I was one of the few who stormed the front and gained a Google+ beta invite (actually, I got one from my good friend Joel). After breaching the invite only front door of Google’s new social networking website, Google+, I noticed a few things strikingly similar but with a twist.

First, Google+’s layout seems to borrow some things from Facebook and some from MySpace. It’s not completely original and it seems to be the new standard for social networks. Picture in the upper left, links underneath and a “stream” in the middle. It’s nothing new, but Google+ is clean. Cleaner than MySpace (no feat here) and cleaner than Facebook (impressive).

It’s very simple. Just like other social networks Google+ allows you to build friendships, share photos, notes, links, and anything you can copy+paste. It integrates with Picasa (don’t take my word, I don’t use the service) and gmail quite well. There are a few features too.

Sparks is the first of the new features. It lets you save a search query for news terms. I added a few (Washington Capitals, Apple, and Social Media). It doesn’t seem to be anything fancy but a general automatic news search tool. However, it’s lack of features is important. The one feature it does have is sharing with friends or circles (discussed below). Sharing a spark (news item) is very easy and intuitive. It’s painlessly simple.

Circles are the second new feature. They are a fancy word for groups, cliques, or stereotypes. They differ from groups because they are designed to be for your own personal use rather than the groups members. Circles act as an entity that you can share things with. I have a few circles: Friends, Family and Nerds. None of them have more than a few people each, but that’s probably because of the closed beta that Google+ is currently in (at the time of writing, invitations have been disabled for everyone).

Security. This is the most powerful and best feature Google+ has to offer. Every time you post a picture, share a link, or update your status you are able to change who is able to see it. It’s really powerful. You can select circles, specific individuals, or the public. If I wanted only my family to see certain pictures or a status update, it’s incredibly easy to do so and same goes for showing the public or individuals.

The main issue Google+ will have is convincing people to switch from Facebook. It’s not that Google+ is a bad service, it’s surprisingly better than I expected. It’s that people don’t like change and convincing people to change is quite a feat.