Google's just taken the wraps off of Google+, its brand new social networking layer which is apparently being positioned as the company's answer to Facebook. Google+ will make use of a black bar at the top of every Google page for accessing new Google+ options for sharing content and accessing notifications. The service contains a lot of features Facebook users may feel comfortable with right from the start, including similarly-styled notifications, and a news stream for sharing location data, photos, links, and hilarious videos.
But it's not just about Facebook. Rather than have one mass sharing system, Google is making use of targeted groups of friends called Circles which will make use of drag-and-drop lists, presumably simplifying the often arduous task of grouping or making lists of friends, thus encouraging users to actually employ them. Additionally, Google+ will bring a new group chat feature called Hangouts, which allows users to opt-in to a chat room their friend(s) are in (with a maximum room size of 10 users), rather than being bombarded with unsolicited messages. This feature in particular strikes us as an early standout, and a Google representative told Mashable's Ben Parr that the feature tested well internally with friends joining the Hangouts quickly. Much of this was very accurately predicted by ReadWriteWeb way back in March (and indeed, it was rumored even before then), and the cordoning off of friends into smaller, more private groups seems to be the services most compelling aspect.
Additional features include Google+ Sparks, a content discovery and recommendation feature which relies on a Google algorithm, and unsurprisingly, there will be full mobile apps (beginning with Android) launched to support Google+. We haven't had a chance to see or play around with Google+, which has apparently begun to roll out to users very slowly, but hit the links below for fuller details.
Update: Google's put up some videos on its blog, which we've embedded after the break.