If you're stumped by Google's social network juggernaut, but know you must jump on the train right away, here is a basic guide on what you need to know to get started.
Welcome To The Black Bar Brigade
Google website users have certainly noticed the big black bar which now resides at the top end of their browser windows.
When you're logged in, you'll notice that at the far left hand side your first name will appear with a + in front of it. Clicking on this link will take you to the main home page of Google+ which you can consider the Googleplex equivalent of your Facebook Home page.
Gently Down The Stream
The central column is the main newsfeed entitled Stream, and just below the title is the "Share what's new" box. You can enter anything you like in this text entry box and it will add to the Stream you're viewing, and you also have a way to control which group of your friends gets to see it.
These subgroups of Google+ users are appropriately called Circles, and Google will show you who it thinks you should connect to determined by the characteristics of your current Circles members as well as your past online behavior, the moon's phase, your dog's age, and what you had for breakfast.
In Google+ you don't just Friend people, you drag and drop them into various categories. You can put your mother in law in the Family Circle, your high school buddy into the Friends Circle, and your manager into your Business Circle. You can rename your Circles, drag multiple friends into each, or pretty well anything you want to do in order to set them up in the way that works best for you.
Sparks & Hangout Are Popular Functions
If you're out of ideas as to what to post, check out Sparks, which is a content recommendation function. It will go out and seek the most interesting and relevant content on any topic you can think of, so if you think that your friends in a specific Circle would really like to learn about squirrel mating habits, Sparks is glad to oblige with a wide variety of material.
Hangouts is a new twist on the conventional group video chat, and it seems to be the "killer app" within Google+. Just click on the Start A Hangout button on the right hand side of the Stream, choose who will be able to join the hangout from your Circles, and your friends will be prompted in their Stream to come over and well hang out!
Once you're on, you'll note that the video switches automatically to whoever is talking into their microphone. If you are sick of listening to Aunt Gladys complain about her arthritis, you can mute them so that everyone in the hangout gets some immediate relief too!
Complete Photo And Privacy Control
The Photos tab will show all of the most recent photos uploaded by people in your Circles along with comments. You can view a slide show where you can also tag people and even find out what type of camera took the shot!
Fortunately you can approve or reject your own photo tags so your face can't be identified behind your back. By using the Upload New Photos button, you have the ability to upload images through drag and drop, as well as create any number of albums
Google+ learned well from the number one Facebook complaint: Privacy! In the Google+ Profile and Privacy tab, you can drill down deep into your privacy settings to ensure that only the specific people you want can read any level of content you create, as well as your personal information.
The Google Privacy Center provides a vast number of settings where you can finally rest assured that your info will not be visible to anyone you'd rather be invisible to, like your boss, enemies, and ex-spouses seeking child support.
Google+ may soon be the go-to social network. Get in there early and have fun!