After trying and failing repeatedly to buy or even gain a stake in Facebook since 2004, Google eventually decided last year that it would rather start its own social network. It isn't the company's first foray into the scene: it previously tried and failed with its Buzz and Wave social apps.

Envisioned by CEO Larry Page as a way to transform the “overall Google experience”, Google+ is very similar to Facebook. It has a news feed where you can share updates with your friends, a way to upload photos and share them in galleries, plus events you can join and games to be played.

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The difference between the two social networks is that Google+ is tightly integrated with Google's other services. If you already use Gmail, for example, you’re automatically logged into Google Chat, the instant messeging service.

Google chat is also part of Google+, so you can talk with both your email contacts and with social contacts at the same time. Something new is the ability to start video conferencing with several contacts, an activity known as a “hangout”.

All Google services you use now appear as a menu at the top of the main Google search page when you’re logged in, from YouTube to RSS feeds to documents in Google Drive.

Also, Google+ is greatly emphasizing the aspect of “sharing” content with your friends and family. Once you’ve got a Google+ profile and linked up with your friends, whenever you search for something on Google, the profile picture of one of your contacts who has liked the same website will appear on the search page. Creepy, right?

After the simple, straightforward structure that Facebook provides, it’s easy to see Google+ as an alien landscape, with the occasional status update that your friend posted months ago floating by like tumbleweed. There’s also the niggling worry that if you don’t know how to set the visibility of your status properly, then it's pretty much an open book to the world.

Whether or not you think Google+ is just a Facebook clone or doubt that any of your friends is actually using it, the fact remains that Google is shaping the future of the Internet. As companies, news agencies, brands and celebrities slowly jump on the bandwagon, so too will the users, so if you don’t want to be left standing in the digital dust, it's worth exploring how to create your online presence in Google+.

Getting started with Google+

Sign in

Step 1. Browse to and sign in using your Google username and password (or sign up if you don't have an account). Life’s no fun by yourself, so once you’re in, Google will ask you to add contacts by synchronising your new Google+ account with Facebook and even email contacts.

Add a profile photo

Step 2. With each contact you add, you'll be asked in which 'circle' you’d like to put them, such as Friends or Acquaintances. After you’ve done that, Google+ will recommend you upload a profile picture, as well as a few details about where you work, where you went to school and where you live.

Post an update

Step 3. It’s time to write your first post. In addition to text, you can add a link by pasting a web page address into the same text field where you write your status. The linked website appears below the post, complete with information and a picture.

Choose who sees your post

Step 4. You can now decide who sees your post. By default, there's a green “Public” button, but you can click the x to remove this. Click the Add more people link next to the Public entry and you can either select a circle of people from the drop-down menu or type in users’ names individually.

Quick tip: To make your status neater, once the website link has generated the picture and title, you can delete the link from the text field before you click Share.

Filter your news feed

Step 5. If in your excitement you’ve added everybody you know with a Google+ profile, you might want to filter your news feed so that you only see what your best friends are saying. Buttons at the top of the news feed let you filter the feed by circles.

Attach a photo

Step 6. To attach a photo to a post, click the camera icon below the 'share what's new' box. A drop-down menu will appear – click Add photos and find the photo on your computer. You can tag your contacts and add captions.

Quick tip: If you upload your photo this way, it will appear in your Photos section only in the “Photos from Posts” section, but not in regular photo albums.

Create album edit photos

Step 7. If you’d rather upload an album of photos click Photos in the left-hand menu. A window will pop up giving you the option to upload photos directly from your computer and give the album a title. You can edit photos by clicking on them, then the Edit photo link at the top.

Start a Hangout

Step 8. To start a video chat with one or more friends, click More at the bottom of the left-hand menu, then click Hangouts. Click the “Start a Hangout” button and add people from the list. You can share documents, YouTube videos, screenshots of your desktop and even play games together.

Create Event

Step 9. To set up an event, click “Events” from the left-hand menu, then the “Create Event” button. A window will appear allowing you to add whole circles of contacts, or you can type individual names into the text field, set a location, time and add details.