Social networks have always had an uneasy relationship with customization. The earliest social networks gave you few customization options, if any. Then Myspace taught us all that unlimited profile customization can be a scary, animated-GIF-filled nightmare. Facebook gives you the options it wants you to have. And Twitter’s first-party user experience has been thoroughly surpassed by third-party clients in a dizzying array of flavors.
So what about Google+? The newest entry to the social network major leagues is taking a page from Twitter’s handbook, letting third-party application developers do all of the heavy lifting. But instead of letting these new feature coalesce into full-blown clients that render the first-party experience obsolete, these improvements are being channeled into extensions for Google’s Chrome browser.
The result (ideally) is a robust, evolving feature set that’s easy to customize, doesn’t overwhelm the user and doesn’t make the core experience completely irrelevant.
The downside to this approach is that Google hasn’t done a great job of letting users know they can improve their experience with plug-ins — and it hasn’t made it easy to identify the most useful tools on the market. In the SmartBrief tradition of helping you figure out what really matters, here are what I consider to be the seven best Chrome Extensions on the market.
- Surplus: This plug-in is ideal for those times when you want to add a link or a comment to your Google+ stream, without running the risk of getting sucked in by all the cool stuff your friends are sharing. It adds a little button to the top of your browser, click it and you’ve got the full Google posting experience, with none of the distraction.
- Google+ Refined for Google Plus: There are a number of tools that promise to let you reconfigure your Google+ experience in some way. In my experience, most of them don’t work well. Google+ Refined isn’t the most ambitious style tool out there, but it’s functional and gives you the option to streamline the site and make a few minor visual tweaks that improve the look and feel of Google+.
- G+ Twitter for Google Plus: Gives you the ability to post your Google+ updates to Twitter, treating the competing social network as just another circle. I’m not necessarily in favor of linking all your social media accounts — I think each network has its own strengths and weaknesses and needs its own dedicated content. That said, if you want to tweet from Google+, this is the way to do it.
- RSS Share for Google Plus™ and Google Reader: The name really says it all. Use this to seamlessly share what you’re reading.
- G+Me for Google Plus: This lets you collapse all updates, making your Circles much, much easier to skim.
- Replies and More for Google+: This plug-in combines the share-to-other-networks functionality of the better known Extended Share for Google Plus with the neat feature to reply directly to the author of a comment.
- Helper for Google Plus: There are a bunch of plug-ins that promise to let you mark a post and save it for easy reference later. Unfortunately, they don’t work as advertised. But you know what does work? Delicious — that URL saving and sharing tool that was saved from oblivion by the founders of YouTube. And with “Helper” you can bookmark a Google+ post and mark it for further action, ensuring that you never let another important post fall by the wayside. As a bonus, this plug-in also features a translation tool and a bunch of other features.
A few quick caveats:
- The downside of using browser plug-ins is that they can make a browser sluggish or prone to crashing if they conflict with one another. You may need to experiment a little to find the plug-in combination the works best for you.
- Google is constantly updating Google+ and plug-in makers are constantly updating their products to compensate. What works today may not work tomorrow.
- New plug-ins are being added all the time. By the time you read this, one of my recommendations may have been outclassed by a competitor. Once you have a feel for what you really need out of Google+, try adding and subtracting plug-ins to develop your own ideal user experience.
What features would you like to see added to Google+? What Extensions are you using?