Google this year launched its own social network to rival Facebook. Google+ lets you share photos, chat with friends and leave them messages and comments. Your acquaintances are grouped into ‘circles’, which differentiate between family, friends and colleagues. Google hopes that its approach to social networking will bring the “nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software”.

More than 750 million of us are already using Facebook, and over time will have built up a strong profile, uploaded a huge collection of images and connected with several long-lost friends. So why change? After all, this isn’t Google’s first foray into social media: Buzz and Wave attempted to fill a similar spot but failed to become popular with users.

One reason might be Google+’s group video-chat feature, Hangouts. Google led the way with its group-calling functionality, although it’s since been adopted by Facebook with Skype.

Another reason is Huddle, group instant messaging that’s accessible from a mobile phone. Facebook has yet to launch a rival feature. We also like Google+’s instant photo-upload feature, which lets you quickly add snaps captured on a mobile phone.

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Google+’s biggest draw, however, is its integration with the company’s other services. Google will build Google+ social-networking tools into most of its existing services, from Google Search and Google Docs to YouTube. The social network already features in the top navigation bar within most Google products, allowing you to monitor Google+ events and share content without leaving the service you’re using.

Millions of us use Gmail, Google Docs, Search and other such free services. With Google+ bound so tightly to them, it may become counterproductive to navigate to another site to conduct our social networking.

Here, we’ll show you how to set up and start using Google+. But business users need not apply – for now, at least.

Get started with Google+

Step 1. To join Google+, head to plus.google.com. Enter your name and gender and add a photo. This must be your real name. Click Join.

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Step 2. Enter the rest of your details – such as your employment and education information – on the Welcome page, then click ‘Complete your profile’. It’s worth reading up on how and where Google shares any information you provide or stores details of your Google+ activity, since its terms vary between services.

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Step 3. You can specify who is able to see your education and employment information by clicking on the drop-down menu below each section and choosing the relevant option. Your photo, name and Tagline will be visible to everyone, however. Once you’ve checked your privacy options, click ‘Continue to my profile’.

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Step 4. Next, fill in the About section of your profile. Click ‘Edit profile’ in the top righthand corner. You can add information such as an introduction, which will help other Google+ members confirm that you are who they think you are, places you’ve lived, links to your website and, if you wish, your relationship status.

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Step 5. Click the Photos tab. Choose whether you want this tab to be displayed on your profile, and whether people within each of your circles (a group of contacts) can tag you in photos they upload. You can also specify whether geo-location information is displayed with your images. Click Save.

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Step 6. Likewise, you can decide whether Videos and +1’s tabs are displayed on your profile. Google +1 is a system that allows you to recommend content elsewhere on the web. When you’re happy with the changes you’ve made to your profile, click ‘Finished editing’ at the top of the window.

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Step 7. Having created your profile, find some friends with whom you can interact. Press the Circles icon at the top of the screen. Google+ will trawl your other Google accounts and look at the friends of the person who invited you to use the service, then offer some suggestions.

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Step 8. To add someone to a circle, drag-and-drop them into the relevant category at the bottom of the screen. Four circles are available by default: Friends, Family, Acquaintances and Following. To create a new circle, click the greyed-out circle at the bottom of the window, enter a name and click ‘Create empty circle’.

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Step 9. Click the ‘People who’ve added you’ tab to see who’s elected to share content with you. To return the favour, drag them into one of your circles. Alternatively, click ‘Find people’ and enter the name of a contact into the search bar. You’ll be able to add anyone with a Google Profile to one of your circles.

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Step 10. If the people with whom you want to connect are not already on Google+, you can invite them to sign up. Click ‘Invite friends’, then enter their email address and press Send. You can invite up to 150 friends. Google also offers a link to your Google+ profile that you can share with others.

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Step 11. The Stream is similar to Facebook’s News feed, listing all posts by people within your circles. To view the Stream, click the Home button (depicted with a house icon) at the top of the window. Select one of your circles on the lefthand-side to display posts by people within that group only.

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Step 12. Posting content that will appear in your friends’ Streams is easy. Enter some text in the box at the top of your Stream, and attach photos, video, URLs or locations by clicking the corresponding icon. Finally, click in the box below and select the circles with which you want to share the content.

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Step 13. Sparks lets you search online for photos, video and other content to share. Select Sparks from the lefthand-side of the window, then choose a featured item or enter a query in the search box. If anything in the results list appeals, click Share to quickly repost the content to your Stream.

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Step 14. Hangouts lets you conduct video chat with up to 10 users. To begin a video conversation, click ‘Start a hangout’ on the righthand-side. Providing you have the necessary plug-in, you’ll be able to chat with anyone in your circles. Your friends can also invite others to join the conversation.

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