Allow me to be a Google fanboy for a moment. As much as I'd been hoping that Google would do something awesome and come out with a Facebook killer, I was taken completely by surprise when they announced Google+ on Tuesday.
Google's latest beta product is all about sharing- bookmarks, photos, group video chats, and more- all with a focus on easily managing who sees what through the social circle metaphor, a helpful layer of control that Facebook is clearly lacking.
The premiere of Google+ was such a runaway success that within the first 48 hours invites had been temporarily suspended due to "insane demand". By then I was already in, probably thanks to a friend at Google who shared a message with me, thus extending an implied invitation.
A site like this can only succeed with plenty of users, and while the field is still a bit sparse it has already taken off much faster than the ill-fated Google Wave (anyone remember that?). Google+ seems somewhat minimalist compared to Facebook- its obvious counterpart, though Google doesn't seem eager to label it as such- but that's where it shines. Everything is simple, clean, and just works. There aren't (yet) third-party apps and games to clutter your stream. Interaction is snappy and intuitive.
If you're a Google user, your existing Chat contacts, Picasa albums, Buzz feed, Google profile, and +1's are all already integrated into your Google+ page. Friend connections combine the asynchronous following of Twitter and Buzz with a simplified versions of Facebook's friend lists to create customizable Circles, which form the audience of everything you post. Like all other Google services, and in stark contrast to Facebook's draconian policies, Google+ lets you easily check out and take all of your data with you using Google Takeout.
There are of course some improvements I would like to see. While Buzz is displayed in your profile, it's still an independent service on its own tab. There doesn't seem to be any integration of Buzz followers, Google Reader sharing, and Google+ Circles yet. I don't see a connection to the new Music Beta, which has obvious social network potential. This week Google has been rolling out new, unified interfaces across Google apps, so I'm hoping functional integration is coming soon.
The real question though, is what does this mean for Facebook? Will Google be able to unseat the king of social networking and grab a significant market share with its cleaner, more user-friendly, and all around more enjoyable alternative?
I can only hope.