Google Challenges Facebook with Google+ Social Network

Google Buzz and Google Wave were strikes one and two, so Google has to get it right with Google+, the search giant’s ambitious new social network.  The Google+ Project goes right after Facebook by offering multiple ways of connecting with your friends and family, including a Circles feature that lets users be more choosy about what they decide to share with specific friends. The project is currently invite-only, but we snagged a few invites and will have our first impressions soon.

So what exactly is Google+? It’s comprised of four different components, Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, and Mobile. Read more about the Google+ Project below.

Circles

Though separate, each component of Google+ is connected. Of these, Circles is the most important. Much like Facebook lists, Circles allows you to put your friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances in different buckets. Within these Circles, you’ll be able to selectively update people on your life and share what’s on your mind. In other words, you can keep commentary on a late night out limited to your close friends, instead of everyone.

Sparks

Sparks are things that are meant to “spark” a conversation, but which are discovered through a curated search engine based on your interests and then shared with your friends who have the same interests. It’s similar to posting a link on Facebook, but it sounds like an easier way to discover interesting links and, with the help of Circles, share it only with people who might be interested in the topic. For example, you can avoid spamming your family with links relating to your unabashed love for “Deadliest Catch” and instead limit it to your crab-loving friends.

Hangouts

We think Hangouts is the most fun aspect of the Google+ Project. It takes group video chat with a service such as Skype or Oovoo a step further by melding it with a less formal and more social aspect than those services. It’s essentially a group video chat, but it allows you to more easily connect with anyone in your Google+ network, just by listing your status as “Hanging out.” There doesn’t appear to be any limit on the number of people who can join the video chat, either, but we’ll have to see how well this holds up with a large chat group.  The idea behind it is that “Hanging Out” is like stepping into Cheers, where anyone can walk in and everybody knows your name.

Mobile

Of course, you can’t have a successful social network without a mobile aspect, and Google certainly isn’t going to let that slip by. Along with the announcement of Google+ today, the comapny released an Android Google+ app in the Market. The app includes a location-based feature, which allows you to add your location to every post if you want to. There’s no word yet on if/how this might integrate with Google Latitude, the social map location aspect of Google Maps.

There’s also Instant Upload, which automatically uploads photos you take with your phone to a private album in the cloud that can then be shared across devices. It’s interesting that Google emphasizes that it will only do this if you give it permission. We’ll be curious to see how much storage Instant Upload offers, and how it might tie in with Picasa.

Finally, there’s Huddle. It’s like a cross between group texting and instant messages on steroids. If you’re trying to arrange a group of people to meet for dinner who are all coming from work, Huddle gives you the ability to message all of them at once and for each person to respond to the group at once. If plans change at the last minute or if someone is running late, it’s an easy way to let everyone know.

The Google+ Project definitely has some compelling features, and it looks very slick, but is it enough to pull people away from Facebook? And, more importantly, will it avoid the giant privacy failure of Buzz? Only time will tell. Stay tuned for our forthcoming hands-on with the service.

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