Google is finally unveiling its long-rumored social networking Facebook competitor, Google+ (pronounced Google Plus).
The Google+ project attempts to enhance online sharing, rather than aiming to be a fully fledged Facebook rival; however, there is no denying that many users will view the social network as an alternative to Facebook, Twitter, Skype or website discovery services like StumbleUpon and Digg.
Google+ places emphasis on sharing information, news and links with customized "circles" of friends.
Google's social project can be broken down into its different features: "Circles" lets users "share what matters, with the people who matter most"; "Hangouts" is a place for friends to take part in online group video chats and on-screen gatherings; "Huddle" is a group messaging service; and "Sparks" is a place to share cool links and "geek out about the things you are passionate about."
Of course it wouldn't be a social network without dedicated mobile features.
"These days a phone is the perfect sharing accessory: it's always with you, it's always online, and it's how we stay close with our closest friends. We didn't want 'just' a mobile experience, however, so with Google+ we focused on things (like GPS, cameras, and messaging) to make your pocket computer even more personal," explained Google.
While seemingly fairly comprehensive, these features represent just one small part of Google's forthcoming social strategy. According to Wired, Google has well over 100 social strategy launches scheduled into its calendar.
The project has been in the works for the past year, and this time Google is intent on getting social right.
Google has encountered a number of high profile "fails" in the social networking game, most notably Google Buzz and Google Wave, but by slowly rolling out its social features and making the company more "people-centric" Google hopes to rectify its past mistakes.
"We're transforming Google itself into a social destination at a level and scale that we've never attempted - orders of magnitude more investment, in terms of people, than any previous project," Google senior vice-president of Social Vic Gundotra told Wired.
Around the web, bloggers are unsure if Google+ can be the next big icon for social networking.
"From the little that I've seen so far, Google+ is by far the best effort in social that Google has put out there yet," said TechCrunch's MG Siegler, while posting a thorough review of the project. "But traction will be contingent upon everyone convincing their contacts to regularly use it."
"It has some interesting twists on the social networking model but is far from a Facebook-killer," reported
GigaOM's Om Malik commented, "I don't think Facebook has anything to worry about. However, there is a whole slew of other companies [like Skype] that should be on notice."
"Circles is well-implemented. It's far easier than creating a Twitter List or a Facebook Friend List. The drag-and-drop functionality is a welcome addition, and the cute animations that appear when you perform actions give the product personality. That doesn't necessarily mean users will take the time to create friend groups," said Mashable's Ben Parr.
An online user poll conducted by Mashable found 1,795 users or 45 percent of those polled said "I love it and absolutely can't wait to play with it." A further 1,293 voters (33 percent) were reserving their judgment until they had a chance to play with it and 442 voters (11 percent) said "It looks nice, but it's nothing groundbreaking."
Online 264 voters (7 percent) said they were not impressed with Google+ and a further 168 people (4 percent) voted for "It's terrible; it's just a Facebook copycat."
Google+ is currently in a limited field test phase (an invitation-only trial).
You can sign up to receive an invitation and learn more about the Google+ project here: https://plus.google.com/
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