How Google+ Ends Social Networking Fatigue

Social networking fatigue: You've got it, and I've got it. Everyone's overwhelmed by the sheer number of social sites the industry keep churning out.

I was already struggling to stay active on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google Buzz, Google Reader and several other social sites.

As new media come online, the old ones never go away. I keep up with email, of course, and publish an email newsletter. I use AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), and Google Talk for quick messaging, and also text on my iPhone like a Dachshund on crack.

I used to blog on Google's Blogger platform, then I switched to Posterous when that was the hot new service, only to leave it for Tumblr when that became Flavor of the Month.

I won't even try to list all the services I embraced, then quit.

When Google+ came along, I had the same initial reaction as you probably did: "What, another one?"

Then it hit me: Google+ isn't adding to the problem. Google+ can be the solution to social networking fatigue.

Just don't call it a social network

Everybody calls Google+ a "social network." Everyone, that is, except Google.

In the company's announcement, you won't find the phrase anywhere. They instead use another "S" word: "sharing." And "sharing" is just a warm-and-fuzzy way to say "communication."

By not labeling Google+ as a "social network," Google has a point. Google+ is no more a social network than it is any number of other online communications media. Google+ is also an email service, blogging platform, micro-blogging site, news feed, video conferencing system, chat service, location-based social network and more. So why call it a "social network"?

Here's a better question: Why overwhelm yourself with a dozen services when you can consolidate them all into one? For most people, Google+ can replace every single medium of online communication. The benefit is clear: One site, one log-in, one feed is better than many for ending social networking fatigue.

Here's my list of all the social services that Google+ can replace. I'll tell you what you can replace, what you need to know about replacing other media and why you should replace them all.

Social networking

Yes, Google+ is a great replacement for Facebook. (See my column from last week, "Declare independence... from Facebook!")

Email

Google+ is the first email replacement I've ever seen that's actually better than email. Some two years ago, I wrote a column in this space headlined "How to kill email (before it kills you)." Back then, my solution was to force all your communication through Twitter, Facebook and Skype instead of email and thereby get rid of spam, excessive chatter and needless attachments. Don't look now, but Google+ is essentially Twitter, Facebook and Skype, and is a much better replacement for email.

Related Slideshow: 10 Google+ Tips for Beginners

To send an email via Google+, just post a "status update" of any length, then add the email address. Like any email, the message can contain photos, videos, links or location info. To send "attachments," you need to upload the file and link to it. This process has downsides (it's not as easy, and attachments aren't searchable) and upsides (it's potentially more secure, and you can change or delete the file after you've sent the message. It also gets past email spam and file-size filters.)

Here's the best part: To reply to your Google+ email, your recipient is moved over to Google+ to post a comment. You reply by posting a comment to their comment, and so on. These comments pop up in your real-time stream as they're posted. While email systems send the entire thread back and forth with each reply, Google+ strips this down to only one copy of the conversation history. The Google+ interface also inspires shorter replies.

To send an email to you, a stranger needs only to press a button on your profile page. Spammers can't copy, retain and sell your email address. If you don't want to receive emails from someone, you simply block them.

Emails, as well as replies, simply come into your Google+ stream along with everything else, or you can view a stream only of one-to-one communications by itself.

To break free from email, set up an auto-reply that links to your Google+ profile, and tell everyone who sends you email that they can reach you only via Google+. By forcing everyone to communicate with you via Google+ rather than email, you can end spam and other unwanted attributes of email.

Blogging

A blogging service is simply online software that makes it easy for you to post words, links, pictures and videos in reverse-chronological order. It enables visitors to see your posts and comment. This is exactly what Google+ does.

Google+ can be used for blogging. If you visit my Google+ profile, you'll see that my public posts really just add up to a blog.

I've been blogging on Tumblr lately (here's my "Tumblog"), because it's easy to post, it's easy to attribute links and sources, and it's social -- others can simply re-blog your post on their own blogs.

Google+ does all this. In fact, I would even rank Google+ as the second best blogging platform after Tumblr. The only thing it lacks is themes and customization, custom URLs and advertising. For the majority of bloggers who don't need these, Google+ is the best blogging platform out there -- better even than Tumblr.

Microblogging

If you want to, you can use Google+ exactly like Twitter. Post short "tweets," reference people with the @ symbol (which turns into a live link, just like on Twitter), link to pages on the Web, follow people, make yourself available for following -- everything.

The advantages of using Google+ over Twitter are that you're not limited to 140 characters, you can add pictures and videos directly in the post and you don't need the second site -- it all happens in your one feed.

Google+ makes Twitter obsolete.

RSS

Google+ doesn't support RSS (Really Simple Syndication), but it almost certainly will in the future (pretty much every Google service offers an RSS-feed view). In the future, you'll probably be able to subscribe to RSS feeds on Google+.

Also very likely: Those people, sites and blogs you currently follow with your RSS reader will probably have Google+ accounts very soon.

If you're like me, you use RSS to keep up with specific topics. Google+ has a feature called "Sparks," which lets you choose canned topic areas to follow (Movies, Comics, Robotics and others), or invent your own with a search. The results from these feeds come right into your Google+ feed.

Video conferencing

Google+ has the best videoconferencing solution out there, at least that I'm aware of. Google+'s "Hangouts" is free, and supports both group viewing of videos and up to 10 simultaneous users. It's also very smooth and reliable.

You can target exactly who you'd like to invite into a video chat session, or you can open it up to larger groups and take all comers.

Best of all, it's integrated into Google+. Right in the middle of a heated thread, you can simply stop typing and launch a face-to-face video conversation.

Texting and chat

Google+ has the same Chat feature as Gmail. Just like on Gmail, you can add people to a group chat.

Google Chat enables you to chat with anyone who has a Google username and password. It also supports AIM, so you can chat with anyone with an AIM account.

Google+ is already supported brilliantly with an app on Google's own Android platform. You can "chat" from your Android phone as a superior replacement for SMS and MMS texting.

The iOS app for Google+ has already been submitted for approval. Once that's available, you'll be able to do the same thing from your iPhone or iPad.

Location-based social networking

Millions of people enjoy using location-based social networks such as Foursquare. (Millions more want nothing to do with it.) But if you do like to "check in" and let your family and friends know where you are, that capability is built in to Google+.

You can't become "mayor", unlock badges or win a free sandwich. But that's a feature or a bug, depending on your perspective.

Email newsletter

One the most effective ways to reach people is the good, old-fashioned email newsletter. They're great for businesses, self-promoting writers (like me) or for anyone who wants to reach a large number of people on a regular basis.

I publish an email newsletter myself. One problem: Half the subscribers never get it because various Internet, corporate and personal spam filters have decided my newsletter is unwanted commercial advertising, rather than the opt-in, ad-free, non-commercial publication that it actually is. All email newsletter publishers are frustrated by spam filters.

A list of email addresses is called a mailing list. But on Google+, it's called a Social Circle. By serving up your content by way of Google+, you're still delivering email to the people who aren't members or who choose to get it via email. The rest get it on their Google+ feed. Either way, you're skirting the spam filters and directly reaching your audience.

Google+ can replace not just Facebook, but nearly every form of online communication. And by using Google+ for all your online social activity, you can radically simplify your life.

Imagine doing it all on a single site with a single login in a single feed! And it doesn't hurt that Google+ clearly has the most advanced user interface.

Don't think of Google+ as yet another social site to deal with. Think of it as the only social site you have to deal with.

As an experiment to test this concept, I've decided to go on a "Google+ Diet" and stop using all forms of online communication except Google+. I'll tell you what happens in a future column. Or you can watch it unfold in real time by following me on Google+.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free e-mail newsletter, Mike's List.

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