+ is the fantastic new social networking service that lets you keep friends, family, and business contacts separate. Now that has cracked open the floodgates a bit and invitations are easier to come by, you might wonder how to get the most out of the service initially. Here are 20 tips to help you be productive using the service without spending hours learning the ropes.

1. Send a private message

You can send a message to just one person or a handful. Click in the Stream box and type your note. Now, remove the Public group by clicking the X. Add the names for those who will receive your note. Note that you can also type + and @ before a name to see a list of who to add.

2. Create a custom Spark

Sparks are like news feeds, but they can be highly customized. Just click Sparks, then type a search term. You can’t use Google search restrictions (like site:techradar.com) but the more you type in the search box the more specific the news feed. Click Add Interest to add the search under Sparks.

3. Download your stuff

Google+ lets you download most of your content. Click your name in the upper left, select Account Settings, and then Data liberation. You can download photos, stream posts, and all of your contacts as a Zip file for use in desktop programs and even other social nets.

4. Block public searches

Google+ information is widely available to anyone who searches the Web. You can restrict access to your private info, however. Click on your name in the upper right, then Privacy. Click the option “edit visibility on profile” and then select the area you want to restrict. In the pop-up menu, you can restrict viewing parts of your profile to just Google+ members, specific circles, or just you.

5. Invite your pals

Recently, Google made the link to invite people to Google+ available at all times. To find it, you may have to logout of your account first before logging back in. The link is on the lower right.

6. Start a Huddle

One confusing feature in Google+ is that you can start a Huddle chat with anyone, but only using the Android app on your smartphone. Install the app (search Android Market) and select Huddle. Now, type the names of people you want to add to the chat and start typing your first message.

7. Check notifications in

If you use Google Chrome, you can add a simple extension that shows you any new notifications in Google+. The advantage is that you do not need to keep Google+ running in a tab. Go to the Chrome Extension store and search for Surplus (or click the link), then install the extension .

8. Control notifications

You may not want to see all notifications, such as any time someone adds you to a circle. Click Notifications on the left column. Click the More link, and select which notifications you want to see. For example, you can quickly see only the notifications for when someone mentions you in a comment.

9. Stop getting e-mails

In the early days of using Google+, you can receive e-mails almost every minute when people start mentioning you and adding you to circles. It’s annoying. To turn them off, click your name in the upper left, then go to Account settings. Click the Google+ link. Now, you can disable e-mail (and phone) notifications for countless alerts, such as photo tags and starting a new Huddle.

10. End a Hangout

If you decide to start a Hangout, be careful. Once you add participants, your video feed becomes live. It’s easy to get distracted by other things. When you are done with the Hangout, make sure you click the Exit button and confirm that the dialog box goes away. Otherwise, your webcam will continue broadcasting your video feed and audio even if you click away from the Hangout. (Google needs to fix this : if you click away, the Hangout should suspend until you return.)

11. Upload your YouTube videos

Since Google owns YouTube.com, the integration with that service is stellar. You can quickly add your own YouTube videos. Just click in the Stream box, then click the small video icon. Select YouTube, then Your YouTube Videos. Select the one you want and click Add Video. Repeat for more vids.

12. Add your phone number for notifications

You can add your mobile to receive SMS alerts. Click your name on the upper left, then select Account Settings. Click Google+ and then the link to add a phone number. Enter your mobile number. Google will send a verification code that you’ll need to type in.

13. Drag and drop photos

You can drop photos into your Stream box. Just find them on your computer, select the ones you want to post, and drop them into the Stream box. Be sure to select who can view them.

14. Use keyboard shortcuts

Google+ lets you move quickly through the interface. Use J to see the next post or K to see previous. Press Space to scroll one page down, Space + Shift to scroll up. Press Q to chat.

15. Click the Date for permalink

Any time you see a date in Google+, it means you can see that specific comment or post by itself. When you click a date, it removes the clutter and also provides a permalink you can copy and paste. You can post a permalink to Twitter or another feed, but only G+ users will be able to see it.

16. View your +1 saves

A Google +1 is similar to a “Like” in , except that you can +1 any posts, comments, orWeb link. To see what you have clicked, click your own picture and then select the +1 section.

17. Engage with influencers

As with any social network, the key is to engage with influential users. The site SocialStatistics.com shows who is popular on Google+. Make sure you add them to a circle, but more importantly start commenting on their posts and using +1 on their content. They may start noticing.

18. Use strikethroughs

Google+ has a limited number of formatting options for stream posts, mostly to make everything run smooth. One is a strikethrough – just place a dash before and after a word. You can underline (just use underscore before and after a word) and bold (place an asterisk before and after a word).

19. Quick post to Stream

You don’t have to visit Google+ to make a new post. Just look to the upper left of your browser for the field called Share. Click in the field and type your post. Be sure to select who will see it.

20. Add your location

You can quickly add your location to any new Stream post. Click the pin on the lower right in the Stream field. Google will prompt you once to agree to share your location, but after that the geo-location data will appear whenever you click the pin. Click the X to remove the location.

22b3bc0fd2420 90.jpg 371x350 In Depth: 20 Google+ tips, tricks and hints

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In Depth: 20 Google+ tips, tricks and hints