Google+ is now open for business — and sharing.
An expansion of Google Profiles and Buzz — and even the recent introduction of the +1 button — Google Plus puts the search giant in social competition with Facebook, as it brings "the subtlety and substance of real-world interactions" to “awkward” and “rigid” online communications and sharing.
The “field trial” is still invite-only, but it’s pretty clear that these first five features directly address areas of Facebook weaknesses:
+Circles: Modern social networks make everyone a “friend,” but most people keep their work lives, their family lives, and their social lives separate. So rather than make every single update go to every single person, just define which Circle everyone belongs to and share whatever you’d like with the audience it’s intended for - without any danger of your boss accidentally seeing something they shouldn’t.
+Sparks: Add your interests, and Google returns relevant content from across the web - and a few clicks will start a conversation about the link with the circles you choose.
+Hangouts: Flag yourself as available, and anyone who wants can initiate a live multi-user video or text chat with you. Google’s promoting it as a lot more “casual” than traditional instant messaging and chat features since it’s drop-in, drop-out according to availability.
+Mobile: Like Twitter, you can tag your posts to The Google+ Project with your location. But more interestingly, +Mobile will also add your smartphone pictures to the Google cloud in real-time to promote sharing. And you can send messages to entire Circles at once from the app. It’s only available for the Android Market right now, but Google promises an Apple iTunes App Store release coming soon.
+Huddle: Coordinating with friends and family in real-time is really hard in real life. After all, everyone's on different schedules, in different places, and plans can change at any moment. Phone calls and text messages can work in a pinch, but they're not quite right for getting the gang together. So Google+ includes Huddle, a group messaging experience that lets everyone inside the circle know what's going on, right this second.
Word is that Google’s social network is smaller, more personal, and values connection more than number of contacts, which leaves the elephantine question of privacy – still in the room.
Google+ is available on Android Market, the mobile web, and coming soon to the App Store.
With more than a billion monthly visitors, the enduring rule of primacy versus recency, and a generally well-kept mission to ‘Do No Harm,’ Google has thrown down a formidable social gauntlet.