Google+ has launched! Is it time to leave Facebook?

Google has just unveiled Google+, its ambitious answer to Facebook. Even if you haven’t received an invitation yet to Google+ (the product is still in beta and only a few features are open to the public), the new black menu bar on the top of and all its products heralds the upcoming integration and socialization of every single Google product.

While it’s too soon to dub Google+ a “Facebook killer,” these are some of the features that jumped out at us while we tested the site:

Design. Yup, it’s Google through and through. The lack of ads is striking, but may be short-lived. Ads are in Google searches and Gmail; it only makes sense to place them in Google+.

Usability. If you’ve used Facebook, you’ll feel right at home in Google+. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to learn how to use new features such as “Circles”.

Google+ Stream. The first of Google’s new set of buzzwords. The Stream works the same way as a Facebook home page. The Google+ mobile app has an especially interesting version of the Stream – using your GPS, you can see what activity is happening nearby you.

Google+ Circles. Unlike Facebook, Google+ has the ability to categorize friends by “Circles”. Want to share a post with family, but not work? Google+ gives you the tools to do so. This is one of Google’s features to watch, as it may make people more inclined to manage both business and personal connections using the same social network.

Google+ Hangouts. Google’s answer to video chat and challenge to Facebook’s Skype integration.

Google +1. At first glance, equivalent to Facebook’s “like” button. Combined with Google+ Sparks, it could have a greater impact on businesses.

Google+ Sparks. Businesses need to pay attention to this feature. Sparks act like a recommendation engine, pushing content that has a high number of “+1s” higher in a user’s feed. A tidbit from Google:

“ The signals that Google looks for in determining Sparks content is freshness, a visual component (videos will rank highly), and the degree to which the content is virally spreading on the net… In other words, Sparks tries to deliver the kinds of thing you want to share with others, and Google hopes that its users do just that.”

Google+ Huddle. Basically group-wide texting for your various Circles. It makes sense to be included as a feature.

What’s currently missing:

Fan pages & Company Pages. No real strong presence for businesses yet, but look for that to change. According to Google:

“Yes, we will have (smb) business profile pages on Google+. I can’t announce a launch date yet, but we want to make them *great*, and we’re coding as fast as we can.”

Apps & Games. With popular games like Angry Birds being available in the Chrome browser, it is probably only a matter of time until we see Google+ apps. Since the product is still in beta, it’s understandable that this feature is missing.

Search. For this Appletonian, search will be Google+’s killer feature. One of Facebook’s greatest faults is that it exists too much “in the present”. Facebook does not function well as an archive; favorites and posts you’ve made weeks or even days prior are quickly forgotten and difficult to retrieve. If Google can bring their search technology to social networks, people will have a powerful tool for recording what is important in their lives.

So what does this mean to you?

If you currently use Facebook for personal use, Google+ is worth a look, especially if you juggle a wide range of friends with varying interests.

If you are a business owner, there isn’t much room for you directly on Google+ yet. However, you can begin using the “+1” badge on your site now to build your relevancy in Google+ Sparks.

In its current state, Google+ is still a little feature-light to fully compare to Facebook. Even if Google+ does dethrone Facebook as the king of social networking, the core tenants of good social marketing will still be the same – be genuine, be useful, and be where your customers and friends congregate.

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