By now you’ve certainly heard of Google+, the social network Google has built to out-Facebook Facebook. But if you haven’t received an invite or been added to one of your friends’ Circles, you might not have seen inside Google+ or gotten a feel for exactly what it’s like. For starters, Google+ offers multiple ways of connecting with your friends and family as well as keeping people easily separated, which allows you to better manage who sees what you post.
We’ll take you through just what happens when you sign up for Google+ and how the different parts of the service work.
When you first receive an invite to Google+, you may be prompted to enable a few privacy settings that you may have previously disabled. For example, if you previously blocked yourself from Google Buzz or didn’t have your full name associated with your Gmail and/or Google profile, you’ll be asked to re-enable these in order to access Google+. This also means that Google Buzz is back again, so be sure to check and update your Google Buzz settings in Gmail if necessary.
After adjusting your privacy settings, Google+ will prompt you to fill out the “About” section. The questions are a cross between filling out a dating profile and being interrogated by a nosy neighbor. It starts innocuously enough by asking you to tell the Google+ world a little bit about yourself so that people will know they found the right you. But then it goes on to “Bragging Rights,” occupation, employment, previous employment, education (feels like a resume, right?), and where you’ve lived in the world. If you really feel like sharing, you can also add home and work contact information, such as phone number, email, fax, chat names, or pager.
Not tired of answering questions about yourself? That’s good, because next Grandma Google would like to know if you’re seeing anyone. Options include “I don’t want to say,” “In an open relationship,” “In a civil union,” and “It’s complicated,” which is just like that other social network. Next up are questions about who you’re looking for, other names, such as maiden or alternate spellings, your nickname, and if you’re visible in search or not. Basically, you’ve created your own personal search result for your name.
What’s nice about Google+ is that for each question you answer you can choose exactly who will see the information you entered– either the entire Internet, people in your extended circles, only people in your circles (more on that later), or just you. Though the questions feel intrusive, compare it to your Facebook profile and you’ll find it’s pretty much the same information. Remember, you’re not obligated to answer all of these questions for either service.
Circles is at the core of the Google+ experience. As you add people and people add you, you’re encouraged to immediately add them to a circle. The initial circles are Family, Friends, Acquaintances, and Following, though you can easily create new circles at any time. Basically, Google+ Circles are just like filters on Facebook and friend lists in LiveJournal, but they’re much easier to use than filters and have a better interface design than LiveJournal. Going off of your Google contact list, Google+ suggests people you might know to add to different circles. Just drag and drop to do so.
You can follow the posts of anyone you add to your circles without them adding you back, similar to Twitter and LiveJournal. You don’t have to add everyone who adds you in order for them to see your public posts. Instead of a Friend Request you get a Circle Alert. However, by putting a contact into a circle, you have the choice to limit your postings to those with whom you wish to share. Contacts can exist in multiple circles.
Here are a few ways to work with Circles:
Sorting Circles.u The circles you create sort alphabetically on the circle list, but they all sort after the default circles Google+ pre-creates when you sign up (such as Friends, Following, etc.). If you want all circles to sort alphabetically, change the names of the default circles. You can also use numbers or symbols to sort even more efficiently. If you want Work Friends to show up before School Friends, name them 01-Work Friends and 02-School Friends, etc, as suggested here.
Editing Circles. There’s no way to drag and drop a circle into another circle, thereby adding all people from one circle into another. However, there is an easy way to copy people from one circle into another as discovered by a fellow Google+ user. Click on the name of a circle to expand it, then click the View Circle in Tab link. This will put all the cards for the people in your circle on top. You can then Select All or just a few and drag them to another circle.