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So you've dipped your toes in the Stream, started a news feed wildfire using only a Spark, and, well, hung out in Hangouts. Not bad – you've certainly jumped feet-first into the social world of Google+. But dabbling is not the same thing as mastering, young grasshopper; grab your Google Bar and let us be your sensei in the art of Google+-Fu.
(Pssst... Before we get started, disable those incredibly annoying email notifications using the process in this article. Really – you should go do it right now. And if you want to export your Facebook data to G+, check out this handy-dandy post.)
Hotkeys work in the notification box, too
Let's start your training at the center of the Google+ experience: in the Stream. Scrolling through your friends' jibber-jabber can be a swell way to pass a lazy afternoon, but all the mouse action might drive you crazy if you're a fanatical keyboard user. Spare yourself the frustration and use Google+'s undocumented hotkeys! Simply press J to move downwards through the posts in your Stream, or K to hop up them. Pressing Enter when a post is selected opens the Share dialogue box so that you can type one of your trademark witty responses. Afterwards, Tab your way to either the Share or the Cancel button and hit Enter again to post the comment. Jamming on the space bar quickly jumps you down the stream; holding down Shift and jamming on the space bar does the opposite. Pressing Q deposits you in the Google Chat box. The same hotkeys work wonders in the notification box (which you can close with a press of the Esc key).
Who was that sexy masked man? Oh wait, that's me. And I'm not wearing a mask.
One somewhat hidden feature in Google+ is its photo-editing abilities. The bare-bones functions will never replace Photoshop (or even Irfanview) in your life, but it's a great way to tweak the look of pictures that you've already uploaded to the service. Open your Profile screen, then click on the Photos tab and select the picture you'd like to edit. Click on Actions, then select Edit Photo. Choose one or more of the filters that appear on the right side of the screen to change the colors and textures in the image.
Bookmark Circles are lonely Circles.
If your Google+ buddies are anything like our Google+ buddies, they share a lot of cool links in their posts. In fact, our buddies share so many nifty links that there's no way we can look at them all (especially because we should be working). One way to get around that problem is to set the most intriguing posts aside for later viewing. Simply create a new Circle and name it "Saved" or "Bookmarks" or something similar. Add yourself, and only yourself, to the Circle. Anytime you see something cool and saveworthy show up in your Stream, share it with the Bookmark Circle. When you have some extra free time, open the Bookmark Circle in the Stream to bring up all the posts you've saved.
The Incoming Stream: perfect for people who, um, don't quite speak your language.
All right, Google+ doesn't actually have a junk mail folder. But it does have the social media equivalent: the Incoming Stream. When another user adds you to his Circles but you don't add him to yours, he still has the ability to share his posts with you. Those unsolicited posts are added to your Incoming Stream rather than your main Stream. Check it out by clicking on the "Incoming" listing underneath your Circles on the left side of the Stream screen. You never know when you might find some diamonds amongst the coal.
Ryan Whitwam; one of a kind (at least on Google+)
Did you know you can send private messages in G+? Just whip up a new post, type the other user's name into the "Add more people" box and click Share like you always do (Make sure you eliminate any other Circles or names that may be lingering in the "Share with" box). Just because you send somebody a PM doesn't mean they'll see it in a flooded Stream, however. To make sure the other person notices your post, tag them in it! Somewhere inside the body of the PM, press "+" and begin typing the recipient's name until you see their G+ profile pop up in the drop-down list. Click on the name, then send the message off. Your buddy will get a notification saying that they've been mentioned in a post.
Don't want the G+ masses knowing about your epic beard? Use the privacy settings!
Let's make use of the natural segue from private messages and talk about privacy settings for a bit. By default, everything you list in your Google+ profile is open for the Internet to see. If you don't want every random Google searcher on the Web knowing your marital status or work number, you can make parts of your profile private. Start editing your profile normally and click on a section you want to keep private. See the little box that says "Anyone on the web"? Select it and choose a new privacy setting from the list. You can choose between sharing the info with your circles, your extended circles, just yourself, or a customizable list. Remember to click "Save" when you're done, and repeat the process for each profile section you want to keep private. Check your work by clicking the "View profile as" box in your profile's tab bar and selecting "Anyone on the web."
Restricted sharing options show up as blue boxes; publicly shared Circles appear green.
Still on a privacy kick? We can help. While your initial urge may be to make the majority of your Stream posts public, public shares show up for everyone to see on your profile page (and we've seen some show up in normal Google searches, too). So if you're describing your alcohol-fueled felonious escapades to your G+ friends, make sure you remove the green Public box from the "Share with" box and brag to a more limited audience. Future You will appreciate it when he tries to land a new job. If you're thinking back to an incriminating post from last week and crapping your pants, fear not; you can delete the evidence by selecting "Delete this post" in the post's options. Access a post's options by clicking on the arrow in its upper-right corner.
Check out the -1 button under the post. No, we didn't use it; we were scared of Gordon's wrath.
Got Chrome? Developers have been hard at work ever since Google+ hit the Web, whipping up extensions for the service that range from stupid to stupendous. Here's a few of our favorites:
Extended Share: For you social media mavens. Extended Share adds Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook share buttons to every G+ post.
+Photo Zoom: Sick of the tiny thumbnails G+ uses in the Stream? Hovering over a pic with +Photo Zoom installed displays a larger version.
Facebook+: If you love Google's social network, but aren't quite ready to rip off the Facebook band-aid, Facebook+ helps you kill two birds with one stone; it plops your Facebook news feed into a "Facebook" Stream in Google+.
Plus One (+1) Button: Web developers haven't embraced G+ with the same enthusiasm of the service's 20 million-plus users. This extension adds a +1 button to Chrome's browser bar so that you can easily +1 a page even if its owner hasn't included the option.
-1 Button: Guess what this does? Only people who have the extension installed can see the Nay votes casted on G+ posts and comments, but it's still a lot of fun. If only it didn't add an annoying button to the black Google bar...
As long as this article was, we've still only just scratched the surface of Google's new social network. What did we miss? What extensions do you use? Let us know in the comments!