While we were busy relaxing this summer, a major shake-up occurred in our (online) social lives: the birth of a Facebook competitor that people actually seem to use. Of course, a legitimate Facebook rival could only come from one source: Google.

It was only a matter of time before Google designed an appealing social network; they’ve conquered almost every other major Internet realm. Branded Google+ (or “Google Plus”), the site boasts a handful of features that distinguish it from Facebook and Twitter, though these qualities likely won’t be enough to topple either competitor.

Reviews of Google+ have been mostly mixed among my peers—the main complaint being its redundancy with Facebook. After a little more than two months with Google+, I can safely say that I’m a fan of the new site, though I sympathize with its detractors.

The most prominent component of Google+ is its circles system. Circles are a means of sorting the people in your life (Facebook would call them friends) into private categories. You might have circles for co-workers, friends, enemies, professors, etc. As in real life, these circles may overlap or remain separate. Also like real life, you don’t have to—and probably shouldn’t— share the same things with every circle.

This solves Facebook’s biggest problem: the everyone-sees-everything approach to social media. It was this very issue that led me to reject my own mother’s Facebook friend request a couple of years ago. On Google+, however, I’d feel completely at ease adding her to the Family circle, where she may or may not see everything I post.

It’s a great system that encourages actual thought to go into what you share and with whom you share it. As a result, my Google+ stream is infinitely more substantive than my Facebook News Feed.

Google+ doesn’t employ Facebook’s 1:1 “friending” approach. If somebody puts you in his or her circles, you aren’t obligated to return the gesture. I’m sure this has already spurred hurt feelings among users, but I think it gives Google+ a nice, Twitter-esque touch. If you’re so inclined, you could add a celebrity to your circles and anything they share publicly will show up on your Stream.

Other nice Google+ components are the Hangout  (video chat) and Huddle (group chat) features, which surpass any similar services I’ve ever used. Google+ also boasts the clean, visually appealing design scheme we’ve come to expect from Google.

Though it’s still deemed a “work in progress,” I haven’t had many issues with Google+. Initially, I found it tough to find people I know, but once I had a few people in my circles, it became much easier.

The biggest problem with Google+ is, well, Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s site is just too massive and ingrained in our daily lives to go away. Indeed, adding people to my Google+ circles whom I’ve already friended on Facebook still feels rather silly.

I’m optimistic, though. I think, at the very least, the two sites can co-exist. Facebook will remain a bizarre, addictive pastime while Google+ offers a more thoughtful, engaging experience that will expand over time.