Email is great for conversations. But not all conversations are great for email.
When you correspond with someone via email, you lose control. For example, if you’d like to delete the conversation later, you can’t.
Sure, you can delete your own copy, but everyone copied on the email conversation retains control of the whole thing. They can also forward it to other people, who can themselves forward it.
It’s worse if the email system is owned by your company, because they can keep a record of the email conversation for years and access it anytime they want.
Don’t get me wrong: For most conversations, email is fine and even preferable.
But when you want total control even after the email is sent — including the ability to edit your original message, prevent recipients from forwarding it and even delete the entire conversation — Google+ gives you that power.
How to Send Ninja Mail From Google+
You can send email directly from Google+ or from just about any Google site, even if the recipients don’t have Google+ accounts.
When you visit Gmail with a browser — or, for that matter, Google Search, Google Image Search, Google News, Google Maps, Google Calendar and many other Google sites — you’ll see a + Share box in the upper right corner. By clicking on it, you can post to Google+ or send an email from Google+.
You can also send email directly from Google+ in the same way you share a post.
To address the email, you do what Google calls a “mention.” In the body of the share box, type the plus sign, followed by the email address of the recipient. You can add as many people as you want.
Recipients who are Google+ members will be displayed with their name. Those who do not have Google+ accounts associated with the address you entered will be displayed with their email address.
You’ll notice that the same addressing information is added below the share box. Make sure only those you wish to address are in the box, and make sure “Public” or “Extended circles” are not in the box.
Type a short “Subject” or “headline” that doesn’t divulge any private information, then click Send.
After it’s sent, click on the drop-down menu in the right corner of the post box on Google+ and click “Lock this post.”
Then click “Edit this post.” Now you can type the complete secure message — anything at all. When you’re done typing your secret message, click the Save button to update the post.
You will retain total control over the life of this message. Why? Because you’re the sender, and you did it Ninja style.
What Happens After You Send Ninja Mail
Different recipients may get different messages, depending on the email client they use. The best client to receive Ninja Mail is Gmail because of its deep integration with Google+. Gmail recipients will simply receive the complete message right there in their Gmail inboxes. It will look like email to them, but with Google+ functionality.
For example, they will be able to “comment” below your message, and you will see their comment instantly on the original post. You can comment, and they will see your comment instantly in Gmail.
Here’s where it gets crazy. You can edit your original message, and the contents of what appears to be email will actually change. That’s right: You can use your Ninja powers to reach into their e-mail inbox and change or delete your message, even after they’ve opened and read it!
The good news is that most Google+ users have Gmail accounts. Gmail in a browser is really the best email client for Ninja Mail conversations.
Other email clients will get a different message. For example, most will receive your original “subject” or “headline” with a link to the post on Google+. This will not change after you edit the post. When they click on the link, they will be able to read your post, but not comment unless they log in.
Your Ninja Mail Powers
Ninja Mail on Google+ is powerful in specific ways.
For starters, the commenting system is better for conversations than a back and forth email volley. It’s cleaner, without all the addressing junk.
You can embed YouTube videos, Vimeo videos or pictures into the post.
Google+ also has built-in polling or voting. Just add each voting option as its own comment, and other conversation participants can Plus-1 to vote.
There’s also a Hangout button. By pressing it, you can invite others into a live, face-to-face video chat with up to ten people at once.
Even though you’re on Google+, which is optimized for viral sharing, your conversation can’t be shared on the Google+ system because you selected “Lock this post.”
Because you created the original message in the conversation, you retain all Ninja powers. For example, you can edit and change the original post all you want, while others in the conversation cannot.
You can also edit and change all your comments. You can’t edit, but you can delete, the comments of other people.
Perhaps most useful of all, you can delete the whole thread when the conversation is over. This deletion is absolute and irrevocable, and erases any trace that the conversation ever took place.
Like a Ninja, you were never there!
But wait! One more Ninja power: You can retain a copy of the conversation for yourself forever on Google+, and make it only appear to vanish.
Here’s how to do it: Use the post’s drop-down menu and select “Unlock this post,” then share the post only with yourself. Delete the original. Once you’ve done this, the post will vanish for the others but continue to be available to you.
If you want to make it even easier to find in the future, you can create a new Circle called “Ninja mail,” and add only yourself to that circle. When you share the post with yourself, instead share with the Ninja Mail circle. When you want to see all your Ninja Mail, just select that circle.
When to Use Ninja Mail
Everyone should make their own decisions about when to use regular email and when to go full Ninja.
Here are some scenarios where Ninja Mail might be better than email:
* A private conversation with your spouse while you’re both at work.
* A brainstorming session where you feel people will be freer with ideas if they know the conversation isn’t “owned” by the company and can’t be forwarded within the company email system.
* Quick-and-dirty crowd-sourcing of text where you want to retain control, but simply get feedback. (I used Ninja Mail for this column to get feedback from my friends on Google+, for example.)
* Conversations related to career moves that don’t involve your current company.
* Communication when you suspect that hackers or unscrupulous IT personnel are snooping on email.
* Any communication where you don’t want a record to exist after you’re done.
A Few Caveats About Ninja Mail
Ninja mail is not email. It’s a Google+ post where the invitation to interact is sent via email.
When recipients use Gmail in a browser, it feels to them exactly like email, and they may be freaked out by your mysterious Ninja power to change and delete what’s in their inbox.
Some Google+ users have “notifications” turned off, so they may not get your initial invitation. If they don’t reply, just copy the URL of the post and email it to them via regular email.
Those who have Google+ accounts under different email addresses need to be re-invited with their Google+ address before they can comment.
If you send Ninja Mail to an @Facebook.com address, Facebook will probably “hide” the message in a subfolder of the Messages folder called “Other.”
Even though you selected “Lock this post” to prevent sharing on Google+, recipients can still copy and paste the thread or capture it with a screen capture. In other words, it’s not a secure way to interact with people you don’t trust. Ninja Mail is not appropriate for some kinds of email, including official company business where the company wants you to use their email system.
The solution to all these caveats is a little trial and error, and also open communication with the recipients about what you’re trying to accomplish. Once everyone is on board, it’s great to take conversations “offline” into a private space with powerful capabilities far beyond regular email.
The bottom line is that Google+ isn’t just a social network. It’s a powerful communication system that for some conversations is vastly superior to email.
And Google+ can be especially great for those Ninja-like conversations where you want to appear out of nowhere, execute your plan while retaining total control, then vanish into thin air.