Google unveils Google+, its Facebook-fightin' social network

Google today pulled the curtain back on Google+ (or Google Plus), a social network designed to go toe-to-toe with Facebook while emphasizing something Facebook doesn't: privacy.

On Facebook, you find yourself with a mass of hundreds of friends — some close, some not, some unknown entirely — all of whom you share everything from the delicious sandwich you just ate to the bad day you had at work. Really, it can be like standing on a rooftop and shouting it out, and it can get folks in trouble.

Google+, instead, will concentrate on sharing with smaller groups of friends with a focus on more robust group and video chatting — including group video chats, too.

Facebook has its groups, sure, but it looks like Google+ brings it very much to the fore, and you'll be organizing your contacts into "circles" (pictured above) that you can chat and share with in a more private way. Your family can be in one, for instance, and your bar buddies in another. They can be as specific as you want: add one for your weekend bird watching club.

In addition to circles, Google+ will also "sparks," which is basically just recommendations from the service of related videos and articles you may enjoy; "hangouts," which is like a video chat session you can just leave open that folks can hop into; as well as offer the ability to upload video directly to the service and form "huddles," or group chats.

This isn't Google's first foray into the social world, of course, and its own Buzz set off a bunch of privacy concerns when it first started as it had you sharing with everyone on your email contacts list. I don't know about you, but I don't exactly keep that pruned. That said, Google+ appears to address all that with its design. Organization is easy, and it's a core part of the network.

Also, Google+ will allow you to follow someone without being their friend, and vice versa, much like on Twitter. Read: mom doesn't have to see all those body shots you were doing at the bar last weekend. Neither does your boss. Instead, you'll get the person's public updates, and they can sign up for yours.

Google+ will only be available to a select few users to start, but those users will be able to invite others into the program (much like how Gmail was when it first started up, and almost every other Google beta afterward).

Honestly, we knew Google was going to lean more heavily on the social side of things, but this is quite the surprise. We aren't the only ones caught off guard, either, according to Reuters:

At a time when leaks about product launches, acquisitions and potential hires are rife, Google resorted to extraordinary measures to ensure that word of its new social network, Google Plus, did not slip out ahead of Tuesday's official announcement.

The company reached out to Reuters late on Friday about a special briefing related to some undisclosed YouTube news, even tasking a YouTube PR-man with a curious sartorial style to coordinate the meeting, to complete the red-herring.

Can Google carve out a space for itself in the social networking world? The slick look of the interface and the focus on communication, smart sharing and being easy to use certainly has us curious. Of course, Google's reveal comes after Facebook's bragging today about its 750 million users. David vs. Goliath, round two. Fight!

You can read all about what to expect from Google+ on Google's official blog. You can also throw in your hat for a beta invite here. Google has released a ton of video about Google+, but we'd the one we've embedded below shows off the functionality the best.

Google+, via Google, via NYT, Mashable and Reuters

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