Google Plus Open to All

After weeks of invitation-only field tests, Google brought its social network Google+ into “open beta” status. This means that anyone can join, without receiving an invite from someone who’s already a member.

Google revealed the change of status in a blog post, in which they also discussed eight other improvements to the social site. The search company says that over the past 90 days in which Google+ has been in field trials, they’ve made 100 improvements, including the nine unveiled in the post. Interestingly, they put the status change at the end of the post.

So what other features did Google add to Google+ that might be of interest? They made some serious improvements to Hangouts. Google+ members have used this video conferencing capability in a number of innovative ways, “from cooking classes to game shows to music concerts,” Google notes. So it seemed natural that the search firm would want to make Hangouts more flexible. A new application will make it possible for users to check into Hangouts from their mobile devices – specifically, from Android 2.3+ devices with front-facing cameras. IOS support is on the way.

Another improvement, Hangouts on Air, should meet with great approval from those using Hangouts for giving concerts or classes or similar events. Hangouts on Air users simply start a normal Hangout, and then can choose to broadcast and record their session. “Once you’re ‘On Air,’ up to nine others can join your hangout (as usual), and anyone can watch your live broadcast,” Google explained. At the moment, Google is limiting the number of people who can broadcast, but anyone in the Google+ community can watch a Hangout On Air. The very first On Air hangout, in fact, will take place tonight with of Black Eyed Peas.

In addition to hanging out via mobile phone and hanging out as a spectator, Google added new abilities to Hangouts. These let users share their screens, a sketch pad, Google Docs, and even name their Hangouts. The latter is chiefly intended for users who “want to join or create a public hangout about a certain topic,” Google noted.

The blog post also threw a bone to developers, as the company released a basic set of Hangouts APIs. Google said that it’s for developers who want to build “new kinds of apps and games (and who-knows-what-else),” and pointed interested programmers to the Google+ platform blog for more details.

But the second biggest news for most users (the first being opening Google+ to the public without an invitation) is that you can now search content in Google Plus. It seems a little ironic that a search company would take so long to add this kind of search feature to its social networking site, but there it is. “Just type what you’re looking for into the Google+ search box, and we’ll return relevant people and posts, as well as popular content from around the web,” Google notes. As of this writing, not everyone can use it, but Google is rolling it out very quickly.

Here’s the point that I find the most interesting, however. Google instituted these changes at Google+ within 24 hours of Facebook making major changes that seem to have people leaving in droves. I can’t comment too much on the changes, as I haven’t seen them yet, but it sounds like they include losing the ability to toggle between “Top News” and “Most Recent” on your feed, so you can’t choose to see your feed in chronological order. This seems to be the result of a “news ticker” they’ve added on the right hand side. You can find complete information on the change here. For many, it seems to be the last straw; it feels as if Facebook had taken away control over how they can view their own feeds. A number of my friends have decided to leave Facebook for Google+ over this. One could get an entire article out of how Google’s changes to Google+ tend to give users more control over what they can do, while Facebook’s changes to their social site seem to give users less control. For now, though, I’ll simply congratulate Google on the improvements and hope they’re ready for the influx of new users. 

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