Google+ is different things to different people. For some, it's a gallery for displaying artwork or photography. For others, it's a powerful way to promote my -- I mean their -- columns, books and blog posts. For most, it's a wordy Twitter replacement where posts are often followed by the highest quality conversations anywhere.
The worst use for Google+ right now is as a social network -- at least the Facebook variety. It seems that no amount of privacy invasion, censorship or feature bloat can dislodge extended family and old high school friends from Zuckerville. People just aren't moving to Google+ for personal social networking yet.
Everybody's on Facebook because everybody's on Facebook.
That will change over time. For now, Google+ is an elite salon for brainy nerds and creative geniuses, a mere 50 million of them at last count.
Personally, I use Google+ as a second Internet. In many ways, it's superior to the regular Internet because it's better curated and more social. I've now replaced my blog, email newsletter, Twitter feed, Facebook profile, Foursquare account and all other social services with Google+. I live in my Google+ stream.
I keep my Google+ stream going all day on the right side of my screen. It auto-refreshes any time someone I've circled posts something, or whenever someone comments on one of my own posts.
It turns out, however, that Google+ can be more than a self-promotion soapbox, online cocktail party and alternative Internet. Much more.
I've discovered that a cool new Web service, plus a simple hack, turns a Google+ stream into an automated Total Information Awareness dashboard of real-time data.
No, it's not pronounced if-t-t-t
A new service called "If This Then That," which goes by the abbreviation IFTTT, lets you connect various social sites and online services to automatically make things happen.
Using "if-then" statements to define tasks, you can set it up so that things happen automatically. Here are some examples:
• If I take an Instagram photo, then copy it to DropBox.
• If I star an item in Google Reader, then save a copy to Evernote.
• If it's going to rain tomorrow, then send me a text message.
The service holds your hand through the creation of automated interactions between social and online services. Once set up, IFTTT calls the resulting bots "recipes," which people share and which you can copy and re-use.
The IFTTT website lists the services and events it supports, calling them "channels." They include Craigslist, Delicious, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Reader, Google Talk, Instagram, Instapaper, Last.fm, LinkedIn, Posterous, Tumblr, Twitter, Vimeo, Weather, WordPress, YouTube and many others.
The service also interacts with generic data like SMS, RSS, email, phone calls and more.
It's a fantastic service. There's just one thing missing: Google+.
Google released the Google+ API less than two weeks ago. It may be a while before you can just plug Google+ into the IFTTT matrix.
If only there were some way to get IFTTT data into Google+, you'd be able to get all kinds of personal and general information posted in real time in your stream. For example, you could be notified if someone tagged you on Facebook, if someone checked into a location, if a company's stock reached a certain number, if someone posted something on their blog -- there's no telling what you could do, if only you could get data into Google+.
Well, I have found a way.
How to post on Google+ via email
Google+ offers a tiny door for people to post on Google+ via SMS, and there's an undocumented way to slip email through that door.
The catch for posting via SMS is that you need to send text messages from the phone registered with your Google+ Profile. (Google has posted instructions for formatting, addressing and sending SMS messages that you want to be posted on your Google+ profile.)
Because of the requirement that you must send from the registered phone number, you can't use the IFTTT SMS "channel" to post on Google+ because the services send SMS from their own numbers, not yours.
However, a neat hack lets you slip email through that SMS door. Here's how to do it:
1. Sign up for a Google Voice account if you don't have one. Set Text Forwarding by clicking on the Settings button, the Voicemail & Text tab and then checking the box that says "Forward text messages to my email." Make sure your email address is the same one associated with your Google+ account.
2. This step involves tricking Google+ into revealing your secret, personal email address for posting via email. Do this by sending an SMS to Google+ and getting back an error message that reveals the address. But first, go to your Google+ profile and make sure your Google Voice phone number is not registered with your account (because we're trying to trigger an error message). You access this by clicking on your Google+ profile button, click About, click the blue Edit Profile button, and erase the phone number under either Home or Work. Click Done Editing. Now simply use Google Voice to send an SMS message to the Google+ SMS number, which is 33669 in the U.S. or 9222222222 in India. (If you're in another country, contact Google for the SMS number.) Because you set up text forwarding in Step 1, Google+ will return an error message to your email address. In that email, the sender email will be your personal email address for posting to Google+ via email.
3. Go back to your Google+ profile and enter in your Google Voice phone number.
4. Create a contact in your email Contacts section named "Google Plus," and add the secret email address.
(Note that this post by a Google+ user named Jaime Hernandez-Cordero made it possible for me to write this tip.)
Your secret email address should look something like this: 16463548278.33669.dPdcjkRaVz@txt.voice.google.com
The first string of numbers is your Google Voice phone number, the second is the SMS address for Google+, and the third is your unique secret magic code.
Congratulations! You and the other people reading this column are just about the only people in the world who know how to post to Google+ via email.
Even without IFTTT, this is a great feature. For example, you can use it to simply "copy" your entire Google+ community on any email you send.
You can use Gmail filters to auto-forward any email you're currently receiving to any of your Google+ circles, or just to your own private Stream (you do this by creating a circle of one, putting yourself in it, then addressing posts to your personal circle). This can include Calendar events, Google Alerts emails -- anything.
Here's what you need to know about formatting and addressing emails you send as Google+ posts.
Only what's in the body will be posted. The Subject content will be ignored.
You determine who sees each post by adding with a "circle address" that starts with a plus sign, followed either by the name of your circles or by an email address. For example, to address your message to a circle called "Nuclear Family," start your message in the body of the email with +Nuclear Family followed by a space and then start your actual post. You can add multiple addresses, each starting with a plus sign and separated by a space. To address to email addresses, simply begin with a plus sign followed by the address, as in: +firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's an example email body for a post that will be posted publicly on Google+, and will also be delivered to my mom:
"+Public +email@example.com I've just been named Employee of the Month at work again! (The fact that I work from home has NOTHING to do with it!)"
Note that in the public post, the email address will be replaced with asterisks for privacy.
The upper limit on post size is about 450 characters, including spaces and addressing. Any links you include will be made live in your post.
Note that if you send an SMS to Google+ without addressing with a + line, it will default to being addressed to all the people in your circles.
And now the fun really begins
My email hack functions as a Google+ input for all that IFTTT magic.
At this point, you're probably thinking that I'm going to tell you some great ways to use IFTTT via email. You'd be wrong. You're going to tell me!
I'm calling on all readers of this column, and all my Google+ friends, to go and create automated tasks using Google+ and IFTTT -- and then share your "recipes" with me. You'll probably want to use the email hack. But if you can come up with ways to automate Google+ without it, that's OK, too.
Contact me by clicking the "send an email" button on my Google+ profile. (Please circle me, too!)
In next week's column, I'll announce the winners of this contest, share your recipes with the world, and also offer some additional tips of my own for automating Google+.
Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free email newsletter, Mike's List.