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Google takes on Facebook (again) with the Google+ project


One of the biggest problems with Facebook is that you are expected to share everything with everyone. Whether it’s a promotion at work or the death of a close relative, you really only have the option of telling everyone or no-one. Sure, you can create lists and hide updates from certain people, but Facebook goes out its way to make that a chore.

Now, Google has come along and turned that all-or-nothing model on its head with Circles, which is the cornerstone of its new Google+ social networking project.

Of course, this isn’t Google’s first social networking rodeo. It has tried – and mostly failed – to come after Facebook before, with everything from the recently-launched “+1” initiative to the disastrous Buzz. But the Google+ project is its most far-reaching and well-thought-out social networking venture to date.

Google+ is really four, or maybe five, projects rolled into one. First there is +Circles, which allows you to grab family, friends, business colleagues, college buddies, etc. and organize them based on the type of information that you would like them to have. Want to just share baby pictures with your family? Then just upload the images to your family Circle. Want to let the guys know that you will be late for the weekly pick-up game? Then fire off an update to the basketball Circle. Isn’t that how we live our lives offline? +Circles promises you the same experience online.

Next, there is +Sparks. Google calls it “an online sharing engine,” but +Sparks is really like the discussion groups of old. You type in a topic or something you love – cycling, food, wine, shoes – and then you share the information you’ve found. Information can be pulled in from anywhere on the Internet, but your hand-picked circle of friends act as the ultimate filter, bringing you only the information they know you are interested in.

+Hangouts allows you to create an instant video chat room. No scheduling a Skype or Facetime call. Instead you just check who is online and begin the on-screen chat session. As Google suggests, it’s like “when you walk into the pub or step onto your front porch.” You’re signaling to everyone that “Hey, I’ve got some free time, so stop by and say hi.”

+Mobile brings the Google+ social networking experience to your phone. Easier photo and video uploads, location sharing, and a new +Huddle group messaging feature. If you have ever tried to text a group of people but were frustrated by having to individually add names to a send list, then you will immediately get the idea behind +Huddle. Taken together, the +Mobile features allow you to share as much as you want to share when you are on-the-go.

Eventually, Google+ will be controlled through a newly redesigned navigation bar, which will appear at the top of the page of any Google product. Through this, Google+ users will be able to access their profile, check notifications, and instantly share content with their various Circles.

Google+ is currently in an invite-only “Field Trial” period, so only a select few can access the service at this time. (Google+ mobile is available in the Android Market but, again, you will need an invitation to sign in.) Google+ is expected to be available to the general public by the end of next month.

Despite – or maybe because of – their previous missteps, Google claims to know what people want out of their online social networking experiences. Whether the Google+ project can slow down the Facebook juggernaut remains to be seen, but it is certainly Google’s – or anyone else’s – most ambitious effort so far.

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