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Elgan: How to automate Google+

A cool new Web service, plus an exclusive hack, let you do amazing tricks with Google's social network

October 1, 2011 07:00 AM ET

Computerworld - 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.



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