Can Google’s Plus (+) take on Facebook?

Google announced their newest social layer yesterday, after the failure of Buzz led them to re-examine what people want, and how they use the web. Plus, or +, which will inevitably lead to naming frustration, combines four facets: Circles, Sparks, Hangouts and Huddles, each supposed to make it easy to share, interact and ultimately categorize your friends.

Unlike Facebook, which encourages you to share status updates, pictures and thoughts with everyone in your list, Circles makes it easy to group your contacts into categories and share specific things with them. They make the argument that you wouldn’t necessarily want to share those photos of your birthday party with your boss, or your thoughts on the latest Canuck’s game with your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/partner/son/daughter etc…

Hangouts is a video-based chat room where you can park yourself and wait for others to join you. Much like a passive video conference, it’s going to be popular for those who are mobile a lot with good internet connections: basically just tech bloggers. The beauty lies in its mobile potential. Say you make a Hangout, and while you’re on your way to work an old friend, John from college, sees you online available to chat. He enters the room and you’re chatting away over 3G when, bam! your good friend Natalie, whom you’ve told all about John, sees you two talking and decides to pop in for a visit. Now you’re all conferencing, one on an Android phone, the others on PCs, and it’s seamless.

Huddle is more of a group messaging program, likely optimized for mobile phones. You divide your friends into groups, or huddles, based on whatever theme unifies you. And then you chat. Pretty simple, but potentially powerful if done right.

Next is Instant Upload, and that involves exactly what it sounds like. You take a photo, it’s automatically uploaded to Picasa under a private folder which you can then use to share with your Circle, your Huddle, your Hangout or your Spark.

Spark seems like the best of the bunch, and combines the rich sharing nature of Google Buzz. It will involve actually having people there to look at all your stuff, but ultimately it’s about sharing interests. It seems the most Facebook-like aspect of Plus, but as long as one has enough group members to facilitate discussion it may just work.

Whether Facebook will feel any fire from Google’s Plus remains to be seen — I say it’s unlikely, at least in the short term — but messaging services and conferencing applications such as GroupMe and Skype could be in for a painful jolt. If it’s successful, though, Google will mainly be winning an internal battle, as the data obtained from all the Sparks, along with everything shared within a Circle, will be advertising gold.

There will also be dedicated Android and iOS apps, something they didn’t quite get right with Buzz and Wave. Now that there are 500,000 Android activations each day, and the likelihood of Google pre-installing it on every stock Android device, it may become popular from sheer entropy.

Plus is not available to the public just yet, but you can apply to be notified of its impending expansion at its homepage.