Up till 2011, Google wasn't known for its social networking prowess. Unless you count Orkut, a social network product that became a phenomenon...in Brazil only. At the end of June 2011 that all changed, with the worldwide launch of (in our opinion) the best social network product of the year: Google+.
It was a muddled launch. Back in March, ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick got the scoop about a new Google product based on a circles concept. At the time, Google vigorously denied the existence of such a product. But lo and behold, Google+ launched over three months later - and its core feature was indeed "circles." With circles you could better segment your friends, something that was a major pain point in Facebook.
Initially Google+ launched to a chorus of media outlets shouting "Facebook killer." However, it soon became apparent that Google+ was going to be most useful to Google as the social component of its entire online product suite: including Google search, Google Reader and YouTube. Although it's a more than useful standalone social network, too. Particularly for topic-focused discussions. Google+ has grown rapidly, attaining over 40 million users in a matter of months - although just how many are active is a contentious point.