Back in July we suggested that skype was one essential form of social media you might like to use, and many of you will be familiar with this great way of communicating with family on the other side of the world.  Yet you will also be aware of its shortcomings.  The call quality is often poor and the video can lag behind or freeze if your bandwidth isn’t wide enough.  And if you want to video call with more than three people, you have to pay.

Now Google has introduced its antidote to skype: Google+ and we think you need to be on it.  It only went live last month, so it’s early days, but it already has over 25 million users.  The platform uses the familiar facebook format of friends and status updates, but incorporates a conference facility called ‘hangouts’ which we think you will like.

One innovation is in the area of ‘friends’.  On facebook, there is no distinction between different groups of friends, so your boss, your maiden aunt and your 13 year old daughter all see the same information about you.  G+ is more discriminating, allowing you to create ‘circles’ to put your friends in, for example ‘work’ or ‘family’ so that you can keep discrete groups, and share different info with them.  Friends can be added to more than one circle.

To hold the equivalent of a skype conversation, you start a hangout.  Up to 10 people can take part in this, they can all use video, and there is a large central video picture which automatically moves to the person who is talking.  The one drawback is that anyone else in the your circle can just butt in on your conversation.  So if you need a private conversation, you need to make sure that the people you’re talking to are in a small circle.

Getting started is easy.  If you already have a Google account, just login as normal.  If you don’t, you’ll have to sign up, but that’s not particularly onerous.  Once you’ve done this, in the very top left hand corner of your screen, where you see the tabs for gmail, calendar, and so on, you’ll see a tab called +You.  Click on it, and it will take you through a simple registration process.  The rest is intuitive.  There’s no software to download, though you may need to install a plug-in to get your webcam working.  I was up and running in under five minutes.  After that, from your Google account, just click on the same tab (now personalised for you) and you’re in.  No password to remember.

Expect this to be big, and pretty soon people will be trying to connect with you through it.  Needless to say, access to G+ is blocked by some countries, including China and Iran.  In some ways that’s good, because you know Google isn’t trading your information for permission to operate.  Even so, don’t rely on it to be secure.  I didn’t give it my real date of birth for example.  Just in case.

Also expect skype and facebook to retaliate with product innovations before they lose too much business!