Google has announced that soon, anyone with both a Gmail account and a Google+ account will be able to message anyone else with a Gmail account and Google+ account, even if they don’t know their email address. Spam city! Potentially, but Google has some safeguards built in that it hopes will keep this as a useful feature rather than a nightmare. It’s complicated, so here’s our FAQ on how it all works, based on conversations with Google.
What’s the new feature?
Very soon, people using Gmail will be able to send Gmail messages to people with Google+ accounts, even if they don’t know the actual email address for that person. Here’s a screenshot from Google illustrating this:
See how there’s a “Google+ connections” area that is popping up as someone starts to type in the “To” area of the Gmail compose window? Any relevant Google+ connections you have will show here. You won’t see email addresses for these people. But behind the scenes, Google knows their email addresses and will route your message to them.
This only works for Gmail on the desktop, by the way, at the moment.
What’s a Gmail message versus an email?
It’s very similar, but a Gmail message — which is our own made-up term — means a message you’ll only get through Gmail that lacks an email address. Look at this screenshot from Google:
The Gmail message doesn’t have an actual email address attached to it (presumably). It also comes with a special notification explaining that this hasn’t been sent through regular email channels but instead is a “message via your Google+ profile.”
What’s a Google+ connection?
A Google+ connection is anyone that you have directly followed — or “circled” — or people who are “friends of friends,” that is, people who are connected to the people you follow. Google calls these “Extended Circles.”
Can I make anyone a Google+ connection?
Yes. Be default, anyone can follow anyone else on Google+ without their permission. That means anyone can follow you in order to send you an message. The key exception is if you block them. The help page on blocking hasn’t been updated yet, but it’s likely blocking someone means they can’t send you Gmail message.
So anyone can email me by default, if I have a Google+ account?
No. You have to have BOTH a Google+ account and a Gmail account.
So anyone can message me by default if I have BOTH a Google+ account and a Gmail account?
Yes. What will happen is that in a few days, Google will be sending an email to anyone with a Gmail account, explaining how this new feature works. By default, Google says that the “Anyone on Google+” feature will be enabled after someone views this email. The assumption seems to be that if people don’t like this, after reading the email notification, they can change things.
NOTE (7:20pm ET): The notifications are now going out. Here’s how they look:
What are the different “Email via Google+” settings I can control, if I want to limit or opt-out of this?
See how there are four options:
- Anyone on Google+
- Extended circles
- No one
These settings, when they appear in your Gmail account on this page, will be how you control things. Choosing each works like this:
- Anyone on Google+: anyone on Google+ with a Gmail account who follows you can send you a message through Gmail
- Extended circles: only those who you follow or who are followers of those you follow can send you a Gmail message
- Circles: only those you follow can send you a Gmail message
- No one: no one can send you Gmail message with this feature.
What if someone keeps pestering me with Gmail messages?
Google says they can’t, because this is a one-time thing. People can send a message this way to someone once. After that, they won’t be able to again.
Phew — so they can only message me once! But what if I have a lot of followers? That could still be overwhelming!
Google says that those with “thousands of followers” will be treated differently. For them, the default setting will be that they only get messages once from those in their circles. People not in their circles can’t message them this way. Of course, people with many followers can change this, if they want.
What’s all this about messages going into the “Social” tab in Gmail versus “Primary”
It works like this:
- Message from someone you don’t know or in an extended circle: goes into your Social tab
- Message from someone you’ve directly connected with by putting them in one of your circles: goes into your Primary tab
For more about Gmail tabs, also see our story: Q&A With Google On The New Gmail Inbox Tabs.
What if I don’t use Gmail? Will I still get messages?
Google says that unless you have both Gmail and Google+, you won’t get messages this way.
One example would be someone who has a Google+ account but email through Outlook.com. While Google knows their Outlook.com address, it’s not actually sending an email through this new system. It’s sending a Gmail message. And so, Google has no way to make that Gmail message appear at Outlook.com.
Another example would be someone who has a Gmail account but not a Google+ account (many Google Apps users may be like this). While Google could make a Gmail message appear, there’s no Google+ connection to make that happen.
Google reviewed both examples above and confirmed that in such situations, you won’t get messages.
When’s this happening?
Google says it will roll out over “the next couple of days.”
Postscript (7:20pm ET): The notifications are now going out, plus a new help page about the feature is now online.