Look out Facebook, here comes Google+. After three months as an invite-only service, Google+ has thrown open its door to the world and rolled out a slew of new features. The announcement comes just days before Facebook’s annual f8 developer conference and seems clearly aimed as a shot across the social network giant’s bow. Let the social wars begin.
Of course Facebook has already weathered at least one of Google’s attempts at a social network, the now marginalized Buzz (two if you include Wave). But this time around Google has done more than roll out a Facebook clone. As part of Google’s attempt to carve a unique spot for Plus, the company is rolling out several new features, including mobile support for the Google+ video chat feature known as “Hangouts.”
One part Skype, one part Apple FaceTime, Google+ Hangouts now allow users to video chat with up to ten people. The new mobile support for Hangouts means that you can chat on the go and start up hangouts from any device that supports Google+.
In addition to the mobile support, Hangouts have some new features like screensharing, so you can show off your vacation photos while you’re chatting, or tap your inner artist with the sketchpad feature, which allows collaborative drawing and doodling. There’s also support for Google Docs if you’d like to write or edit documents during your video chat.
To go along with the new features, Google has released a new Hangouts API for building applications on the new Hangouts platform. The API builds on the early preview version of the Google+ API released last week.
There’s also a new broadcasting features for Google+ Hangouts, dubbed “Hangouts on Air.” Hangouts on Air expands Google+ Hangouts beyond just video chat to video broadcasting, which, though limited at the moment, might eventually let anyone broadcast to a large audience without the infrastructure overhead.
The new On Air feature works just like regular Hangouts, start a hangout, and you’ll see a new option to broadcast and record your session. Once you’ve started your hangout up to nine people can join your hangout (just like regular hangouts), but now anyone can watch your live broadcast.
For now Google is limiting the number of broadcasters that can use the new On Air feature, which means that, while the On Air feature has potential to be more than yet another celebrity mouthpiece, at the moment that’s exactly what it is. The first On Air hangout will be with will.i.am on September 21 (details can be had on will.i.am’s Google+ profile).
Far more useful for those who are already heavy Google+ users are the new search tools, which bring search to Google+.
Google also has a slew of Android-specific improvements available in the updated Google+ app for Android. Similar improvements are coming soon to an iOS device near you.
While Google still refers to many of the new features as experimental (read: beta) clearly the new open door policy means that Google thinks its social network is ready to take on its rivals, Facebook and Twitter. With a slew of interesting chat features that go well beyond what Twitter or Facebook offer, Google+ at least now has something different, something it can claim as its own. Whether that translates into mainstream success or means Google+ will go the way of Wave and Buzz remains to be seen.