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The Social Wars begin

Well, well. We thought this day might never come. Rumours have been swirling about Google's planned 'Facebook-killing' new social features for what seems like forever. First the product was going to be called Google Me, then Google +1; but then Google +1 appeared as a mere competitor to Facebook's 'Like' button, and it suddenly wasn't clear what additional features, if any, might be on the way.

Until now. Google has finally shown off its suite of new social functions, and collectively they're known as 'Google +'. That's right, not '+1', just '+' - which seems super-confusing, but hey.

What are they? Well, it's a collection of interrelated tools for sharing websites, chatting and messaging. There's Circles, which is similar to Facebook's Friend Lists, letting you organise your contacts into groups; Hangouts, web-based group video chat; and Sparks, a sort of News Feed-style view of web news that's relevant to you and your friends. On the mobile side, there's Huddle, a group messaging service.

You can see videos of all the different Google + services over at Engadget.

Our first impressions? It's a nifty, if slightly random assortment of tools that Google users could find helpful. But the centrepiece of any social network is just that, the network, and we're none the wiser about how Google plans to encourage us to make friends with each other over their network. So we'll reserve judgment until Google + makes its way into use over the coming weeks.

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