In just a few short hours, Google+ opened up registration, allowing anyone to sign up for the fledgling social network — while Facebook completely reformatted its news feed so you won’t miss any of your friend’s more important updates.

Facebook took one look at what Google was doing with the only social network that can really challenge it, and jumped. It announced changes to the news feed that probably would have waited until the start of the developers conference beginning on Thursday.

Facebook’s lead in the social space is beyond substantial, but clearly the company is feeling the heat. Google+’s wealth of announcements and features makes it, I think, instantly competitive with Facebook. Even so, Google+ is so rich that it could overwhelm typical Facebook users who want to confine their usage patterns to the Facebook tools they know and love.

Google Hangouts

Google’s Hangouts, for instance, is pretty much a standalone application. Look at all the things you can do with it:

  • Hold hangouts via Android smartphone
  • Share your screen
  • Draw together
  • Create and edit documents together
  • Hold topic-based hangouts

Also, don’t forget to check out the Broadcast feature. You and up to nine of your friends can hold a Hangout and then broadcast it to the world.

Bringing The Heat

At this point, Google and Facebook are trying to one-up each other. Google believes in Google+ and sees an opportunity to grab some market share from the still popular, but relatively mature Facebook. Facebook on the other hand has a road map, so it’s doing more than simply reacting. But you know there has to be some tension in their offices today.

The next few weeks and months will be especially telling for Google+. It’s been utilized by a ton of early adopters and tech-savvy folks. What happens when average people join and do what they often do: look around and leave? It took years for Facebook to build up the level of interaction it enjoys today.

On Facebook, most people use little of the rich feature set and have scant patience for all the settings. In fact, most don’t even bother with them (how often do you see photos that you know your friends never intended to share?). Google+’s feature set is more organized, but also pretty highly visible. Will this encourage usage or turn people off in the end?

I guess we’ll just have to sit back and find out…