If you have been keeping an eye on social media buzz lately, chances are you’ve heard about Google+.

The exclusive social media network launched a trial version of the site in late June and has already exceeded over 18 million users. The Google+ website informs curious social media goers that the network has reached its maximum capacity, but if you know someone with an existing account, you can access the trial version through an invite.

Once inside the realm of Google+, figuring out where to start can be a little overwhelming. You’ll want to begin by adding friends already on the platform to your network. After connecting with them, you will be able to see their posts and status updates on your newsfeed. Google+ as a social network seems similar to its predecessors: groups, chat, news feed, link-sharing, and group messaging, but it has a few distinctive features:

1. Circles – Categorize your contacts into groups like friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. You can update to select groups and control the information each one sees. It’s easy to move contacts from one Circle to another and the names of your Circles are not shared with contacts.

2. Sparks – Select a topic you are interested in and have relevant articles, videos, photos, and more sent right to your inbox. Rate content on the Web with “+1” buttons to better tailor the content you receive. Alongside “re-tweet” and “like” buttons on sites, “+1” buttons are now appearing next to content. Sparks uses this feedback to create a user recommended search engine. They combine this with media monitoring to deliver you the news you care about. Businesses are expected to use this feature in their advertising endeavors. Ford has already signed up, and the healthcare industry is expected to follow suit.

3. Hangout – Interact with up to 10 of your friends using a cloud video conferencing platform. One network has already conducted the world’s first Google+ press conference through this tool. Although only one person can create a Hangout, everyone present in the chat has the ability to send invites to others using a specific URL. Hangouts are visible to you and your friends’ Circles, so if you make the Hangout public, you may have some unexpected guests. Play nice…you can’t kick anyone out of a Hangout once they’re already inside.

4. Huddles – Bring up to 50 friends together with the Google+ group messaging application. This has also been made into an application on Android phones and lets you select individuals or invite an entire Circle to chat.

Overall, I thought that Google+ was easy to navigate and I loved the Hangout feature. Does Google+ have what it takes to pull users from the social media networks they already use (and love?).