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Google Plus+ talks softly but carries a big stick

Google’s answer to Facebook has arrived. For the past few months speculation about Facebook’s potential to usurp Google as the search engine of choice has been doing the rounds. But the sneaky G has turned around and quietly revealed what could be Facebook’s undoing. Could be.

Google+ takes social networking to a new level and it does so without any fuss. It addresses one of Facebook’s biggest failings in that it allows you to group your friends and funnel communication without updating your entire network with your plans, thoughts and photos. Basically, you can select the people with whom you want to share specific information, leaving everyone else none the wiser.

But that’s not all.

Google+ has five defining features:

1)     Circles: these are your groups. You can create circles for work colleagues, best buds, family and your party posse. You add people to circles by dragging and dropping members from your Google network of contacts. There is no reason you can’t spread your contacts across multiple circles.

2)     Sparks: allows you to enter your interests – mud wrestling, dictionary collecting and ichthyology – so that you can receive all the latest news and updates. Google+ will deliver anything it deems relevant, including videos, images and articles.

3)     Huddle: is a group chat service that updates in real time and lets you plan your evening with friends, gossip about the latest in-group break-up and generally chat as if the people in the huddle were in the same room. Huddle works on the web, Android phones and will soon be coming to the iPhone (Apple approval pending).

4)     Hangouts: allows group video chats, which is a pretty cool feature. You can change your settings to show whether you’re available to hangout or not. You and nine of your friends can see each other while you chat or share videos that everyone can watch simultaneously.

5)     Instant Upload: as the name suggests, all photos and videos taken on your Android phone will be instantly uploaded to a private album, after which you can decide whether you want to share them and with whom.

Google is downplaying Google+ to a considerable degree, purposely not calling it a Facebook killer or inviting comparisons. Although, Vic Gundotra, one of the brains behind Google+, says that the social features provide an attractive alternative to people who are getting sick of Facebook and it’s failings.

The thing about Google+ is that Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz (the other brain) are at pains to say that it is one part of a much larger social picture. Which means we can expect more developments down the line.

Google+ has also been designed to avoid all the prickly privacy issues that have plagued previous Google social applications, as well as Facebook.

The question is: will be people use it?

If you want my personal opinion, yes. I like the way it looks and the way it allegedly operates. I say allegedly because, while it has been let out of the bag, Google+ is only available to a handful of testers. I have, however, submitted my email address so that I’ll be among the first to know when it widens its reach.

I will also strongly endorse it among my friends so that I don’t end up in a social circle of one.

I’m excited about Google+ and so are Gundotra, Horowtiz.and Joseph Smarr (another brain working on the project). In fact, Smarr doesn’t believe Google had any alternative other than to develop Google+.

“People are going to be a fundamental layer of the internet,” says Smarr. “There’s no going back.”

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