In pictures: 10 ways to enhance Google+

Here are 10 extensions that provide useful, interesting improvements to the search giant’s social-networking site

  • Surplus: Surplus adds itself as a browser button set to the right of the Chrome URL window. Click it and a pop-up window displays the posts from your Stream. You can enter a new post, or comment on a post, from directly inside this pop-up. Surplus will open a notification window whenever somebody responds to your post or adds you to one of their Circles, complete with an alert sound. You can switch between multiple Google+ accounts, too. So with Surplus installed, you may not need to visit the main Google+ page as frequently.

  • G+me: This extension does one thing: it collapses all posts in your Stream so that you only see a rundown of headlines that list each post's author, the first several words of the first sentence, and a small red box with a number indicating how many comments have been made to the post. Click on a listing you want to read, and it will expand to show you the full post. G+me is useful if you like to quickly skim over posts before deciding which to actually read.

  • Google+ has made an impressive debut by signing up more than 25 million users, despite launching as an invite-only beta. Of course, fixes and features get slipped into software prior to official release by its developers, but with Google+ several users have taken it upon themselves to write enhancements in the form of Chrome browser extensions. Here are 10 extensions that provide useful, interesting improvements to the search giant’s social-networking site.

  • Styling: If you're still not happy with the way Google+ looks, Styling will let you go deeper to modify more aspects of the layout design of Google+. With it, you can change the background and text colors of the sections of the main page, choose to hide sections and functions of Google+, and spruce up the look of the columns.

  • Start Google Plus: Start Google Plus is also available as an extension for Safari, and as an add-on for Firefox. This is for those of you who can't make a clean break from Facebook just yet. It embeds your Facebook wall into your Google+ Stream. So your Facebook friends' posts show up seamlessly alongside those from people in your Google+ Circles. You can even "like" your Facebook friends' posts, and post to your Facebook wall from your Google+ Stream with Start Google Plus.

  • Usability Boost: Similar to Google+ Ultimate, Usability Boost tweaks the layout of the main Google+ page by setting the background colors of all the sections in a light gray, except for the posts in your Stream, which are in turn each clearly delineated from the other by setting them off in separate frames. This extension doesn't provide you the additional functionality of Google+ Ultimate. But if all you're looking for is an improved layout to Google+, and don't want to fuss with the level of user customisation from Styling, Usability Boost is the easiest, and least cluttered, way to do it.

  • Google+ Ultimate: If you think the design of the main Google+ page has too much white space and is a little hard to read -- or just too plain for your tastes, this extension could be the fix for you. It sets the left and right columns in a light gray to help make the posts in the center column stand out better against their white backgrounds. Additionally, posts are more obviously separated from one another, each within their own frame. It also adds a few tweaks to improve the user navigation. An interesting one rearranges the posts into a side-by-side format (as a vertically scrolling grid of three columns). We especially like how Google+ Ultimate relocates and embeds the four main function buttons of Google+ (Home, Photos, Profile, Circles) up into the black Google Bar. Google+ Ultimate incorporates the notification functionality of another Google+ enhancement Chrome extension, Surplus, which we cover later in this slide show.

  • G Plus Lite: Technically, this is listed as a Chrome app. It lets your Chrome browser access the mobile version of Google+. If you prefer the way the social-networking site looks and works on your smartphone over the computer browser version, or if you're curious to see how the service works on a mobile device, then tinker around with this. We suggest trying it out if you're using Google+ on a netbook with a small screen.

  • Google+ Manager: Google+ Manager adds a slew of keyboard shortcuts that give you immediate access to the functions of Google+. It also embeds an icon to the right of your user name on the black Google Bar. Click it, and a menu opens listing 10 category sections (e.g. Home, Profile, Photos, Circles, etc.), which will take you to that part of your Google+ account. This is handy if you're using another Google service, like Gmail or Google Docs, where the Google Bar appears along the top of the browser window, so you can jump to a specific part of Google+. Is a post in your Stream written in a language you don't understand? Google+ Manager appends every post with a "Translate" option, which will convert the text to another language. Google+ Manager is also available as a Firefox add-on

  • Google+ Tweaks: Google+ Tweaks' modifies the layout of Google+ to make it more compact. It automatically re-sizes the main Google+ page to spread across the entire width of your Chrome browser window, with the posts taking up the most space. Among its other features, the one we like most is previewing of images -- move the cursor over a thumbnail, and a larger version of that image will pop open. Google+ Tweaks also forces all images in a photo album posted to the Stream to appear as thumbnails, which cuts down on the amount of vertical space normally taken up by them.

  • G+ Tweet: G+ Tweet is an application embedded right into the middle column, above your Stream of posts. It's an impressively full-fledged Twitter client, which you can use to Tweet from and have your Tweets re-posted to your Google+ Circles. You can follow your Twitter timeline, send and receive messages on your Twitter account through this extension, and even share your photos through TwitPic.

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