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Google’s latest attempt to get into social networking has started to slowly get off the ground and so far, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. That is, if you have managed to snag a beta invite to get in. With invites currently being sold on eBay (289 at time of writing this), demand to get into Google Plus is currently very high and as critical acclaim grows, the number of people clamoring to get through the door will only increase.  

The question currently being asked though is “will Plus survive in the long term or will it go the way of Wave and wither at the hands of Facebook?” (ironically Mark Zuckerberg is the most popular person on Plus right now in terms of followers).

MakeUseOf’s usual policy is not to write about closed betas unless we have invites to hand out.  But with Google Plus, people are slowly being let in, a few at a time. So I’ve decided to make an exception and let you know some of the things you should know about Google’s new social network, so when you finally manage to enter, you’ll have a broad overview of how it all works.

It’s All About The Circles

The thing that people love the most about Plus is that you can categorise your contacts into different circles and then only post your status messages to the circles of people who you want to inform.  So for example, you can keep your family in one circle, your work colleagues in another circle, and your friends in another.  Then, for example, you can discuss your drunken night out that culminated in a stay in a police cell with a traffic cone, and only tell your trusted friends about it, safe in the knowledge that your boss or your mother will never see that status update if you don’t want them to.


When you first start using Plus, your Gmail contacts will be scanned and “suggestions” will be given to you as to who you should follow.  A little envelope beside their picture means they haven’t been allowed into Plus yet but they will get status messages via email, if you want that.  When you have found someone you want to add, just drag them with your mouse to the circle you want them to be in. Is there not a circle there suitable for a particular contact?  Then make a new circle!  Make as many as you want.  Go on, go wild and make loads of circles.  Live life on the edge.

Start Updating Your Stream

When you have some circles set up, you can then start to update your stream with status messages.   You will soon realise that Google Plus is basically a Facebook clone but much cleaner and more minimalist.  No crappy Farmville or Mafia Wars games and “what is your horoscope today?” apps. It’s just people interacting with one another.  As it should be.

When you have written your status update, you have the option of attaching a photo, a video clip, a link or your geo-location.  Photos can be taken from Picasa Web or your phone (more on that later) and videos from either your phone or YouTube.   Then click “add circles or people to share with“, choose the circles you want to send your status update to, then click “share“.

As you can see from the screenshot above, replies are “threaded”, just like Gmail messages.  So posts are easy to navigate and you can shrink / collapse posts to read the comments then move on.

Watch The Privacy Settings!

When you post a status update, you have the option of posting to one or more circles.   In this case, when you publish the status, you will see “limited” at the top, meaning it is limited to the circles you have sent it to.

But you can also choose to dispense with circles altogether and publish your post to anyone who visits your public profile. This setting is called “public” and will probably be indexed on the web.

The moral of the story is, when publishing something, take extra care to ensure you are giving the post the correct privacy setting!  Otherwise that hilarious tale of you and the traffic cone in the police cell will suddenly go global and you’ll find yourself a viral hit – as well as probably unemployed and disowned by your mother!

Update your Google Profile

Obviously you would like people to follow you so you have a few people to talk to. So for them to find you, you need your profile properly filled out. Here’s mine. If you already have a Google Profile, then it automatically becomes your Plus Profile when you sign up for Plus.  Make sure you have a good photograph, fill out your bio, your about page and link your Picasa Web account, if you have one.  If not, make one because it will quickly become invaluable.

Uploading Your Photos To Picasa Web & Your Plus Stream

There are two ways you can upload photos to Picasa Web and your stream. Either through your phone (those with an Android mobile phone, with at least the 2.1 OS, can get the Plus app )  or you can upload the photo via the Plus website when you are writing your status update.  But what makes Plus cool is that it offers on-the-fly online image editing.

So if you want to edit a photo that is perhaps too dark, just click on it once it’s been uploaded, then underneath the photo, you will see a small menu button called “Actions“.  Drop that down and choose “edit photo“.   This opens up some basic image editing tools.

Changes are shown in real time and can be undone if you don’t like any of it.  Click “done editing” when you’re finished to see your revamped photo.  It isn’t Photoshop but it isn’t that bad either.  It makes my crappy Android camera phone look cool all of a sudden.

All Your Notification Messages On One Toolbar

You have probably already seen the black toolbar that Google has now put at the top of every one of their pages (a bit hard to miss, isn’t it?).   But when you start using Plus, that toolbar becomes an instant notification area where you can see how many stream updates there are waiting for you.  You can drop down the menu to see what the update is so you know whether or not you have to visit the Plus webpage at that precise moment.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what Plus has to offer.  I haven’t mentioned Hangouts for instance, which allow you to have webcam chats with your circles, or Huddles where you can do group text messaging with the Android app.  But MakeUseOf will be covering all of these features in due course.  The purpose of this article is just to show you the basics.

Please don’t ask in the comments for an invite because currently Google has suspended all invites.  But if you are already in, please let us know what you think of Plus in the comments.  Is this a Facebook killer or will Plus go the way of Wave? Is Buzz also likely to be killed off as a result of Plus?

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  1. guest
    August 10, 2011 at 3:51 am

    Has anyone seen a WordPress plugin that will automatically send blog posts to Google + stream? 

  2. Pamelafro
    July 20, 2011 at 4:05 am

    As I am a gmail user, love how I don't have to change apps to check status/messages etc on Google+  FB is such a pain, logging in and out to protect privacy

  3. Canuck
    July 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    I remember how quickly MySpace crumbled when Facebook hit.  People seem quite willing to pull up roots and recreate their social networks on a new site when the new site suits them better (also gives an excuse to get rid of a lot of old contacts they don't want to carry over).

    I was unimpressed with Buzz, and simply confused by Wave, but Plus seems different - ordinary people are interested, not just geeks, and there's huge frustration with Facebook's arbitrary censorship and other issues.

    I agree with Florian, though, that beneficent dictator is still a dictator. Google may be a nicer company than Facebook (so far), but we still need to find a way to break social networking out of its walled garden, and make it a standards-based, company-independent system, like e-mail or RSS.  Projects like Diaspora and are a start, but we have a long way to go. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the Google+ walled garden as a temporary stopping point.

  4. Nicole Ramey
    July 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    There are actually three ways to upload your photos. You can download the Picasa software onto your desktop and allow Picasa to automatically sync all of your photos to you Picasa web account. Have them all set to private and you can add circle permissions from within G+ later! It's the way I do it, and it's easy as opened the Picasa software, clicking the sync button and walking away :)

  5. Fizzy
    July 5, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Um, I'm pretty sure the Circles feature is already on Facebook. Do you have your Facebook friends in lists? Then go type a status and click on the padlock by the status bar. It gives you an option to show that status to a certain list only. So, the Circles feature isn't really new, Google just took it from Facebook and glossed it up some and made it a bigger deal. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

    • Nicole Ramey
      July 6, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      It is not "new" at all. I've always had my FB set up  in labeled groups. It just happens that Google made it much more smooth and nicer. I'm not entirely sure why so many are calling it a new thing :)

  6. Devesh
    July 5, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    ready 4 another big migration 4m fb 2 g+

  7. Danny Stieben
    July 5, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Oh look, thanks Mark for reminding me that I completely forgot to add a profile picture to my account. As I saw, I am the only one in your circles that didn't put one in yet. Silly me. :)

  8. MikSas
    July 4, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    I have to say google+ is WAY better attempt at social than Buzz and this might prove to be better than Orkut... Is this Google Facebook killer, NAH... but will it steal half of Facebook, probably ;) In fact, I use a "facebook" layer on my google+ with scriptly chrome extension ;)

  9. Florian
    July 4, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I don't have a Google+ account yet, but from what I've seen here and on other blogs/websites it seems pretty cool.

    I like Google's new black toolbar, and especially the fact that it's a notification tool at the same time. Maybe they should extend that to notify us of new emails and other things too... I also think the way the photos are viewed on the + profile are way more elegant than on Facebook.

    Obviously, the circles feature is by far the greatest thing they've added, and I've actually wondered myself many times even before Google made this possible why Facebook didn't do it.

    One thing i don't like is how the profiles look. Although i do like the minimalist design, they're just odd. I think they should work on that a little more. They still look like the old Google profiles, which I were very ugly.

    Another thing I don't like, and it's not really Google+ related, is that Google is slowly, but surely monopolizing the internet... It will be Facebook (+). It will be Twitter (Buzz). It will be email (Gmail). It will be maps. places. youtube. blogger. docs. adsense. and so on, and so forth. Obviously, all being Google products, it's much easier to integrate them.

    Going back to Google+, I personally think it will survive, but not many people will use it. Everyone already has their friends on Facebook, and I doubt they will leave only for circles. I'm also pretty sure that Facebook will add at some point a replica of circles, so...

    • Mark O'Neill
      July 4, 2011 at 7:52 pm

      Facebook engineers are already integrating circles into FB so it wasn't long before they were busy cannibalising + for parts!  It isn't an official feature (yet) but even so....

      As for Google taking over the Internet, yes they are technically but I think in a good way.  If it wasn't for Google's innovation, we wouldn't have email inboxes with GB's of storage space.  YouTube wouldn't be what it is today. Search wouldn't be what it is today.  The fact that other companies have failed to keep up with Google and perhaps overtake Google is their fault, in my opinion.  Companies like Yahoo have failed to adapt with the times and instead have stuck to old business models. Microsoft is also very guilty of this.

      • Ed Fonseca
        July 5, 2011 at 4:19 am

        Facebook has had lists for a very long time...if they 'integrate circles' it would probably just be revamping the interface to an existing feature.

        • Florian
          July 5, 2011 at 6:51 am

          But the thing is, you can't share something with only one group... It's the simplest thing, but still not possible. I guess you could use groups, but in groups there WILL be people you don't know. I hate groups.

        • Florian
          July 5, 2011 at 6:58 am

          you can't share something with only one LIST. I meant list.