With Google+ emerging as a popular network for photographers, it's important to understand two of its core features—circles and hangouts—and learn how to use them to fit your needs. Whether you're a full-time working professional or you just happened to pick up a camera for the first time, Google+ gives you the tools to connect and engage with other users in ways beyond those of other online networks (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 Google+ home page.
In a nutshell, circles are the Google+ solution to the complexities of interpersonal relationships that we typically develop in the real world. Until recently, we've had to water down these experiences when we tried to take them online, because of the limitations of social networking.
This limit can easily be demonstrated by looking at three separate groups of individuals with which you probably connect daily. For the sake of argument, let's say that these three groups are your family members, photographer colleagues, and past clients for your photo business. You might share personal information with a family member, talk about camera gear with your colleagues, and discuss marketing material with your past clients, but you generally wouldn't do all of those things with every group of individuals.
Circles allow you to group individuals that are similar in some way, giving you complete control over not only your interactions with them, but with the content you want to view on the network itself (see Figure 4). Google+ uses your various circles as filters, giving you the ability to view content only from your family members, colleagues, or past clients, to use our earlier designations. Once you've wrapped your head around how to use circles, the sky is the limit on how organized and efficient you can be with your time on Google+ (see Figure 5).
Figure 4 Google+ Circles management page.
Figure 5 My five most active Google+ circles.
Google+ hangouts are easily the most exciting feature of the network. Simply put, you have the ability to host or join a group video chat with nine other individuals (10, counting you) anywhere in the world (see Figure 6). You can create hangouts to share your screens, collaborate on Google Docs files, and even watch YouTube videos together as a group (see Figure 7).
Figure 6 Google+ Hangouts main page.
Figure 7 Creating your own hangout.
On top of this capability, Google+ recently opened up its "On Air" broadcasting feature to every Google+ user on the network. This gives you the ability to share a live broadcast of your personal hangout with anyone interested in watching. After your Google+ hangout broadcast has finished, a recorded version will be sent directly to your YouTube account, where you can do some basic video edits and then publish it to YouTube, giving you the ability to share your hangout with anyone, anywhere in the world (see Figure 8). In essence, hangouts give you the ability to become your own production company—all for the incredibly high cost of $0.
Figure 8 Hangouts On Air in action.
Hangouts offer photographers endless practical uses. Over the last 11 months, I've hosted photo education webinars, participated in panel discussions, engaged with hundreds of potential clients, and even watched a live concert. Okay, that last one doesn't have anything to do with photography, but it was still pretty amazing!