In the past few weeks Google has unveiled a decent competitor in the social networking market to Facebook. Following their rather weak previous attempt in the form of Buzz well-over a year ago, it seems Google have finally thrown a bit of weight and money into developing a decent Facebook competitor.
At the moment the service is what Google calls a limited 'field trial', which for me begs the question: has Google dropped the term 'beta' for describing these types of pre-release versions? Maybe keeping Gmail in a state of perpetual beta for years means the term had lost it's proper meaning for them...
Anywho, Andrew was kind enough to give me an invite to the trial, and after briefly using it for the past day or so, it looks to me that it's going to fulfil what a lot of people want nowadays: something that's like Facebook but not Facebook.
This is perfectly summed up in a recent comic from xkcd.com (shown below):
It's still early days for the service, but it is definitely looking promising. The idea of 'Circles' for putting people into customised groups and explicitly asking the user who they want to share a post or photo with, is in my opinion a very good step. Of course this functionality is mostly already present in Facebook with friend 'lists', but it's definitely not as easy nor as prominent for people to use.
The posting options also allow a totally 'Public' setting, and whilst again still like a similar less-obvious option in Facebook, i see it as allowing Twitter-like public sharing of certain posts and content.
There's a few other features that I am already loving. Google+ allows you mute email notifications for a particular item, something that I have long wished for Facebook to have. This allows you to stop receiving email notifications for a certain item, but to not totally unsubscribe from all email notifications. e.g. you reply to a friend's good-news announcement with "congrats!" and then subsequently get email notifications for each of their 200+ friends (most of which you don't know) as they reply with the same thing; Google+ allows you to 'mute' the email notifications for that item only.
It's interesting times ahead for social-networking, and I for one am looking forward to a really decent competitor to Facebook.
At the moment, it's an invite-only trial, so let me know if you want an invite :).