By Kate Ward
Updated June 29, 2011 at 09:25 PM EDT

Yesterday, I felt like a freshman in college again. Not because I started re-watching the second season of The O.C. (OMG Marissa’s chair throw!), but because I joined a new social network. But this time around, the network didn’t involve the words “face” or “book.” (Or “Zuckerberg” or “Friend” or even “a billion dollars.”) Instead, it was Google+, the search engine’s latest answer to Facebook.

You may recall Google trying out Buzz a year ago, a program that enabled users to post updates similar to Facebook. Unfortunately, that seemingly nifty idea turned out to be an uninspired one, and the program died a less dignified death than Friendster. But Google+ is a far more logical competitor to Facebook — with a set-up that’s very similar to our favorite online distraction, Google+ allows users to scroll through friends’ profiles, post status updates, and comment on friends’ pictures and postings.

So what makes it different — and more of a draw — than Facebook? Its “circles,” which enable users to separate their friends into several different groups: Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Work, or anything custom-made. Tired of scrolling through your old high school friends’ inane statuses on Facebook? The circles allow you to funnel them all into a category. You can search a news feed pertaining to each of those circles — in case you only want to see what’s up with your closest friends — and, perhaps more importantly, you can post your own information giving only certain circles access. So while your friends can laugh at a picture of you shotgunning beers at a kegger, Aunt Sally will never have to see it. Such privacy settings are far easier to grasp than Facebook’s and, you know, more private too.

Plus (or should I say +?), it looks pretty.

What do you think of Google+, PopWatchers? (For those of you curious to start using, you can join here.) And could this possibly threaten Facebook as the Internet’s best social networking site? Based on how much time I spent perusing Google+ last night (the most I’ve spent on a social networking site since I joined Facebook back in college… and that’s with only three of my friends using it now), I’d say Mark Zuckerberg has reason to be afraid.

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW

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