Can Google+ topple Facebook as the social network of choice?

Google formally launched its Facebook competitor, Google Plus or Google+ today. Google+ approaches social networking in a different manner from how Facebook does. It aims to learn from Facebook’s mistakes and complaints. It also leverages its key advantages namely the huge Gmail userbase, exploding Android userbase and its vast troves of data to build something that can compete with Facebook on utility, scale and popularity.

The key features of Google+ according to its official launch website are as follows:

Circles: This allows you to build networks within networks. Groups within groups that can then be used to share appropriate parts of your life. The idea is good because most often one wants to share not with everyone but with a select group. But this can be a pain to implement and in the wrong hands, end up in embarassing situations.

Instant Upload: As the name states, it allows users to take photos and videos and upload them to a private Google site that can be appropriately shared with the right circle of friends.

Sparks: Sparks like subscribing to feeds in chosen areas of interest. I wouldnt be surprised if it is implemented similar to Feeds in the backend.

Hangouts: This is akin to a group video chat. There are technical challenges behind implementing a robust and scalable group video chat tool. Time will tell if this works as advertized. This could be integrated with Google Talk and Voice in the future to make it an all encompassing communication platform. There is a lot of potential to be realized here.

Huddle: The last and possibly the most important piece of the puzzle since it ties directly to mobile (read Android) users- the Huddle. This is a group texting tool that will compete with iMessage and BBM and potentially end up being a SMS killer if desired so. Another killer app if it becomes popular.

In short, Google has put together an impressive array of tools to address most user requirements. But here is the challenge. Can it convince people to use Google+?. Once the initial “I need an invite” euphoria goes away, how many people will use this instead of their established Facebook friend circle.

What Google needs for Plus to succeed are millions of product evangelists. The kind that can influence their hundreds of friends to shift slowly but steadily to Plus. Once there is a decent amount of outflow from Facebook, there will be interest in wanting to use Plus more and more. And that will, Google hopes, trigger a domino effect of friends joining Plus because of friends. This will take time and Google has the patience to fund and support Plus.

It is a lot to ask for and Google knows it. But one thing is for certain- unlike some of their recent pet social projects that became big (Wave, Buzz), Vic Gundotra and his team have built a legit portfolio of tools to call Plus a meaningful Facebook competitor. Time will tell if it pans out or goes the way of Orkut, Google’s Facebook precursor and now neglected social network.