easily share any site you’re browsing in Chrome with just the click of a button. This extension is not to be confused with Plus One Button which gives you the same option, but if you install it, it can access all of your data on all websites, which is completely unnecessary for an extension of this nature.
- Succinctly named ++, the Chrome extension will show you Google+ profiles of users whose names are on a page you’re visiting. The extension of course isn’t 100 percent accurate as it will display all profiles matching the names listed, so common names will result in a list of all profiles under that name.
- Tweets+1 is a useful extension if you want to add individual tweets to your +1 list. This can be particularly useful if you’re using Google’s +1 list as a personal bookmark list.
- +OneFB is a handy Chrome extension which lets you +1 Facebook posts. What’s cool about the way this extension works is that if you +1 a link that has been shared on Facebook, the actual link as opposed to the Facebook update will be added to your +1 list.
- Google+ hasn’t been added to the list of services to which you can easily post Google Reader stories. There’s a workaround, which David Vielmetter discovered, but surprisingly enough it doesn’t work in Chrome (or at least it didn’t for us). In Firefox on the other hand, you can hit the share button which is visible from the Google Reader window, and drag-and-drop the title of the blog post into the update box.
Get your online photos into Google+
- Facebook: The easiest way to get your photos out of Facebook and into Google+ is using the Chrome extension, Move Your Photos. You can import all albums, or select certain albums, or even certain images within each album, to import into Picasa (soon to be Google Photos). Imported albums are automatically set to private, and you can change the settings once the transfer is done.
- Instagram: Exporting your photos from Instagram using a service like Instaport makes it easy to upload them all in one go to Picasa. If you’d rather keep the images in sync rather than a one-time transfer, for the time being, you can use a workaround involving Dropbox and Instadrop.
- Flickr: The desktop app Migratr takes the hassle out of getting your photos out of Flickr and into Google+. In addition, it supports 23hq, Photobucket, SmugMug, Zenfolio, Phanfare, Zooomr and others. The method might not be the most intuitive – you have to download the photos from Flickr using the app, and then upload them into Google+
Some extra Google+ Tips
If you want to use text formatting in your Google+ posts, check out the following:
- Use *text* for bold
- Use _text_ for italics
- Use -text- for strikethrough
- Use +name to link to a user’s profile
- Use the keyboard shortcut J to skip to to the next post
- Use the keyboard shortcut K to go to the previous post