All About Google+ (Google Plus) Circles, Stream, and Hangouts

Your guide to using the best Google+ Features

Screenshot of Google+ Page.

Google+ is the official social networking platform of Google, one of the world's largest and most popular search engines. Google+ officially debuted in June 2011 and is intended to pull all of Google's peripheral products (Gmail, Google Maps, search, Google Calendar, etc.) into one cohesive network, meant to be as open and as connected as possible, incorporating everything that searchers use at Google into a comprehensive social and content dashboard.

In order to use Google+ efficiently, you'll need to understand a few of the Google+ terms: Circles, Stream, Hangouts, Streams, Profiles, and +1's.

Google+ Circles Basics

Google+ Circles are simply a way of organizing your personal and professional connections within Google+. Work, family, hobbies, anything you might be interested in, they all get their own Circle. You choose who you'd like to share content with; for example, someone in your Work Circle will probably not be interested in something you're thinking about sharing with your Family Circle.

In addition to customizing your Circles to fit with how you interact in real life, you can also personalize how your profile appears to each Circle you create (i.e., relationship information can be kept separate from a work profile). This is quite different from how Facebook works, which does not separate this information.

Google+ Circles refer to the way you organize your social contacts. You might have one circle for family, one for work colleagues, and one for your favorite hobby. How you choose to interact with these circles is completely up to you, and you can share different content with different groups. You can also choose to have your personal profile information show differently to different groups.

Because relationships are at the core of any social networking service, Circles aims to make sharing with the people in your life as intuitive as possible. Users can create Circles based on their connections, and then choose which content they want to share with those Circles.

For example, say you have three circles: Family, Work Colleagues, and Knitting Club. You can create a separate Circle for each of these groups, and share what you want with each of these groups. Your Work Circle doesn't see what you are sharing with your Family Circle, and your Knitting Club Circle doesn't see what you are sharing with your Work Circle. This is one way to make your content as relevant as possible to the ones it will matter the most to.

Simply put, Google+ Circles helps you organize your personal list of contacts in a more meaningful way, based on how you interact with those people in daily life.

How to Assign People to Circles

Suggestions for people you might want to add to your Circles will show up within your Stream or under the People tab. These suggestions come from your interactions and presence on other Google Products. Once you've decided to follow a person, they are automatically added to your Following circle. To change that, click Following beneath their tile on your Following page and choose a different Circle, Once you've made your selection, click Done.

What Is an "Extended Circle"?

You have several options when sharing content with your Circles. Underneath the "Share What's New" text box is a drop-down menu that lets you choose exactly who you would like to share with, including Extended Circles. These are simply people who are connected to someone that you are already connected to, but are not in your immediate Circles.

Editing Your Circles

Google+ makes editing your Circles quite easy.

Screenshot illustrating how to block a Google+ user.
  • To block someone: Click on the "Block" link next to a name
  • To remove someone from a Circle: Click the Circles icon at the bottom of the person's card and then unselect whatever circle you want to remove. When you're finished, click Done.

If you remove all circle designations from a person's card, you will automatically unfollow them. The people you are following must always be included in the default Following circle.

Google+ Circles and Privacy Issues

Circles can take some getting used to, and some information could be shared with Circles you don't intend. There are also a few privacy concerns:

  • Content you share with a specific Circle can be shared beyond who you intend if they share it in their Circles.
  • Even though you delete a Circle, content you have shared is still visible in the Streams of that Circle.

Google+ Stream Basics

The Google+ Stream is similar to the Facebook news feed in that it's meant to be one centralized dashboard for all content shared by the people you've made connections with on Google+. Information found in the Stream could include text, images, videos, links, and maps. There are a few things that set Google+ Streams apart from other social media counterparts:

  • You can see content from people who are not connected to you, but who want to share something with you from Google+ Circles.
  • You have complete control over how your content is filtered and who gets to see it.
  • You can start chatting instantly with anyone you know online via Hangouts.

How to Share in the Stream

A screenshot illustrating how to share a post on Google+.

One of the best things about Google+ is the ability to share what you're finding on the Web. In order to share content on Google+:

  1. Sign into Google+.

  2. Click on the What's new with you box at the top of your Stream.

  3. A post box opens where you can enter text, attach images, and more:

    • Click the Globe to choose who sees your posts.
    • Click the Camera to add an image.
    • Click the Paperclip to add a file.
    • Click the Graph to add a poll.
    • Click the Location Tag to add a location.
    • Click the three button icon in the top right to open a menu that allows you to Disable comments or Disable reshares.
  4. When you've finished creating the post you would like to share, click Post.

What Shows Up in the Stream

Your Stream will show you all the information that's being shared via your Circles, as well as content that other people are trying to share with you. Note: you have limited control over who sees what you post on Google+. You can choose specific Circles to see your content, or decide to share publicly with no filters. However, if someone shares your content, it can be seen by more people than intended.

Profiles

Google Profiles are your public and personal presentation to the world on all Google services, including Google+. It's up to you how much information you choose to share publicly on your Google Profile; by default, your full name and gender are visible to the general public.

Privacy

  • The names of the Circles that people are involved in are not publicly shared, but content can be seen by people who are not necessarily in the intended Circle.
  • An item shared in your Stream can potentially open up originally private content.
  • Your Google Profile can be displayed publicly as part of someone else's network.
  • Your email address can be seen on other services' chat lists than Google+.

Most privacy concerns people might have with Google+ seem to come with simple fixes; however, it's best to be cautious when sharing information across a public network.