Google+ (Google Plus), now available for testing, is structured in remarkably similar fashion to Facebook, with profile pictures and newsfeeds forming a central core. However, a user's friends or contacts are grouped into very specific circles of their choosing, versus the common pool of friends typical on Facebook.
To set its service apart from Facebook, Google is betting on what it says is a better approach to privacy - a hot-button issue that has burned Facebook, as well as Google, in the past.
Central to Google+ are the circles of friends and acquaintances. Users can organize contacts into different customized circles - family members, coworkers, college friends - and share photos, videos or other information only within those groups.
In the online world there's this 'share box' and you type into it and you have no idea who is going to get that, or where it's going to land, or how it's going to embarrass you six months from now, said Google Vice President of Product Management Bradley Horowitz.
For us, privacy isn't buried six panels deep, he added.
Google+ started rolling out to a limited number of users on Tuesday in what the company is calling a field trial. Only those invited to join will initially be able to use the service. Google did not say when it would be more widely available.
Google, which generated roughly $29 billion in revenue in 2010, said the new service does not currently feature advertising.
Enticing consumers to join another social networking service will not be easy, said Rory Maher, an analyst with Hudson Square Research.
They're going to have an uphill battle due to Facebook's network effects," said Maher, citing the 700 million users that some research firms say are currently on Facebook's service.
The more users they (Facebook) get, the harder it gets for Google to steal those,he said. But he added that Google's popularity in Web search and email could help it gain a following.
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