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Google+ Vs. Facebook: The Early Reviews Are In

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Although Google hasn’t exactly been known for its success in the social networking world, Google+ , until now codenamed the Emerald Sea, may be its saving grace. With hopes to rival Facebook, Google this week announced the release of this social networking project, currently only accessible to a few lucky users who received invitations.

(See Google+ Can't Keep up With "Insane Demand")

Enough invites went out, however, to provide the rest of us with some early reviews. So how does Google+ measure up against Facebook? Here's an at-a-glance evaluation:
Google +
When it reaches wide release, Google+ will introduce a few features that are not yet found on Facebook, which may (or may not) aid in winning over new users. One main social networking component that Facebook currently lacks, for example, is a form of video chat. Google+’s  Hangout will allow multiple users to chat, or, hangout face-to-face.

Other features launched with the beta program include Circles, Sparks, Huddle, Mobile, Instant Upload and Location.

The Circles innovation is key to how Google+ works. It allows the user to decide exactly who they do and don't share information with. Users can share something with one circle, while keeping it hidden from others. The Washington Post says, "it’s a hybrid of friending and following that could get difficult to wrap one’s head around. You can put anyone in a Circle, and they can choose to reciprocate or not."

Similar to a BlackBerry BBM group, Huddle (mobile) allows users in specific circles to group-message each other. Word is not yet out on whether this feature can handle images or videos. The Location feature gives a user the option to include their current location to each post.

Sparks lets users notify Google+ of their interests, and in return, Sparks will send the user information on the topic in the form of movies, articles, etc., on a regular basis. Google Alerts already does this, of course, but with Sparks, people can easily share the information they find amusing with their friends.

Although Google+ and Facebook are both accessible through mobile devices, Google+ has Facebook beat on speed. Pictures or videos taken on mobile devices will be instantly uploaded. (This may sound like Google has taken stalking abilities to an all-time high, but not to worry, privacy settings can adjust this feature.)

According to CNN, "Google also doesn't consider Google+ to be a separate product, exactly. Rather, the company says it is an extension of things you can already do on Google. A toolbar will be available atop all Google sites, and users can download an Android or Chrome application to get notifications and share content. For instance, a user could be in Google Maps, and share directions with a group."

It's that toolbar that caught the attention of Wired's Ryan Singel, who writes:

..what might turn out to be Google+’s real killer app isn’t a feature inside Google+.

It’s the new black bar that sits atop every Google property including the search page and Gmail accounts. The bar replaces the old links to other Google services, putting your name in the far left corner, giving you one-click access to your Google+ profile.

But the real key is that on the right side, you have a box that turns bright red when you have a notification from Google+. If someone has commented or reshared your post, or added you to a circle, the box lights up. When you click on it, a dropdown box appears — and in the case that someone has added you to a circle, you see their profile pic and with a single click add them to one — or more — of your circles, hide them or outright block them.

When there is action in your stream, the notification bar includes info like “Charlie Bloom commented on your post, Andrea Michaels, Bitt, Charlie Bloom, and 2 others +1′d it, Andrea Michaels reshared it.”

And even easier, if someone comments on a post you have made or comments after you do on someone else’s post, you can reply directly from the notification drop down window, without ever leaving the other Google page you are on.

An estimated 50% of global internet users choose Google for search, and the site claimed a billion unique users in June. Still, Facebook’s main advantage may be that it already has 700 million active users, and many people have a tendency to stick to what they know. Also, Facebook users have already created their own complex networks on the site. Having to switch their entire network over to Google + is a task not all users may be willing to take on.

Facebook has also introduced a new tool to keep people on the site -- a virtual currency. Beginning today, all Facebook members, and especially gamers, will be able to use Facebook Credits, which is expected to boost the site's membership and improve loyalty.

"Facebook Credits is a virtual currency that enables fast and easy transactions across games on Facebook. With Facebook Credits, people enter their payment information once and can buy, earn and spend safely across lots of different games," says Deborah Liu, platform marketing manager at Facebook. She also says that the currency is currently used in more than 350 applications from 150 developers, representing more than 70% of virtual goods transactions volume on Facebook. (See also Facebook Credits to Launch Friday: What It Means for Tech.)

What about Google+’s privacy policy, as compared to Facebook’s? According to Epicenter, Google+’s privacy policy is "much shorter  -- just a sentence or two past 1,000 words. That, however, can be a little deceiving because Facebook’s policy covers all of its services, while Google+’s version has links to its other privacy policies, including ones for Google generally and the +1 button specifically. The policy is, however, very direct and simple, with statements such as: ‘After someone tags you in a shared photo or video, you may choose to remove the tag.’”

Wired's Singel makes a case for Facebook winning out in the privacy, or lack thereof, department, however. "Facebook has successfully bet that while users say they want share more discreetly, they actually prefer to overshare -- and that there are tangible benefits that come from letting an acquaintance or business partner see the photos from your weekend putt-putt golf outing," he says.

This is a battle destined to double as a study in human nature.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.