The social media world was abuzz over the weekend with news that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) would launch a new social networking tool called "Google Circles" at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas.

ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick first reported the story on Sunday morning. Tech luminary Tim O'Reilly would add to the buildup when, on Twitter, he not only admitted to having seen Circles but also said the service "looks awesome." Cue hysteria.

But it wasn't to be. Within two hours of Kirkpatrick's story going live, Liz Gannes at The Wall Street Journal confirmed there would be no launch at SXSW. Geeks would have to wait, though how long is unclear. All we know for sure is that no one denies Circles exists, which means Google's long-awaited fight with Facebook for social supremacy should begin soon enough.

Color me relieved. Whatever Circles ends up looking like (click here to get Kirkpatrick's explanation of the design and possible features), Facebook and Google have been dancing around each other like two boxers jabbing their way to an opening.

Neither has landed a haymaker, though Facebook at least took a shot when it announced attempts to combine email and messaging into a cohesive, threaded whole inside the Social Network. Circles could be The Big G's counter.

My guess is it'll pack a wallop. Why? History. Google is at its best when developers are given the freedom to try new things, fail, and then try again.

Android may as well be a case study in this method of continuous improvement. After years of fits and starts, Google has finally won over users who in years past wouldn't have considered an alternative to Nokia (NYSE: NOK) or Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM) BlackBerry handsets.

Similarly, Circles would be Google's third try at a social media platform after failures with Wave and Buzz. This try should be better, if only because the idea makes more sense strategically. As Kirkpatrick explains it, Circles is being built to organize your social sphere into "circles" where you define who sees what. Privacy appears to underlie the platform's guiding principles.

No way is that a coincidence. Facebook has famously struggled with privacy issues, dating back to its intrusive and short-lived Beacon commerce platform. If Google can position its offering as the one that gives users and businesses the most fine-grained control over their slice of the Social Web, it could prove to be a huge win.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think about Google's social media experiments, the likelihood of Circles succeeding, and whether anyone can knock Facebook off its perch using the comments box below.

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