Google+ takes aim at Facebook's crown

Google has finally unveiled its answer to the unalloyed success of Facebook: Google+, a 'social sharing' service based on the long-rumoured Google Circles product.

Despite numerous denials from the company - including the claim back in March that no social networking product called Circles was planned - Google's latest creation is likely to be familiar to those who have been keeping up with the rumours.

Revealed to the world last night - although not yet open to the general public - Google+ is remarkably like Facebook in many respects, but with an interesting twist to the UI: you are able to create groups of friends known as 'circles,' with which you can share different material.

"You share different things with different people," Google's material on the matter reads. "But sharing the right stuff with the right people shouldn’t be a hassle. Circles makes it easy to put your friends from Saturday night in one circle, your parents in another, and your boss in a circle by himself, just like real life."

If anyone finds the concept a little familiar, they're likely thinking of Diaspora, an open-source project designed to create a Facebook killer that individuals themselves can implement on their own servers. Rather than circles Diaspora calls its grouping system 'Aspects,' but the implementation is the same: "Aspects ensure that your photos, stories and jokes are shared only with the people you intend," the company stated when it went public with an alpha version.

Aside from Circles, the remainder of Google+ will be familiar to anyone who's used a social networking service over the last few years: web clipping is implemented under the guise of 'Sparks,' 'Hangouts' lets people know that you're up for a chat, and 'Huddle' creates a unified inbox to make group messaging easier on mobile devices.

In a move that is likely to have privacy enthusiasts sitting on the edges of their seats, the advertising giant is also pushing a service called 'Instant Upload.' Designed, the company claims, to make sharing photographs easier, those who opt in to the service will find their photographs instantly uploaded as they are taken on an Android handset. While it's optional, we're hoping there's some kind of breathalyser attachment that disables the uploads when we've had one to many sherries.

While the site isn't live for end-users yet, Google has put a demo on-line which walks users through the general interface and the use of each feature. As we wait for our invite to the service, we'll reserve judgement. On first impressions, Facebook doesn't appear to have much to worry about. Web comic xkcd, however, has a slightly different take on the matter.

Here's Google's attempts to convince us - and, by extension, you - otherwise.