This is why you need Google Spaces

Google's newest social app is called Google Spaces. Here's why you should use it, and how.
  • Mike Elgan (Computerworld (US))
  • 23 May, 2016 20:00

Google Spaces is an innovative social service that can give you unprecedented control over your conversations, but only if you know how to use it.

Google last week announced a slew of new products, services and initiatives, including Allo, Android N, Assistant, Daydream, Duo, Home and Instant Apps. Nearly all of them are "catch-up" products -- Google's versions of products that other companies have already shipped. And all of them are coming out later in the year.

But one Google announcement alone is both unique and currently available: Google Spaces.

The Spaces launch inspired confusion and criticism. After all, why launch a social service when Google already has Google+, Hangouts and social features inside many of its other services, such as YouTube (not to mention the new social products unveiled last week at Google I/O)? Does the world really need another social product?

Some users complained about the unusual user interface, the difficulty in finding specific threads in a conversation and other quibbles. I agree with these complaints.

Nothing is perfect, but Spaces is the best service I'm aware of for specific kinds of conversations.

Besides, the online commenters who respond to "Yet Another Social Service" with a reflexive gnashing of the teeth are missing a central fact about Spaces.

Spaces is not like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google+, Pinterest or any of the rest. Its purpose is not for you to devote your online life to it or reject it as a threat to your chosen social religion.

You can use Spaces once a year or once a minute, if you want to, and there's no benefit or penalty to using it more or less than that.

The best way to think about Spaces is that it's Slack lite. Spaces is to Slack what Keep is to Evernote.

Best of all, there's no sign-up process.

Launching into Spaces

The most unusual feature of Spaces is that you don't have to sign up for anything. Simply using your regular, generic Google password enables you to create and participate in Spaces conversations.

(Note that the service is called Spaces -- with an uppercase S and plural. When you create a discussion area, the area is called a space -- with a lowercase s and singular).

spaces mainpage

The desktop-browser version of Spaces feels like a messaging app on the left and your own private Twitter on the right.

To create a space, you simply click on the "Create a space" plus sign.

Once a space has been created, there are two basic views. One is the space view, which looks like a chat app. In the desktop version, it appears on the left side of your screen. Posts and comments appear in round-corner bubbles.

The other view is your Activity stream, which is like your own private Twitter. In the desktop version, it appears on the right side of your screen. In the mobile version, the Activity stream auto-refreshes without any action on your part. In the desktop version, you have to click the refresh button, which is a round arrow above the stream.

Spaces is not a social network. Nobody can follow you as a person, and you can't follow other people. You have to invite people from outside Spaces.

This absence of social following highlights one of the benefits of Spaces: You don't "post" something and hope the members of a social network find it or mark it as “liked.” You're not in some ego-driven competition for followers. It's not about creating viral content, because there's no place for your content to go.

Also: There are no celebrities, trolling, shaming, uninvited participants or any of the other annoying features of major social sites, including and especially Twitter.

To invite people to chat, click on the INVITE link at the top of both the desktop and mobile versions. The options you'll get are "Copy link," "Email" and "Facebook." (That's right! Facebook is a sharing option but Google+ is not!)

The "Copy link" option is how you share on literally any social network, messaging app or any other medium that conveys text. For example, I've created a space exclusively for readers of this column, which will be posted nowhere but right here. (This space is not for comments about the column itself; it's for you to try Spaces out. Please post comments about this column below.)

To post a comment, simply click on the "Share something in this space" item, choosing the link icon, photo icon or text icon, depending on what you intend to post.

Those are the basics of Google Spaces. Now let's get into the pro tips for really taking advantage of this new medium.

Use the mobile Spaces app as a search app and YouTube client

You probably launch Google searches from your phone using either your mobile browser or the Google app. You probably watch YouTube using the YouTube app. Stop using those apps and start using the Spaces app instead.

The big blue Spaces button in the center of the bottom of the Spaces mobile app brings you to a Google Search page. It's just like the Google Search app, but when you tap through to the result, you'll find that blue Spaces icon, which is now on the bottom right. By tapping on it, you're given the option to share the page with any of your spaces, or to create a new space.

At the bottom of that Search page are four icons -- the usual suspects (link, picture and text) plus one more: YouTube. By tapping on the YouTube icon, you can go to and use YouTube just like you can on the YouTube app. But, again, the Spaces share button remains at bottom right.

Bonus feature: The Spaces Search page retains a history of all the links you've posted for easy referral -- a kind of automatic bookmarking in icon form.

Use Spaces as a place to have Twitter conversations

It's frustrating to converse on Twitter because of the 140-character limit.

By creating a space for each Twitter thread, you can have a real conversation, take all the "space" you need, and post pictures, videos, links and more to augment the words.

Page Break

Just click or tap on the INVITE link, grab the URL and paste in a tweet that says: "Let's talk about this on Spaces."

The best part is that Twitter lurkers who want to watch the conversation unfold can do so, too, but unlike Twitter itself, you can deal with trolls and haters by deleting their comments and blocking them from the entire conversation (not just blocking them from your own eyes, as is the case with Twitter itself).

Use Spaces to have private conversations

Spaces is great for extremely private conversations. First, you can invite just a few people, and once they've joined, you can make it impossible for anyone else to join.

Click or tap on the More Options item (three vertical dots) and choose "People in this space." At the top, you'll find the current link to the space, with a trash can next to it. By clicking or tapping on the trash can, you delete the link so nobody else can join. It's like pulling up the ladder in a treehouse.

spaces search

The mobile app lets you use Spaces instead of the Google Search app -- or the YouTube app. As a bonus, it automatically bookmarks all the sites you've shared.

Later, if you want to invite others, you can generate a new and different link to the same space in the same way you generated the first one.

Also: The "People in this space" page is where you can remove or block users. Removing kicks them out of the current space. Blocking kicks them out of all your spaces forever.

(On the mobile app only, tapping on a person's profile picture brings up their Google bio page.)

You can also delete your own posts on your own spaces, or on anyone else's posts that you've commented in.

While many sites claim to enable private conversations, Google is less likely to get hacked and have data exposed than just about any other major social company. For example, Slack, Snapchat and Twitter have all been hacked and have had user data exposed. That has never happened to, say, Google+. Google Spaces is probably very secure.

Use Spaces to have ephemeral conversations

When you're done with your private conversation, you can permanently delete the whole space: posts, comments, pictures, links -- everything.

By the way, this is another advantage over both social networks and messaging apps. With those, you can't control the conversation on the other side. Even if you delete a post and its comments on a social network, other users might have enabled email delivery of posts, and therefore will still have a copy of the entire thread.

Use the Chrome extension for two-click posting

Install the Google Spaces Chrome extension here. The extension simply places a button on Chrome that, when pressed, gives you the option to share the currently selected page on Spaces. It's the quickest way to share a Web page with others, or just with yourself.

Control notifications

I have several small spaces with very few invitees. Plus I have a large one that I created early to discuss Spaces itself (each space maxes out at 500 participants, and my big space has 500).

I like the Spaces notification feature on both phone and desktop. But my biggest space is a fire hose of activity, so I often "mute" the big space by clicking on the More Options button at the top of the space and choosing "Mute space." Now I get notifications for all the spaces except that one. You can "Unmute space" in the same location.

Use color to differentiate or categorize spaces

The Activity stream shows you all joins, posts and comments on all your spaces in reverse chronological order in real time without any algorithmic filtering. Each item is accompanied by an icon that shows what kind of post it is (link, picture or text). That icon also displays the color used to customize each space.

By giving spaces different colors, you can instantly see which space each post is associated with. Or, by giving categories of spaces -- personal, family, work, political -- you can see at a glance what kind of comment it is.

Use Spaces for crowdsourcing

Social networks are great for brainstorming ideas. The trouble is that nonparticipants who follow you can feel annoyed by the resulting chatter.

Google Spaces is a place to take crowdsourcing "offline." (I used Spaces, for example, to crowdsource ideas for this column.)

By learning these simple but powerful tips, you can take advantage of Google Spaces' unique benefits.

Google Spaces isn't perfect. But as a platform, it can be a powerful productivity and communication tool that’s agnostic, simple, private, secure, flexible and easy to use.

And, the cherry on top is that Google Spaces doesn't ask for your total devotion. It's just there when you need it.