There's been a LOT of talk about Google+ lately. Between first-round invites going for $20 on eBay, and the latest news, that Google+ is expected to hit 10,000,000 users today, the buzz in the blogosphere for the new social network is almost deafening. However, one thing that has stood out to me over these first few weeks of trial, especially once invites were made available again, is that while there are a LOT of users being added, there HASN'T been a lot of posting. I believe this is because there is a bit of a barrier of entry to the network, from a logistical point of view.
A few people have asked me, personally, for a little Google+ lesson. And it makes sense, while the interface may be intuitive for a social media junkie like myself, it may not be to the average Joe with a Facebook and a LinkedIn. Seeing as the first wave of adopters, but probably not yo momma, have gotten an invite already, I figured it’d be a nice time to give a quick overview on the search powerhouse’s latest social network (after Orkut, Wave, and Buzz).
If you’re on Google+ or are waiting for your invite, I’m going to assume that you’ve created a profile (of any type) before, so I’ll just skip “uploading a photo” and “creating your bio” instructions and all that stuff. (It should be pretty self-explanatory, anyways).
What isn’t necessarily self-explanatory, however, is the basic nature of Google+, or, how it functions, logistically, as a network.
So, the first thing you might want to do, through the 700-million-user lens of Facebook, is “write on your friend’s wall.” In Google+, there are no “walls,” per se. All you can do is write posts, which can include mentions (which you do with the “+” just like twitter and facebook’s "@" functionality), which will automatically ping, or notify, the person you’ve tagged. Posts can also include rich data such as links, videos, photos, locations, and all that good stuff. Furthermore, you can then share this post with as many or as few people as you would like. For example, you could make the post public, meaning that everyone can see it (even people without Google+), or you can share it with individual Google+ users, or groups of users, which, on Google+, are called Circles.
Circles are how you organize your connections through Google+. Every time somebody adds you on Google+, you then add them to a Circle, or a group of connections. Google supplies you with 4 default Circles: Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following. You can also create custom Circles. The beauty of Circles is that nobody can see which Circles you are putting them in. So now, with one click, you can share that slightly NSFW video with your "Good Friends" and not your "Work Friends." Also, you don’t have to put connections into Circles at all, which puts their posts under the Incoming tab under the Stream options on the left. So, to get to my point, when you create a post, you can share it with a Circle, or specific group of connections, which is a big time-saver if you’re smart about organizing your circles (hint).
You can also filter your Stream, all of your connections’ postings (as well as your own), by Circle. This is akin to Facebook Groups and Twitter Lists. For more about Circles head over to Alan Lepofsky’s blog.
And then there’s the +1. +1’s are equivalent to Facebook’s “like,” except with a broader reach. Google allows you to +1 posts, comments, and even web pages right in Google Search results. Google records all of the pages you’ve +1’d in your Profile, under the +1 heading. Click the picture below for the official +1 video from Google.
So what’s left? Sparks, Hangouts, Chat, and the Navigation bar.
Sparks is Google+’s curation engine. Click on Sparks, explore the featured topics, and try punching in some of your own. Add a topic to your spark, and you’ll find that under the Sparks link in your stream, you will now have shortcuts to the topics you’ve pinned.
Hangouts is Google+’s video chat feature, which allows for up to 10 users to chat with one another. You can add users individually, or by Circle (notice that Circle’s are everywhere).
Chat is just Gchat in Google+, or AIM for the old-schoolers. No explanation required.
Finally, we have the Navigation bar. You may have noticed Google’s slick new black-and-red bar at the top of your existing Google products. Well, in Google+, you’ll find some new additions, justified to the right. There you have Settings, Share, Notifications, and [Your Name].
Settings are pretty self-explanatory - you can control which types of notifications you get emailed for, extended privacy settings etc.
The Share button at the top of the Navigation is great - you can share from anywhere, like from an organic Google Search, without having to navigate back to the Stream.
Finally, Notifications, which turn red when there are new ones, are also very intuitive. For example, when a new person adds you to their Circles, you are then given the option, via drop-down menu, to add them into your Circles. Also, when somebody comments on your post, a post you were tagged in, or a post you’ve commented on, you can reply, share, +1, and all that jazz, right from the Notifications drop-down!
Under [Your Name] you have the option of jumping to your Profile, Circles, Account Settings, and Privacy Settings.
And that concludes this very basic Google+ lesson, hope it helps!
PS: Great way to see what your Privacy settings are ACTUALLY doing – go to your Profile and click, “View as…”