Google+ Hangouts Just Became a Whole Lot More Awesome

Circles might be the foundation of Google+, but Hangouts are undoubtedly its biggest selling point. Hangouts one-up pretty much every other social network out there by enabling effortless video conversation between up to ten people for free. Now, Google has announced a bunch of new features that will make Hangouts even more compelling.

Going forward, Hangouts will be embedded into all posts in order to encourage impromptu conversations among friends and acquaintances over a common topic. By clicking on the new Hangout button below posts, users will be able to post their Hangout invitations as a comment. This feature will be available on the web, as well as in the mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Google is also making it possible to add people, who aren’t online, to Hangouts by calling them up. Calls made to US and Canada are completely free, while other international calls are remarkably cheap.

The “Hangouts on Air” feature that has been used by celebrities like the Black Eyed Peas to share performances will be expanded to hundreds of other Google+ users with a large following. Going on air is as simple as creating a new Hangout with broadcast and record option enabled. Once the performance or conversation is over, Google will automatically upload a full-length private copy of the event to YouTube.

Google-Plus-Hangouts

Finally, Google is making it harder than before to ignore Hangout invitations. Not only will they show up in your stream, but will also occupy a prominent permanent place in the Google+ sidebar, and notify you on your mobile if you aren’t online from a desktop.

Google Adds “Find My Face” Facial Recognition Feature on Google+

Google today announced a new feature called “Find My Face” on its slow growing social networking site, Google Plus, making it easier for users to tag people through the facial recognition technology.

In a Google+ update, Google engineer Matt Steiner wrote, By turning on Find My Face, Google+ can prompt people you know to tag your face when it appears in photos.He added that you have control over which tags you accept or reject, and you can turn the feature on or off in Google+ settings.

Google Plus Find My Face Feature

How it Works

For instance, let’s say “George” decides to opt-in to Find My Face. When “Michele” (George’s friend) uploads a picture that has George in it, then she would see a notification that says “Is this George?” With this, Michele has the option of tagging George in the photo. George on the other hand, can either accept or reject the tag, depending on his choice.

With Find My Face feature, users on Google+ will be prompted to tag your face whenever they upload a photo of you. The feature is very much identical to Facebook’s facial recognition “Tag Suggestions” tool, which “magically” identifies your face in pictures posted to the network and offers suggestion to tag you.

Google Plus Find My Face Enable

However, Google’s Find My Face technology has been built with some key differences that the search giant believes will make photo tagging much easier. It allows users to accept or reject tags, meaning you can completely take control over the tags.

Unlike Facebook, Google’s Find My Face prompts users to opt into the service before it starts automatically suggesting to their friend to tag you. So if you would love your name being associated with your friends’ photos on Google+, then you can turn on Find My Face in your Google+ settings page.

Well, you might not see the option to enable/disable Find My Face yet, but Matt states that it’ll be rolled out to all users in the next few days.

Find My Face is a great feature, especially making Google+ Photos more useful. The same facial recognition technology is also used with Street View to blur photos, and it will be used to unlock phones in Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich.

Gmail Gets Google Plus Integration, Lets You Filter Email And Contacts From Google Plus Circles

Since the day Google Plus opened up for everyone, the message from Google team has been pretty clear. Lets focus our attention towards people and re-invent every other Google product (keeping Google Plus in the centre). This includes Google search, Gmail, Google Reader, Google Maps, Authorship in search results, YouTube and what not.

Google is heavily focusing on the strength of peoplewith whom you connect and share in real life; familiar faces have already started appearing on search results, Google Maps, Google Reader and so forth.

How can Gmail stay behind? With the new Gmail and Google Plus integration, you get all your Google Plus friends and contacts within your Gmail inbox, so this update makes it easy to find messages that are related to specific Google Plus friends and contacts.The next time you login in to your Gmail account that is tied with a Google Plus account, you might see a new drop down menu on the left sidebar, as shown in the following screenshot:

 

gmail-google-plus-circles-contacts

The Circlesdropdown works exactly as labels work in Gmail and allows you to filter sent or received messages from people who are present in your Google Plus circles. For example: I have a circle named mediain my Google Plus account, which I have made to filter journalists and reporters I know. Now that the Circle filterin Google Plus is active, I can quickly find all the emails that were either sent to or received from anyone, who is present in the circle named as Media. I don’t have to remember their names, email addresses and the subject of a previous conversation.

Google has also integrated contact information of your Google Plus friends within Google contacts.

google-plus-contacts-circles

This has two advantages. First, you can export the contact details of all your Google Plus friends as a CSV file and import it on another Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account. This is lifesaving, when you are permanently switching to a different email address and need a one click option to export all your email contacts and Google plus contacts from a central location.

I use a separate Gmail account for Google Plus and my work email address is on Google Apps, which is not tied to any Google Plus account. Hence, in my case, Gmail contacts and Google Plus contacts will be disjoint sets. But if you are not like me and use the same Gmail account for Google Plus and as your primary work email address; this update will simplify contact management to the next level.

Please note that only people who are sharing with you on Google Plus and have added you to their circles, will be added to your Google contacts. Adding someone to any of your Google Plus circles wont add his email address to your Google contacts list, so this will keep spam emails at bay. Another strong reason why you should be very careful in choosing whom you are sharing with on Google Plus.

The People widget, which Google started showing on Gmail’s right sidebar from May2011, will now include status updates, posts and recent links from people who are involved in a conversation.

gmail-people-widget

Whenever any of your Google Plus friends send you an email, you will be able to interact with them, directly from the people widget on the right sidebar. Another nice feature I must mention is the ability to share photo attachments in Gmail directly on your Google Plus profile. Just hit the Sharebutton next to any attached photo, type in your message in the browser overlay window and choose the circles with whom you want to share.

share-gmail-photo-attachments-google-plus

Be careful with whom you share photo attachments in Gmail because once you hit Sharewith the default option (Your Circles) being checked, anyone can see that photo or download it on his computer.

As usual, Google Apps users are out of luck but Google said that it is a work in progress.

Google Wave Gets a Final Wave Goodbye

In August of 2009, Google introduced a new collaboration service called Google Wave with some mystery and a lot of hype. Initially, there was quite a bit of interest in it, but over time, it was obvious to Google that it wasn’t going to be a popular service.  I tried Wave a few times, and even though I thought it was pretty cool, my biggest problem with it was that it was sluggish and simply didn’t offer a good replacement for simple email and social networking, as in Facebook.  A year after the introduction, Google finally announced that the Wave project was getting killed. Later, it was announced that Wave was going to end up as an open source project hosted by the Apache Foundation. Wave did have a lot of great features for collaboration, and the move to open source was welcomed by many.

Yesterday, I received an email from the Wave team which details the final funeral arrangements for Google Wave. Here’s that email in full:

Dear Wavers,

More than a year ago, we  announced  that Google Wave would no longer be developed as a separate product. At the time, we committed to maintaining the site at least through to the end of 2010. Today, we are sharing the specific dates for ending this maintenance period and shutting down Wave. As of January 31, 2012, all waves will be read-only, and the Wave service will be turned off on April 30, 2012. You will be able to continue exporting individual waves using the existing PDF export feature until the Google Wave service is turned off. We encourage you to export any important data before April 30, 2012.    

If you would like to continue using Wave, there are a number of open source projects, including  Apache Wave  There is also an open source project called  Walkaround  that includes an  experimental feature  that lets you import all your Waves from Google. This feature will also work until the Wave service is turned off on April 30, 2012.  For more details, please see our  help center.

Yours sincerely,

The Wave Team

Even though Google Wave was somewhat of a failure, and the next social media project called Google Buzz, also seemed to fizzle out, the newest Google project, Google Plus has had some success. It was designed to compete head-to-head with Facebook and MySpace and I’ve become addicted to it. Below is a video showing an introduction to Google Wave and following that is an introduction to the new Google Plus.

 

 

Google Plus video

If you want to check it out, you can join me on Google Plus and add me to one of your circles.

Google+ Introduces Pages

Google announced their new “Pages” feature to Google+ on their blog. The theme of their blog post centers around being able to connect with all the things you care about. Google+ Pages have been a long time in the making and are similar to the group and business pages you see on Facebook. They allow you to socialize with your favorite brands and businesses, in addition to people.

Organizations can go to plus.google.com/pages/create  to start their new page.  Though they said the new “Pages” feature rolls out worldwide today, it doesn’t appear to be available everywhere just yet. When I tried to create a page earlier, I received the message picture below.

Not Ready

The addition of “Pages” allows businesses to interact with their customers in new ways. Customers can now +1 a page or add them to their circles so they can always see updates from them. Google seems to be embracing the philosophy of connecting to people. Here is a quote from their blog:

behind every page (or storefront, or four-door sedan) is a passionate group of individuals, and we think you should able to connect with them too.

Google shared the following video to introduce their new “Pages” feature.

Google+ Pages will now be included in Google search results.  Google has also introduced a “Direct Connect” feature for its search engine. For example, if you are an Angry Birds fan, then you can type a “+” symbol followed by Angry Birds in the search box and it will take you directly to their Google+ page. Apparently there are only a limited number of “Direct Connect” pages available at this time. The video below gives a little more detail of how this works.

The  roll out  of Google+ Pages has been long awaited by Google+ users. Facebook has allowed organizations and businesses to do similar pages for quite a while now. To be quite honest, there doesn’t appear to be anything innovative with this new offering however, it was imperative that they add this  functionality. It will be interesting to see how businesses and organizations embrace the new pages. I believe a lot of their success will depend on how easy the interface is to work with.

What do you think? Is this too little too late? Are you excited about the opportunity to build your own page? Please let us know what you think. We love hearing from our readers.

Top 3 Opera Extensions to Enhance Your Google Plus Experience

The jury is still out on Google Plus; however, Google’s phenomenal reach coupled of a refreshing take on privacy has ensured that it is off to a promising start. If you are amongst the millions who have already jumped ship to Google Plus, here are three Opera extensions to enhance your Google Plus experience.

Google-Plus-Notification-Bar-Opera Google+ Injector: One of the best features of Google Plus is the notification bar, which allows you to track what’s happening on Google Plus and instantly respond to new events without leaving the current page. Unfortunately, Google was too lazy to develop a truly cross-browser solution, and the notification bar just doesn’t work in Opera. Fortunately, there is a simple extension called Google Plus Injector that adds the missing CSS, HTML, and JavaScript code into Google Plus to add the missing options to the web toolbar for Opera users.

Google-Plus-Notifications-Opera

The extension works as promised for Google Plus; however, it would have been even better, if it worked across different Google services (such as Google Search). Currently, even with this extension, notifications aren’t available on Google properties other than Google Plus.

DownloadSupport for Google+: Google Plus’ excellent media integration support has made it a popular platform to share images and videos. This extension enables one click download of images and videos from Google Plus. You can either use album and batch download for images, or selectively download images from your Google Plus stream. For YouTube videos shared on Google, one click download option is available.

Google+ Notif: This extension displays a snapshot of the latest Google Plus notifications on Opera’s speed dial. Google’s global web bar doesn’t function properly in Opera; however, this is a nice alternative to stay on top of activities in your Google Plus stream.

Google-Plus-Speed-Dial-Extension

If you are an Opera user who can’t stay away from Google Plus, these three extensions are must haves. However, there are a couple of more Google Plus extensions for Opera, including the Simple Google Plus Access extension that provides quick access to the social networking website through the toolbar. Feel free to explore Opera’s extension gallery to discover more handy extensions.

Google Improves The Display Of Authorship on Search Results, Makes it Easy to Add Authorship Support

Google introduced author markup on search results to improve the visibility of qualitysources and highlight high quality content that makes sense. Author markup in Google search helps you find useful content written by reputed authors and not just every Tom and Harry.

It is Google’s way of determining which authors are trustworthyand whether you, as a user, would derive value from the authors content. Google uses a lot of different signals to determine whether this particular user enjoys reading the posts of this particular author. This includes relevancy of the page, user’s query, social connections, mutual interests, links, engagement, return visits, previous search history and so on.

Implementing author markup in your website was a little geeky, here is the classical way to do it:

1. On your website, you have to create a dedicated author page which should link to the Google Plus profile of the author using the rel=meattribute. (see example)

2. Every post written by the author on his website must link to the author page using the rel=authorattribute. (check the author bio section of this post)

3. The Google Plus profile of the author must link back to the author page on the same domain. (My Google Plus profile links back to the author page of Techie Buzz)

When all of the above three conditions holds true, Google will re-crawl your entire website and there is a high chance that your Google Plus author thumbnail will be shown on search result pages. Here is an example:

author-thumbnails

Google has now made it easier to add author markup tags on pages which is beyond your control.   There can be situations when you might not have enough access privileges to modify internal codes, template files and add the HTML code for author markup. In such scenarios, you can use your Google Plus verified email address to implement author markup and tell Google that you wrote this content.

To do this, go to your Google Plus profile, click Editand add your email address in the new contact infotext field. Next, add this same email address along with your name on the blog post you write. This is applicable on any blog where you contribute posts, not just your own website or personal blog.

Modifications In The Display Of Author Thumbnails

Additionally, Google has slightly tweaked the display and layout of author thumbnails on search results. Previously, the thumbnails used to appear at far right but as of now, the photos are placed left aligned to the meta description of the post. Here is an example:

matt-cutts-google-plus

Some things to note:

  • Circle count: Google shows the Google Plus circle count of the author, which can be a measure of popularity and reach.
  • Name of the circle: On rare occasions, Google also pulls in the name of the circle, in case the author is already present in one of your Google Plus circles and you heavily interact with him or engage with his updates (comment, reshare, +1… you name it).Here is an example:

    add-to-circles

    I have added Barry in a circle called Searchand when I searched for [SEO eye tracking], I was shown the above listing. It is important to note that this result only appeared when I was logged into my Google Plus account and Google’s algorithm was able to gauge the connection between me, Barry, mutual connections, my search query, Barry’s blog post and his share on Google Plus.

  • Comments: Some webmasters have reported that Google also shows number of comments and comment previews directly under the Meta description of a Google Plus post. Here is an example:google-plus-post

Personally, I like things that are simple, easily discoverable and as fluid as water.

Author thumbnails helps cut the clutter but excessive integration with Google Plus is again another distraction. At the end of the day, it is an algorithm which doesn’t have human eyes so spammers are already preparing their false fronts, trying to game the system and make the maximum profit out of this.

Whether they win or lose is just a matter of time; but I have this feeling that the prying nose of a social network can sometimes cause biased results. Crowdsourcing user signals is one thing but placing your banners all over the place is like trying to win the battle by crushing your own army.

Two years back, Google search was so simple.  No background images, no YouTube crap, less ads and distractions.

Enter 2011 and we have Google maps, YouTube ads, Adwords advertisements, local results, related searches, best guess match, a left column, instant search, plus one button and so on. Google Plus integration is just adding to the noise for many.

Ask yourself   Do you use all these features on Google search result pages? I don’t, to be honest.

Is Google Cracking Down on Employees for Opposing it on Google Plus Names Policy?

Censorship Last week, Vic Gundotra the man in charge of Google Plus, revealed that Google Plus will soon support pseudonyms and other forms of identity. The announcement marked a major victory for privacy advocates who had been vociferously protesting Google Plus’s “common name only” policy. However, the controversy might not yet be over.

It all started in July 2011 when Google began suspending accounts with fake names or pseudonyms. The move was widely criticized by privacy advocates like EFF, and gave birth to the Nymwars. In spite of the backlash from the press and the public, Vic Gundotra remained adamant that anonymity has no place in a social network. Nevertheless, over the weeks Google improved the suspension and enforcement process by introducing grace period before suspension and account verification for celebrities. Several Googlers also joined in on the debate and shared their views on Google Plus.

The cause for anonymity and privacy on the internet is an issue that Google employees obviously care deeply about. About 10% of Googlers had signed on a petition in support of pseudonyms before Google Plus’ launch, and their voice probably played a crucial hand in convincing the bosses at Google to change its policy. However, reports are now appearing that Google might be cracking down on employees sympathetic towards pseudonym advocates.

Earlier today, an anonymous submission on Hacker News read:

Word coming out is that one person was, just this week, put on an unexpected 60-day PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) for sharing opinions of the Real Names policy on internal G+. It’s likely that he’s been set up to fail. If this is accurate, and I believe it is, there’ll be more to tell in late December.
It’s worth noting that individual Googlers have shown nothing but support for this person as the story has developed.

Google using Performance Improvement Plan as a paper trail to fire employees is nothing new, and to be honest Google isn’t the only company that uses PIP as an excuse to fire employees. However, putting employees on PIP for sharing opinions on internal social network is definitely incompatible with Google’s Do No Evilmantra.

The Hacker News submission is anonymous and unverified, and could very well be complete fabrication. Unfortunately, this is not the first time someone has accused Google of punishing employees for being sympathetic towards anonymity supporters. Back in July, @skud highlighted circumstantial evidence that hinted at the usage of gag orders on employees.

Google is entirely within its rights to gag employees who criticize company policies in public. However, gagging and punishing employees who raise their voice internally, or attempt to offer a neutral and balanced point of view to the public (instead of blindly toeing the company line) might be taking things too far. Having a human face matters, and by being too strict Google might end up hurting itself.

Translate Google+ into More Than 50 Languages

A good number of friends in my Google Plus circle share links or add posts that are in regional languages. The posts become useless, at least for me, since I do not understand the language. This becomes an issue, and generally people get annoyed, especially when a post looks interesting and worth a read.

When it comes to translation of text or a website to English or  any other  language, Google Translate serves the best. However, it’s more like a pain to copy-paste text from Plus to Google Translate, to understand what exactly the content is all about. Well, now that isn’t an issue anymore.

Leading frontend and mobile development for Google Translate Josh Estelle  , announced in a post that the Google Translate team have developed and come up with a Chrome extension called “Google Translate for Google+”, which uses the power of Google Translate, to automatically translate any post into more than 50 languages.

The extension basically saves Plus users from having to open the Google Translate page and translate the post into another language. The Chrome extension is available at the Chrome Web Store. Click here to install it.

After having the extension installed and refreshing your Google Plus page, you should notice a Translatelink button next to the Commentand Sharelink buttons.

Google Plus Translate

The extension works incredibly well, just like the Google Translate feature. When you click on the Translatelink button, the post gets translated instantly, without reloading the page. By default, the extension sets yellow as the background color for the translated text. However, you can change the color to any of the 12  available  colors  in the extension options.

You can also change the default language that you want to translate a post. Also make sure you have checked the Always Add to Google+option. This will always add the translate feature (translate link button) to all the posts in your stream.

Google Plus Translate

However,  Josh also  mentioned  that – “the extension is currently  experimental, as we figure out the best way to integrate translation into the Google+ community.” So if you have any suggestions or idea to  improve  the extension, you can add a comment here, or send feedback by clicking the Send Feedbackbutton.

Creating a Google Plus Account Now Requires You to Enter Your Birthday

According to The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), users registering on websites like Facebook, which collect information from users, are asked to enter their (real) date of birth at the time of registration. This indicates that users (children) below 13 years of age are restricted from creating the account.

The same law is now applied to Google Plus and Google Accounts as well. Google is now requiring new users to enter their real birth date while  registering on their social networking site Google Plus, or any other services provided by Google. If the entered date indicates that you are below 13 years of age, then you won’t be able to create an account and you will receive a notification stating that “Google could not create your account. In order to have a Google Account, you must meet certain age requirements. To learn more about online child safety, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

Google Accounts Birthday

If you’re already on Google Plus and your entered age is not above 13 years, then it is likely that your account will be disabled (deleted) in the next 30 days. There isn’t any option for you to edit you birth date of your current account.

However, you can re-enable your Google Plus account by completing any of the following steps –

  • Sending in a signed form via mail or fax with a copy of your current, government-issued ID showing your date of birth, or
  • Performing a small transaction ($0.30 USD) on a valid credit card.

Please note that you will be charged $1 USD for your transaction of $0.30 USD.

If you have chosen to use your credit card to make the transaction, then your Google Plus account will be re-enabled within minutes. However, if you’re using the mail or fax option, then it can take several days or even a couple of weeks for your account to get re-activated.

Facebook also requires entering user’s birth date at the time of registration. However, Mark Zuckerberg strongly feels that kids who are below 13 years of age should to be allowed to use social networking sites.

Though there are millions of kids (below 13 years of age) who are already using Facebook by giving fake birth dates, Zuckerberg is determined to change this rule and wants to make it legal. He believes that allowing kids onto social networking site will help them learn new things quickly and effortlessly.