Ask LH: How Do I Make The Most Of Google+?

Dear Lifehacker, I finally got invited to Google+, but now that I’m in everyone’s talking about extensions and scripts and other tools I can use to change the way it looks and works. What are some of the best ones to help me get in and start using it?Signed, Amateur Social Butterfly

Dear Social Butterfly,

Congratulations on getting your invite! Google+ is growing, and even before it was easy to get an invite, people were busy writing userscripts and add-ons for Firefox and Chrome to help you tweak the layout, add new tools, and change the look and feel of the social network.

While we think the interface in Google+ is pretty solid, there are some great add-ons and tricks out there you might want to try to make it easier or more fun to use.

Tweak the Google+ Layout

Upgraded from a userscript, Google+ Ultimate is a Chrome add-on that completely changes the look and feel of Google+. The tool makes the status bar at the top of the page and the left sidebar with your circles and friends available for chat both floating elements that stay with you as you scroll down the page. The add-on also thins out the scrollbars for a more minimal look, and changes the spacing and padding around the page to give it a more streamlined look. If you want a way to make the Google+ interface more like other networks you may be familiar with, this add-on can help.

Some of the same functionality is available on Google+ Tweaks, another Chrome add-on that also exists as a userscript that Firefox users with Greasemonkey installed can enjoy. Safari users (and Chrome users looking for another alternative) can take a look at Adhik, an add-on that applies some of the same layout and design changes.

Use Keyboard Shortcuts to Get Around

We’re big fans of using keyboard shortcuts whenever you would normally use the mouse to navigate, and the Google+ Manager add-on for Firefox and for Chrome both add a wealth of keyboard shortcuts for common Google+ actions to your browser. The add-on also adds a translate button next to any post, so you can quickly see it in your own language, a button to share the post on any other social network, and tweaks the Google status bar at the top of the page to include a URL shortener.

Update Google+ From Anywhere

We’ve mentioned it before, but Surplus is a Chrome extension that puts Google+ in your browser so you can take it with you anywhere you surf. When you see an article you want to share, or you just get inspired to post something, click the sharing button to start a new post, complete with the link, photo, and video inserts. The extension doesn’t pull the page you’re viewing through, so you’ll have to copy and paste the URL. There’s another button that lets you quickly view your notifications, and add people from those notifications to your own circles. The extension even has desktop notifications, sounds, and the ability to switch between Google accounts if you have more than one signed up at Google+.

Update Facebook and Google+ At Once

You don’t need an add-on to keep your Facebook friends up to date with what you post to Google+. Just add your Facebook mobile email address and share anything you post to one of your circles on Google+ with that address, the way we explain here. Your Google+ post will be republished in your Facebook stream, all of your friends in both places will see it, and no one will feel left out.

Share with Facebook and Twitter, Too

The previously mentioned Extended Share add-on for Chrome adds a “Send To” button to shared items in your Google+ stream that allows you to re-post those items to Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. As you discover interesting posts, you can share them on other networks as long as the posts are public and anyone can see them. The only down-side is that the add-on only posts the link to the post on Google+, so Facebook and Twitter users don’t get much context aside from what you include with the link. Still, it’s a great way to get your other friends interested in what you’re reading on Google+.

Move Your Photos to Picasa

One of the side-benefits of signing up for Google+ is that users get essentially unlimited storage for the photos they want to share with their circles. As soon as Google+ launched, many scrambled to move their photos from Facebook to Picasa (soon to be renamed Google Photos) so they could share them. The service Move2Picasa appeared, was promptly overwhelmed after TechCrunch and we mentioned it, and then moved to a Chrome add-on that streamlines the process of migrating your photos from Facebook to Picasa. Still, if you’re looking to make better use of Google+, posting your photos to Picasa is the easiest way to make them available for sharing.

Beef up the Google Status Bar

Lifehacker reader Ben Pesso created the previously mentioned Google+ Enhancer, a userscript we love that adds unread item counts for Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Calendar to the status bar at the top of the page when you’re at Google+. Ben has updated the script so it works on all Google pages accessible from the status bar, so whether you’re hanging out at Google+ or reading the news in Google Reader, you’ll always see how many new appointments you have or unread messages are waiting for you in Gmail.

Give Your Google+ Profile a Vanity URL

You can make it even easier for people to find you on Google+ by giving your profile a short vanity URL that you can link easily on sites like Twitter and Facebook for your friends to click and find you easily on Google+. Previously mentioned Google+ Nick lets you choose a nickname for yourself, use your Google+ profile ID, and provides a handy short URL that’s as memorable as you can make it.

Those are just a few of the extensions, add-ons, and userscripts out there to help you make the most of Google+. As with any social network, make sure you’re actually using the service’s core features to their fullest as well, make circles based on the types of things you want to share and the people you want to share them with, and then actually use them. All the tools in the world can’t make you actually use a social network.

Most importantly, have fun. Google+ is rapidly growing and lots of people are sharing interesting, insightful, funny and entertaining topics. Don’t be afraid to join in!


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