After Wave and Buzz, Google has debuted its latest attempt at social networking: Google+. It is intended to differentiate from the Facebook experience by enabling users to control who sees what.

In general we thought the service borrowed some good ideas from the reigning king of social networks, Facebook, but also offers some cool new approaches to sharing content and managing privacy, wrote PCWorld. A few PCWorld staffers were invited to test the service and offered their first impressions below:

Set-up

Google+ has an easy set-up, especially when one is familiar with Facebook. If you have a Google account already, most of the information will be automatically imported to your new Google+ account to use in a social context. The About Me section is a little different. It asks for a self introduction, and then asks you to list bragging rights like survived high school, have three kids, etc.

Circles

Google+ imports all of your information from Gmail automatically, even someone you have sent an email to four years ago. You can organize these people by picking up people with your mouse and dragging them into different circles.

Sharing content

Google+ provides a functionality needed to set the privacy level on each piece of content shared. When you share an article or upload a camera image, Google+ gives you choices of which friend circles you'd like to share that content with.

Still, there are some room for improvement. PCWorld's Megan Geuss and Mark Sullivan noted that Google+ lacks a tool that allows people to carefully fine-tune the sharing rules with a particular circle. A privacy setting for a particular circle is missing.

Hangouts

PCWorld's Megan Geuss and Mark Sullivan rated Hangouts as one interesting feature that could really put Google+ ahead of Facebook.  It is a mashup of video chatting through Gmail.

First, you click on the Start a hangout button, and it takes you to a separate webpage and enables your webcam and mic (while it's loading it even gives you a fix your hair and make sure your mic works! message, so you're not taken by surprise). Then, you invite circles of friends, or individual friends to the Hangout room for the video chat session. You can create Hangouts of up to 10 people.

Google puts the image of the person who is talking at the center of the screen. If multiple people are talking at once it moves the one who is talking loudest to the center (that's a good lesson for you kids out there).

Sparks

Google's main asset is Internet search, so it tries to compete with Facebook by leveraging it in the Sparks function. The feature asks you to choose from a list of possible interests (biking, sailing, sewing, etc.), or to enter your own specific interest. Google then goes out and gathers relevant content from all over the Web. I found the content suggested by Sparks to be almost completely on-topic, and I even found some content that I could actually see myself sharing with friends. Importantly, you can choose which friend circles or single friends you want to share the content with. The posts show up in those friends' news feeds, or as Google calls them Streams, wrote PCWorld's Megan Geuss and Mark Sullivan.

Critics are divided in their opinions of the new social network. Here is a roundup of what people are saying about Google+.

Love it

I have a strong desire to keep using Google+, wrote TechCrunch's MG Siegler. [It] is easily already the most compelling social project Google has ever done.

Overall, I'm impressed by Google+ after day one, he wrote. Of course, like many, I also had fairly low expectations of anything Google tried to do in the social sphere after Wave and Buzz..Still, I used Google+ for hours and kept coming back. And I have a desire to come back tomorrow. That's never a bad thing.

Om Malik at GigaOM thinks Google+ is not a threat to Facebook, but could be a potential danger to other messaging and communication services. He said the Hangout video chat function, which can support up to 10 people, could devastate Skype. I personally think Skype video can easily be brought to its knees by Google Plus's Hangout, he wrote. And even if Google+ fails, Google could easily make Hangout part of the Google office offering.

Skeptical

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land doesn't like the name: Google+? Google+! I can't even question or exclaim about the bad name without it looking bad in writing, he writes. Seriously, I'm cursing whoever made the final decision to go with Google+ as a name. Wasn't the Google +1 sharing service bad enough?

Dave Winer of Scripting News wrote a blog post entitled Google Yawn, which claims Google+ makes his eyes glaze over with boredom.

 

 

The thing that makes Facebook great is that it incubated in the market with real users, Winer wrote. It was made by real users. It was formed by actual use. One day at a time, one feature at a time, in public, every home run visible, and every mis-step.

 

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones wrote: As for me, I've enjoyed the couple of hours I've spent on this new network-but I'm not convinced I will be spending a lot more time there until I can be sure of finding the same stream of news, gossip, fun and trivia that I now experience on Facebook and Twitter.

Loving it or skeptical, it takes time for results to roll out. The network effect is every social networking site's life blood. Google+ will succeed only when it can attract the same amount of users as Facebook and Twitter.