google+ for writers

After checking out the new Google+ service for the past few days, I thought I'd share some thoughts on how it might be useful to writers.

The Basics
Google+ is a social network that allows you to share information in a way that's both simple and versatile. You add each of your contacts to one or more circles, representing things like relationship or mutual interests, and then you choose which of your circles you'd like to share each post with. You can set posts to be visible to only a few specific users, to only those in the circles you select, to people who are also in their direct circles (the "friends of your friends" option), or to the general public.

Once you've set your circles up how you want them, you can use the same social networking account to share travel plans with your family, YouTube videos with your friends, and inside jokes from that night on the town with only the people who were there. You can connect with real-life friends, online acquaintances, and professional contacts without feeling like you're swamping everyone with types of updates they aren't interested in. As someone who has juggled multiple accounts across various services for years, I'm in love with both the idea and how easy it's been to use. For a few links with more specific details and suggestions, check out the bottom of this post.

Circles For Writers
My experimentation with Google+ makes me really excited about its potential benefits to writers and bloggers. Here are a few ideas of how Google+ circles might come in handy.
  • Make a circle for your critique group.
    Your friendly neighborhood critique group could share story-specific musings and encouragement. Privacy-conscious writers can even specify in a post's settings that it shouldn't be shared further, to guard against the possibility of a critique partner accidentally expanding your discussion to a wider audience.
  • Get in touch with fellow writers.
    Chat about broader questions of structure or style with people that you know are interested in the subject.
  • Follow other bloggers.
    Exchange links to blog-related resources, put out the call for a guest post, or ask advice about how to grow a larger blog audience.
  • List fans of a specific genre, book, or series.
    Give out info on release dates, reviews, and recommendations among those who share your reading interests.
  • Look for inspiration and tips on improving your work.
    Adding someone to a circle is a one-way relationship that doesn't require them to approve a friend request or add you in return. So you could follow the public posts of users whose work you enjoy in order to see what you can learn from them.
  • Try some no-fuss networking.
    Share a couple of posts or news articles that may catch the interest of your acquaintances each week. If they add you to one of their circles in return, it's an easy way to keep in contact without imposing all your vacation photos on them.
Sparks
Another feature of Google+ is the ability to set up a list of sparks, or subjects you're interested in. Once you create a spark, it appears in a list on your sidebar and you can click on it at any time to read related news and articles. I created a spark for a favorite writer and an upcoming movie I'm interested in, but I've also got a few that are related to general book news and writing research.

Why I'm Not Using It As Heavily As I'd Like To
I'm really enjoying Google+ so far, but I'm not ready to encourage you all to start adding me to your circles just yet. For one thing, it isn't open to everyone at the moment. The invite process is iffy, and a lot of my friends are still on the outside looking in. An even bigger deal for me is that the service isn't available to those of us using Google Apps (like Gmail) under our own domain name. This means that I have to play with Google+ under an ancient personal e-mail address (one I'm trying to transition away from) rather than being able to jump in to it with my preferred contact info. Hopefully that will change soon, but for now it's a major frustration.

The Bottom Line
The thing I like best about Google+ is its range of easily-accessible sharing options. Many services offer either public or private profiles with little in the way of middle ground. Facebook has a lists feature that theoretically lets you categorize how to share your posts, but it's buried under so many clicks that using it on a per-post basis is rarely worth the effort. The Google+ interface makes it easy. And since you have to choose which circles to send your updates to each time, you can target your posts more effectively. I'm still learning its ropes, but for now, Google+ feels like a social network I'm excited to use rather than one I feel obligated to check in on.

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